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Diagnosing client performance problems

With so many potential culprits, figuring out the cause of a slowed desktop can be a challenge. Simplify the process by breaking it down into these four steps.

Identifying the cause of a client’s performance problem can be a challenge, especially when you’re dealing with nontechnical users. Breaking the process down into the following four categories can help.

  • Determine the scope of the problem and make a problem statement.
  • Perform a few simple quick tests.
  • Look at the system resources.
  • Look for recent hardware and software upgrades.

Note that while these steps can be applied in most situations, they may not work in all cases.

Determine the scope of the problem
The first thing you should do to get to the heart of a performance hitch is talk to the user. Since users often compare their machines’ performance with what they are used to, it’s important to ask specific questions, such as:

  • Can you show me the problem? If you can’t visit the user in person, use remote-access software to view his or her machine. If it’s a boot problem, however, you may need hands-on ability. Regardless, do whatever you can to become familiar with the circumstances.
  • When does the problem happen? First thing in the morning? All day? At 5 p.m.? Find out if the problem occurs at expected slowdowns during the day.
  • Are other users experiencing this problem?
    • If no, find out what makes the machine with the problem different. Consider hardware, applications, images, etc.
    • If yes, determine if the other users are limited to one site, one group or one department.
      • If all users at one site -- or if physical groups of users -- suddenly experience slowdowns, it could be a local network switch or port problem (LAN or WAN).

Perform simple quick tests
After you have a general idea of the problem, there are several tests you can perform to further understand the client’s troubles:

  • If the problem is local -- i.e., not involving the domain logon or accessing network resources -- unplug the network cable and see if that solves anything. In the case of a domain logon, you can unplug the network cable and use cached credentials.
  • See if the problem persists if you boot to safe mode. (If you need network capability, boot to safe mode with networking.) Safe mode eliminates all but the essential drivers. If this fixes the problem, compare the drivers in safe mode to the drivers in the normal mode. You can do this with the Component Services snap-in or go to a command line and use net start to list all services that are started. From there, disable the normal mode services one at a time.
  • Disable the firewall. You could have two third-party firewalls included in your antivirus kit and Windows.
  • Have the user log onto another computer (domain logon) and see if the problem follows him or her. If not, investigate the computer. If it does follow the user, look at profiles, group policy, etc.

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Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer in Global Solutions Engineering at Hewlett-Packard. He authored Windows 2000: Active Directory Design and Deployment and co-authored Windows Server 2003 on HP ProLiant Servers. Olsen is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and formerly for Windows File Systems. 

This was last published in January 2011

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