cpu-gadget
Windows 7 CPU utilization gadget

Computer mysteries solved

| Once upon a time, computers were pretty much lifeless things — you installed software, made a few settings, and that was that. Once in a while — once in a great while, actually — there would be an update to something, but I as a user had to find out about it somehow, then get and install the update myself. You knew what you had and what you had done.

Then someone had the bright idea that computers and programs should update themselves by checking in at home to see if anything had changed, then download and install the updates automatically. Now on the one hand this was a great boon because it meant you didn't have to live forever with bugs or vulnerabilities in a program, and from time to time new functionality would be added, and you didn't even have to pay for it.

But on the other hand, it meant that computers took on a life of their own and would spontaneously do things. Suddenly the disk-activity indicator would start flashing for no apparent reason. Or you'd power up in the morning, intending to get right to work, and the computer would work on its own agenda, phoning home and busily updating itself, with no energy left to attend to your own tasks. Damn, why does it have to update now? I need to    .

And the really frustrating part of all this self-improvement is that quite often something that wasn't broken got "fixed" and created more problems: new icons would appear to clutter up your desktop; toolbars that you didn't want would get installed; all your personal settings would get reset to default; and so on.

For a long time, my laptop would simply freeze up in the morning. Totally unresponsive. I finally figured out that it had something to do with Windows updates, and setting the machine to automatically shut down and restart every morning at 5am alleviated that one. (It does automatic updates at 3am.)

More recently, the laptop started to freeze up for no apparent reason. Suddenly it would not accept any more keystrokes. Suddenly the cursor would become immovable. Suddenly even the desktop clock would stop advancing. And always, after some seconds had passed, it would come to life again. It was as if something was briefly consuming all its resources. Virus? Malware? Not likely — my computer is well protected and scanned daily.

cpu-gadget-pegged_300
CPU meter pegged out at 100%

I discovered a gadget for Windows that shows CPU utilization, and since my laptop has dual processors there were two dials. At those moments when the computer froze up, CPU use would shoot up to 100%. What the %&#$!? How could that be? My laptop has 4 GB of memory and 500 GB of disk — surely all of that shouldn't be used up, especially when I'm not doing anything and the computer is just sitting idle!

Microsoft Support was no help at all: neither the official KnowledgeBase or the "Community Support" forums. (It's telling that there is a common search "Windows 7 problems - 100% CPU usage"). The reply was either a directive to investigate with such-and-such (with no explanation about where or how) or a snarky insult that the asker should learn to ask a proper question. People would submit detailed configurations or dumps, only to receive essentially "Got me" as the response.

When in doubt, Google. After literally weeks of sporadic attempts to find an answer to this problem, I finally found a site that said, You know, it could be lots of different things, but it often turns out to be Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service (wmpntwk.exe). The service streams media files from your computer to other devices on the network. It starts automatically with Windows. Well guess what, I don't stream media files from my laptop to anything else, so why is this even running? I stopped the service and removed it from the list of things that start automatically with Windows. And, by the way, that is a very, very, very long list!

I also found a reference to a Cisco network utility as a likely culprit. Sure enough, something called Pure Networks Platform was running and periodically gobbling up lots of resources. Turns out that some Cisco routers come with parts of Network Magic bundled in. It, and the Pure Networks Platform service, monitors the network and makes sure any changes are properly configured. Well guess what, I rarely make changes to my home network, so why is this even running? I stopped the service and removed it from the list of things that start automatically with Windows.

cpu-gadget_300
Now that's more like it!

Voila! Instead of running at 50% to 75% utilization all the time, CPU usage dropped to less than 10% most of the time. Just eliminating those two services solved the problem.

And while I was at it I also cleared out a lot of other things from the start-up list. The Gateway is back to being a lean and mean machine.

Now, if I could only solve the Shockwave Flash crashes!

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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