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The hard disk of my late 2009 MacBook Pro appears to have become corrupted. I am traveling and do not have my install CD (and won't for several weeks, nor will I be anywhere near an Apple store).

The hard disk is not the original, which failed in June 2011. It's some Hitachi replacement installed by IT.

History: I was typing an email this afternoon, my computer suddenly started making soft clicking sounds and then froze. I was not moving around. I rebooted, which took a while. I heard more clicking sounds and the computer froze at least once again. It's now kind of working, with mdworker sucking up one CPU. There are no awkward hard drive sounds when I run Chrome or play music. However, when I launched Stickies, I found no trace of my saved Stickies. I ran a live disk verification from within Disk Utility, and it reported

invalid volume free block count

Problem: As reported, I don't have access to an installation disc and am nowhere near an area where I can get one for at least two weeks. I have the option of asking someone to go to some trouble and expense to get one for me, but I'm not sure it's worth it:

  1. I've read that I can use fsck from single-user mode to repair the disk. Should I just try this? Is it risky?
  2. I'm concerned that the clicky sound portends imminent (mechanical) hard drive failure, so it's not worth doing a silly repair.

This hard disk is backed up, but I definitely won't be able to access the backup while traveling. I'd like to maximize the probability that I can keep using my computer (and all its current files) while traveling.

Update

I bit the bullet and ran fsck -fy from single-user mode. It only needed one pass (modification) to reach the "okay" stage. However, rebooting took nearly 5 min and involved several rounds of scratchy sounds and a few bad clicks. I'm now back to kind of using my computer (the same files are missing as before). When I ran live disk verification from Disk Utility this time, however, it reported that the volume appears to be OK.

Am I right to infer from the scratchy sounds, however, that my hard drive is still rapidly on its way out? Is there anything else I can do to increase its functionality over the next few weeks?

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Didn't know about that. Thanks for the referral. –  Sarah Mar 13 '12 at 22:18
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

You can't use Disk Utility from your startup disk to repair the startup disk, which is why that option is grayed out.

The noises most likely indicate that this hard drive is about to die (mechanically) and Disk Utility or fsck is not going to help. You most likely have very little time (as in minutes or hours, not days or weeks) where the disk will mount so you should focus all your efforts on making sure you have a backup of all your data. In fact leaving the drive on and letting mdworker (the Spotlight process) chug away at the disk is only shortening it's life. You can add the entire hard drive to in the Spotlight privacy pane to stop that, which will disable content searching.

I'd recommend moving any new files not on your backup into Dropbox or email them to yourself and assume that the drive will not survive 2 more weeks.

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The drive did manage to survive another two weeks. After running fsck and rebooting, I never turned my computer off (just let it sleep) and ran only a few essential applications for a few hours each day. Hard drive has since been replaced by Hitachi. Thanks for the helpful advice. –  Sarah Apr 20 '12 at 20:09
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The repair disk option is grayed out because your are running the verify on the boot disk. One option mentioned on the Disk utility help menu is to boot from an external disk (I am trying this right now from my system) and then run the Repair disk for your main HD. The same help page sugests that you can boot from an external HD by rebooting the Mac and keep pressing the Option key.

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Have you tried using the disk utility? Apparently I can't post a comment here :(

If there is a repair option I would try that before anything else. Worst case you can reformat, if you do that of course you will lose your files, but you could at least continue using the computer.

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The "Repair Disk" option in Disk Utility is grayed out. I can only repair permissions, verify permissions, and verify the disk. –  Sarah Mar 13 '12 at 22:31
    
If you can't repair I think reformatting is your only option. –  evanmcdonnal Mar 13 '12 at 22:33
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