How to find out what keeps your hard drive busy under Windows Vista

Michael PietroforteMVP By Michael Pietroforte - Fri, January 11, 2008 - 16 comments google+ icon

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in system administration.

Did it ever happen to you that your computer was unbelievably slow because your hard disk was so busy? I am sure it did. Sometimes you know the culprit keeping the light of your disk drive blinking like wild. But most of the time you probably wonder what the heck could have a higher priority for Windows other than loading the application you just launched.

There are tools that can help you track down the program that keeps your hard disk busy, but usually you don’t have them to hand when needed. An article in the The Sean Blog reminded me that Vista has such a tool already on board. It is the Resource Monitor which is a part of the new Performance and Reliability Monitor. I have been playing with this great tool in the beta version of Vista, but then I forgot about it somehow. It is one of these numerous tiny improvements in Vista that make an upgrade worthwhile.

Vista Resource MonitorThe fastest way to launch the Resource Monitor is to just start typing “perfmon” at the Start Search prompt. You will see a section for disk monitoring. Click on “Read” or “Write” to get a sorted list of the applications that stress your disk at most. Of course you can also use the Resource Monitor to check out what program stresses your CPU, memory, or your network bandwidth.

Which tool are you using for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003?

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16 Comments- Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Aaron says:

    Process Explorer is another quick way to check out processes using the disk.

  2. Perfmon has been standard in the “NT” product line as far back as 3.51. (1994ish)

    Welcome to the future.

  3. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Aaron, you can use Process Explorer to monitor I/O of a single process, but it does not give you a list of programs with the highest disk transfer rates. So you can use Process Explorer for this purpose if you already have an idea which program keeps your disk busy. The CPU load can give you hints, but in many cases that won’t be enough.

    David, my eyes got wet when you mentioned NT 3.51. It was the first server OS that made it into my living room. I remember that my girlfriend was not really amused about it. 😉 You’re right the name “perfomon.exe” is an old companion. But how would you use pre Vista versions to find out which program actually stresses your hard disk?

  4. Michael,

    Sorry, I was just feeling snarky. You are right – the Vista version of perfmon adds some useful stuff.

    I’ve been a Microsoft programmer since Windows 3.1 and a DOS programmer from version 2. And I like Vista so much I bought a Mac.

    I’m a Microsoft partner – so I get Vista for free. It’s not a cost issue. I just really don’t like it. And I get a kick out of this blog and reading the breathless Vista fanboy raving.

  5. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    David, you won’t believe it, but I also have been accused of being a Vista basher before. I guess it depends on one’s perspective. But it is good to know that at least some Mac fanboys enjoy my blog, too. 😉

  6. I still use XP and simply use Task Manager for the same purpose. I’ve added columns for I/O Reads and Writes to the Processes view, and simply sort by these columns. Usual culprits I find are the anti-virus, Google Desktop, Outlook and Windows Update. Often, however, the process I see generating the disk activity is an instance of svchost.exe. Since svchost.exe is simply a host for services implemented as DLLs, that could be anything. Does Vista help in identifying why such a service might be thrashing my drive?

  7. BTW we are a Microsoft Gold Partner so cost for us is not a factor either. For me its mainly the work interruption that will result from such an upgrade, coupled with the feeling that XP is servicing me well enough most of the time. And I’m used to it.

    Oh and I was lucky enough to have skipped Win16 completely. I moved from developing for Unix and DOS directly to Win32 (way back in 94).

  8. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Dan, how do you add an I/O column in Task Manager? Maybe you meant Process Explorer. I just found out about this possibility now. So I have to say sorry to Aaron. One can indeed use Process Explorer to find out which programs currently access the disk drive.

  9. Michael,
    I do mean Task Manager. Simply switch to the Processes tab, select the View menu -> Select columns. Now check the columns for I/O Reads and I/O Writes. You can also rearrange the columns by dragging their titles.
    I like to use Pref Mon when I need to gauge behavior over time. But to just determine which process is thrashing the disk right now, Task Manager is good enough.
    Obviously I do love Process Explorer. For example see this:

  10. Funnily having just complained about my difficulties in identifying problems caused by svchost.exe, the Microsoft Performance Team have written a post about it in their blog:

  11. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Dan, that’s really interesting. I didn’t know about this feature of task manager. I always used other tools, but it seems that task manager can do more than I thought. Thanks a lot!

  12. […] How to find out what keeps your hard drive busy under Windows Vista […]

  13. avatar ishaq says:

    its me ishaq,plz some 1 tell me my computer is busy while im not working at all, look: its flashing and beeping too much harshly nd has been ate my all brain over its voice, plz som1 tell me how to get rid off this problem.
    i would b very thankful to u for that,

  14. avatar ishaq says:

    oooooooh yea and i m using WINDOW VISTA

  15. avatar Joshua Lee says:

    Im running Windows XP and trying to sort out the same issue about the hard disk, except that my hard drive is only flashing a little. My computer generally runs fast as I do not have anti-virus, nor google desktop, nor outlook, nor automatic updates, the machine is usually disconnected from the web and another machine screens everything for viruses so I can keep the “fast and clean” machine going fast and clean.

    However still the light flashes with that 1% CPU usage and mostly the System Idle Process.

    I test everything with basically nothing running on top of Windows XP. Save that it is SP3 and a NVidia Graphics card installed, also Directx and some of that stuff so it runs well. I also switched off file indexing service.

    I record music and do video so speed is critical, if the PC skips then the current recording will be out of time with the backing and I gotta stop and hit record again.

    I tried stopping every process in Task Manager until Windows had to shut down, even when it was ticking down I could see the hard disk light flashing about once each second.


  16. avatar Joshua Lee says:

    PS I also just switched off Write Caching to Hard Disk

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