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I'm trying to move a partition from a GParted live disk, but two things started happening:

  1. The disk is making a popping/cracking noise, almost like a Geiger counter.
  2. GParted says Read error on /dev/sda, and offers to ignore, cancel, or retry. Hitting any of the options just makes the message pop up again. In addition, Cancel and Retry cause the progress bar to advance.

GParted already finished shrinking another partition without issues; if I force-reboot, will that partition still be fine?

What can I do to minimize data loss and (hopefully) recover from this? Is the data a lost cause, or is there hope?

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I'm always suprised by people advising to use software X before trying a data copy.

DON'T use Palimpsets or whatever to 'analyze' your disk, but stop using the disk (computer) as much as possible.

Don't shutdown or restart, don't analyze the disk, don't try to repair, don't even read with anything else than the program that will copy your data off the disk.

Leave the computer on, disable tasks that will start running, unplug your network cable if you want.

Inform yourself (through other channels) about software you can use for the copy (as you did), if you can find software that starts working without needing an install and/or a reboot, all the better (Can Clonezilla do that, anyone?).

You can choose if you want to do file copies or image copies, but the only thing you do (again) is copy data off the disk.

Only if your copy attempts are done (successful or not) can you think about analyzing or 'repairing' the disk.

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If any HDD ever starts making a noise of any kind you should stop using it immediately. No further hardware tests are needed and should not be performed because any type of testing can and will cause further damage to the drive.

The HDD will have to be replaced regardless, the only thing you should be concerned with now is recovering your data. I would recommend starting with smaller files that you know are important like documents and maybe a few pictures, but after that you can just pull the entire "Users" folder off of the drive.

If the data is extremely important you can opt for professional data recovery that usually starts at $200+, but even professional data recovery will either be more expensive or not possible at all depending on how damaged i.e. how much you used the drive or testing you did after it went bad.

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It sounds like a bad sign. Stop doing any partitioning work, and try to use the disk as few as possible.

As others have pointed out, it's better to perform a backup of your data first, and then trying to discover what happened to the hard drive.

After you have managed to secure your data, if you want to diagnose what happened to the disk, you could use a S.M.A.R.T. tool to see if it has some physical damage; I would suggest you Palimpsest (also called "Palimpsest Disk Utility" or "Gnome Disks").
S.M.A.R.T. tools can be used in two ways, the first one is to simply retrieve disk attributes, displayed in the form of an ID, a description and a value, that can help to understand the health status uf the disk; to understand the meaning of these values, you can refer to this wikipedia article.
The second way is to run so called "Self tests", there are different types but all of them perform some read/write activity, so if the disk is already damaged, they can potentially worsen the situation; anyway, in less critical situations, these are useful for an in-depth diagnosis.

Regarding the backup of the data present on the disk, besides manually copying your files, you can also consider to clone your partitions to another (healthy) hard drive, to maintain not just your data but also everything else (operating system, settings, and so on). A very handy tool for the task is Clonezilla.

I suggest you to grab a copy of Parted Magic, it is a Linux distribution tailored specifically for these kind of tasks, it can be booted from an USB pendrive and contains all the aforementioned tools (and many more useful ones).
For future reference, keep in mind that all the work on partitions should be done after a backup and with a Live system. Also, a periodic check of the health status of the disk can prevent the discovery of possible errors when it is too late.
If you need more help with the above tools, feel free to ask.

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Is the best way to stop to shut down? – cpast May 13 '13 at 22:06

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