We’ve always talked about performance on this blog, but we’ve never really addressed one major threat for your PC’s speed; viruses, Trojans, worms, rootkits…we all know they’re a security risk, but a lot of them actually have a severe effect on PC performance. In this week’s post, we’ll learn what kind of impact viruses have on PC, laptop or tablet speed and how you’ll be able to trace slow performance back to an infection.
How I Found (and Fought) A Performance-Sapping Virus
A couple of weeks ago, I did some research on how software pirates pirate our own product – TuneUp Utilities 2013 – and what they say about us in general (which is actually really nice – we know that most of them love the product and actually pay). I deliberately set out to find illegal copies of TuneUp Utilities, but what I really wanted to know was how they hack our product; whether it is through key generation or file exploits. Being the security nerd I am, I extracted these files one by one, on a spare Windows 8 machine that didn’t have much on it and which I disconnected from the web. Fast forward a couple of days: I turned on the machine, and the fans of the system were in full gear! Something was keeping the computer busy and slowing everything down a crawl. Windows showed that when 100 percent charged, there was only 59 minutes of battery life left. When I looked at Task-Manager and sorted the list of applications by their use of CPU resources, I noticed this littler bugger engulfing all of my CPU performance.
A “rss.exe” (with a proper RSS feed icon) constantly consumed between 80 and 99 percent of my CPU’s performance. Since I didn’t have any antivirus software — with the exception of the outdated, built-in one running — it went undetected. I right-clicked on “rss.exe,” and selected “Open file location.” From there, I was able to trace the virus back to an Adobe Flash file; but isn’t this a proper file from Adobe Flash? Why would Flash run an RSS reader?ed, there was only 59 minutes of battery life left. When I looked at Task-Manager and sorted the list of applications by their use of CPU resources, I noticed this littler bugger engulfing all of my CPU performance.
A quick online search revealed this was in fact, a virus. I immediately closed the process, and deleted the file and the contents of the folder. After I restarted my computer, I received this message:
I didn’t want to take any risks, so I downloaded and installed AVG Internet Security 2013, and sure enough, it found something.
It certainly didn’t take me long to catch a virus with these illegal downloads. They’re everywhere, and you’re certainly gambling with your PC’s security if you blindly open these files, especially if your virus scanner is not up-to-date.
From Our Labs: How Viruses Can Slow Down Your PC to a Crawl
Curious to see how slow the PC had become, I put it through some of my intense lab tests, to give you a sense of what kind of an effect a virus has on a fairly quick system. The test bed I used it on was an Ultrabook with a Core i7 1.8 GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD drive a fairly quick laptop. As usual, this machine was specifically designed for lab tests, and is in compliance with the official Microsoft Windows Hardware Developer Central guidelines. All tests were performed three times in a row to avoid any discrepancies.
Test A – Converting a large, 220 MB MP3 file into AAC with iTunes What better way to measure how that virus affects CPU performance than by converting a two-hour audiobook (a 220 MB MP3 file) into AAC format using iTunes? How did our test candidates fare?
Yikes! Turns out, converting the audio file with the virus hogging all of the resources took nearly seven times as long. The reason is, the virus made sure it was running at the highest possible priority in Windows, consuming nearly all of the available resources.
Test B – Launching a Program (Corel PaintShop Pro X5)
PaintShop Pro is one of my favorite photo editing tools, and usually only takes a couple of seconds to load, due to several plug-ins and a lot of saved files.
To get specific measures, I didn’t just use my stopwatch, but rather, AppTimer, which gave me results down to the millisecond.
With the virus still ravaging the system, it took 17 seconds to launch the photo editing suite, all three times I performed the test. However, when I removed the virus, it took only eight seconds to start, meaning the virus costs more than twice the amount of start-up time.
Test C – Battery Life
As I mentioned earlier in the post, the battery drain rate was horrible with the system drawing a constant 100% of the CPUs power.
This time, using my stop watch, I let the battery run dry three times in a row with the virus active and then, again, disabled. The results are mind-boggling.
Ouch! The battery ran dry after about an hour and a half as the mainboard, CPU and fans ran at their fullest. However, once cleaned, the system ran for almost four hours — which is its usual runtime — at the highest brightness and with the Wi-Fi enabled.
Test D – Temperature
The laptop got quite hot, but how hot did it actually get? In idle, the system clocked down to 1.6 GHz and ran at a 66degrees Celsius, which is not unusual for an Ultrabook. However, the virus increased temperature to 99 degrees Celsius. While I like to think PCs are stress-tested for such scenarios, it is likely to damage the hardware and battery, if your PC is suffering from such viruses over several days, weeks or longer.
Quick Ways to Detect and Protect Yourself from a Performance-Sapping Virus
Viruses aren’t limited to being annoying pop-ups or PC crashers. Some of them just sit on your system, completely silent and don’t do anything except slow it down. If your antivirus software isn’t up-to-par, and your computer is running slowly, don’t just assume you need a new computer. Chances are, it is working perfectly fine, but it’s a virus that is negatively impacting performance. Here are a few ways to quickly detect and prevent those speed-hogging viruses.
- Programs start and run with a noticeable lag.
- There is noticeable lag when scrolling through websites.
- Games run very poorly (low FPS).
- You experience stuttering video and out-of-sync audio.
- There are two- to three-second delays when clicking through Windows (Control Panel, Taskbar, jumping through file system).
- Battery life on your laptop, Ultrabook or tablet is poor.
- The PC’s or laptop’s fan gets very loud, and the device is hot.
And, on an otherwise perfectly optimized system! If you find something…
- Immediately disconnect your PC from the web (unplug the Ethernet cable, and turn off Wi-Fi), and remove all external storage.
- Try to stop the virus with Task-Manager (if possible!) as I did above.
- Install a good antivirus solution with a high-detection rate.
Image credit: madmaxer / 123RF Stock Photo