I have an intermittent issue that is occurring on a nearly daily basis now. The cause seems to be almost random. No errors present themselves when this happen, and until I start a program I have no way of knowing that there is even an issue.
Once there is a problem, most but not all programs fail to execute.
Windows Explorer still works (I can browse files) as does Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Paint, and any programs that are already running can open new windows (such as my antivirus, volume control, etc).
Examples of programs that fail to execute are Google Chrome, Office 2003, all games that I've tried (Torchlight, Mass Effect 2, etc), CD Burning software (ashampoo), and most smaller miscellaneous programs that I have installed.
I need to make clear that this is intermittent. When the OS boots up, everything works perfectly. Seemingly at random, I haven't been able to come up with a sequence of events that reproduces this every time, I will start to not be able to run any programs.
Here is a brief description of the behavior of failed programs. The program begins to execute, creates a *single* process in task manager (even in programs like Chrome which should be opening more than one process) that takes a small amount of memory (usually between 100 kB and 120 kB) and 0% processor power. Then absolutely nothing happens. The process doesn't die unless I choose to end it in task manager, but the program fails to do anything. I can continue trying to execute the same applications over and over until there are many processes for the same application. There are no errors or complaints, I can have 10 identical Chrome processes running and none of them will be doing anything. For programs that are pinned to the taskbar, the icon shows activity as if the program is running for approximately 5-10 seconds then simply becomes inactive as if the program were shut down. No feedback comes from the OS.
All symptoms go away if I shutdown the computer and start it back up again.
By messing around with the issue, I was able to find some associated but peripheral issues. These don't normally happen, I have to really try to get things to mess up for them to occur, but they are unusual nevertheless. The Network applet will sometimes begin to show a connection failure (red X). However, I have a perfectly working internet connection when this happens and can browse websites with no problem using Internet Explorer. I can sometimes but not always get this issue to occur by opening up the Network applet's window several times while I'm having issues with programs executing. If I manage to get Windows Explorer to crash while this is occurring (not terribly difficult considering the number of actions that aren't working), I can choose to find a solution then restart Windows Explorer. Afterwards, trying to browse the file system fails with a message of a failed remote procedure call. However, this usually doesn't happen. I have to TRY to crash Windows Explorer.
Possible patterns. I see two possibilities here. First, all of the programs that seem to fail for me are 32 bit programs. All 64 bit programs that I've tried have worked. Another possible explanation is that programs that are somehow directly tied into the OS are working. Also, I believe my AV program is 32 bit and continues to function correctly. I have been scouring the internet looking for a relatively reliable 64 bit program that I could test with the next time I have an issue and then saw that Firefox now has a 64 bit beta version. This will give me a good test to find out which explanation is correct.
I'll give some specs in case any are relevant.
Windows 7 Professional 64
AMD Phenom X2 BE
(running at completely stock settings, not overclocked and the additional cores are not unlocked)
4 GB RAM
Normally about 900-1000 MB RAM are used by the system while running.
The system HD has hundreds of GB of free space still.
The system is less than a year old. I'm using a normal version of the OS. It is not an OEM version that has been altered by the computer manufacturer. I don't believe I have ever run a registry cleaner on it (I'll have to double check, but I'm pretty sure there isn't even one installed). Usually I customize startup and services to trim the fat on my other computers, but the specs on this computer are so overkill for anything that I use it for that I haven't even bothered. There is very little software installed on it. I guess what I'm getting at is this is an extremely vanilla system. It's by far the most vanilla system I've ever had.
Some additional diagnostics. At the very beginning before I had determined any patterns or the extent of the issue, I simply thought that some programs weren't starting up properly (particularly chrome). At the time, I was worried that a root kit might be an issue, so I ran some scans.
Avira root kit scan turned up clean.
Avire full system scan turned up clean.
Malwarebytes full system scan turned up clean.
Since then, it really just doesn't feel like something that malware would do. I'm leaning more towards a small part of the OS (service or call) failing.
Simply typing this up has made me think of a couple questions of my own, so I'll post back if I do additional tests.
My thanks in advance for any suggestions.