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Performance of file operations on thousands of files on NTFS vs HFS, ext3, others
Excellent supporting info, user4197, but that information confirms that contention for $MFT can be a problem when working with a lot of small files whose metadata gets updated often.
How long does it take for a failing HDD to die?
The few disks I've had fail have all acted quite differently. One just made a clunk noise, and never powered up again. Another would work for a while, then gradually slow down til nothing came out of it. Power cycling let me retrieve all data, but working periods got smaller and smaller.