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My computer has always had a loud (Fujitsu) hard drive drive. Since I bought it in 2007, its ticking has been noticeable during normal activity.

Increasingly, it's made loud CLACK sounds (every now-and-then) as if the head is docking improperly.

Minutes ago, it just made an awful screeching sound, and now I know it's time to say goodbye.

A quick scan on HDTune shows no bad sectors.

What's the safest way to recover my data from this still-functioning drive (that is, transfer it via USB to an external)? Should I turn the computer off for the time being? Put it in stand by? Please provide detailed directions; I'm trying to avoid using the computer (which is why I've given up after a few minutes of Googling this).

What about chkdsk? Is that sort of activity likely to push the drive over the edge?

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From your description, and your comment to @Randolf's answer, it sounds to me like your drive is suffering from a heat-related issue, and is definitely in need of replacement.

In addition to echoing the advice you've already received - backup, now - I'll add that it is probably worth doing everything practical to keep the drive as cool as possible.

  1. Turn off your computer and allow it to cool for at least an hour.
  2. Find some way to significantly increase the airflow over your disk:
    • Sometimes just removing a panel from your case and directing a large desk-fan at the drive enclosure is enough.
    • Depending on the enclosure, you may need to temporarily remove the disk - if you do this, take appropriate precautions, ie:
      • Protect your system from static discharge
      • Ensure your disk is kept level at all times while it is running
      • Do not touch the disk while it is running
  3. While ensuring the disk is receiving very good airflow, power on and take your backup.
  4. Once the backup is complete, power down and store your suspect disk safely, now you should work only from your backup data.
  5. Once you are certain you have all of your data safely recovered, if you have any personal information (or other sensitive data), destroy the suspect disk. In any event, dispose if the suspect disk responsibly.

My reasoning for this suggestion is largely based on the symptoms you reported, the 'clack' sounds may be related to a form of 'thermal recalibration' (which only some drives report correctly through SMART), the screeching sound may indicate that the platter speed dropped too far to sustain head-flight correctly and the drive did not have time to properly unload the heads, which would indicate a motor / bearing failure.

In any case, a good, complete, backup has to be your top priority.

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+1 for this answer. Particularly interesting to me was the point about the thermal recalibration feature being a possible source of the "clacking" noise. – Randolf Richardson Jul 24 '11 at 0:23

I would turn it off, get a new drive to clone to it, and use Clonezilla or another imaging software ASAP. Get it from another PC. i would not run any disk utilities like chkdsk as you are correct, that my push it over the edge.

The only exception would be if you have any critical data that is not saved anywhere else, I would try to get that immediately.

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The most important thing you can do is: Backup your data (or backup everything)

If you need everything, then there's a tool that I really like called Drive Snapshot which will create a backup image of your hard drive in a form that you can mount later as a virtual drive:

  Drive Snapshot

The trial version of this software will allow you to backup for 30 days (restoring is not restricted at all). Just run the program, select the target path (e.g., an external hard drive or network path), then leave it to copy everything (if it encounters any bad sectors, it will handle them intelligently and also record a list of them in a text file).

Until you have a place to backup your files, keeping the hard drive powered off could help reduce wear-and-tear but this doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility that a shutdown could also "push the drive over the edge." It's a tough call, really. The priority is definitely to get your important data backed up as soon as possible (and then also test your backup to make sure you can restore).

Of course, some drives are just noisy and yours could be one such drive. At any rate, getting regular backups of your data is important since a failure can occur unpredictably.

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It passes a SMART test. Does that mean anything at this point? – Peter Jul 23 '11 at 16:21
@Peter: The S.M.A.R.T. test will reveal if there are any known problems. Not all future problems can be reliably detected -- hardware that is brand new can fail the same day it's installed, even if within minutes after a thorough test, which is why I emphasized backups. To rely on the drive's history is a gamble, and I wouldn't feel comfortable taking such a chance. – Randolf Richardson Jul 24 '11 at 0:20

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