Is my PowerBook hard drive dying?

Discussion in 'PowerPC Macs' started by notjustjay, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. macrumors 603


    My PowerBook won't boot anymore, and I'm afraid the hard drive is dying.

    The PB is almost 4 years old (October 2003), used daily, which puts it within reasonable (if early) failure timeframe. This would be my first hard drive failure, ever (if indeed that's what this is). Let me tell you my tale of woe:

    A week ago I came home to find that programs were suddenly unable to write anything to the drive (e.g. Mail couldn't update the mailbox, Finder couldn't copy files, even in Terminal, "touch test.txt" would result in a non-specific failure message like "Invalid command" -- notably NOT an error like "Access denied"). I tried to shut things down but the hard drive started thrashing badly. I thought maybe it was an errant background process that had taken up so much memory that the OS was paging virtual memory frantically.

    A normal shutdown wouldn't work, so I did a hard power off. When it came back up, it sat at the grey Apple screen indefinitely, disk thrashing away. I tried a few other restarts before it got as far as the Booting Mac OS X screen, progress bar frozen at 90%, and another restart later, finally booted normally.

    Machine appeared to work normally for another few days, and I thought problems were solved. Spooked, however, by the possibility of hard drive failure, I went out and bought a new 20" aluminum iMac. I started slowly copying over files over the wireless via a shared drive. I just moved into a new place and I'm still unpacking, so I didn't have access to an external drive, Firewire cable, DVD-R's, etc. So I only copied the small files.

    A few nights ago some apps seemed to have been cut off from drive writing again. However, it still ran OK, if a bit slowly, and I needed to get some work done. I thought I'd shut down and restart clean. This time after I shut it down, it never came back.

    It would sit at the grey Apple, the spinner spinning away, and then the spinner would freeze. Meanwhile I hear a constant "buzzing" noise coming from the hard drive. A few times, I got a kernel panic at that point instead of just freezing.

    I tried the usual tricks -- boot clean, reset PRAM and NVRAM, even boot into Target Disk mode as a last-ditch effort to try and copy the remaining files to the iMac. No go. It starts to boot, and just hangs, hard drive constantly buzzing. Thinking maybe the OS was corrupted, I even tried to boot from the Tiger DVD to start a new install, but that stopped before it even started, with a simple "the installer encountered errors. Please try again" or something like that.

    There are signs that the hard drive is aware of its filesystem -- the OS does "start" to load OK, I hear normal-sounding drive access, particularly on a clean boot, where it took a lot longer than normal before the spinner froze. The install DVD did correctly read how much free space was available on the drive.

    What worries me is the indeterminate freezing, the constant buzzing sound (which I can't honestly recall if it is normal or not), the fact that in Target Disk mode nothing appears to mount on the connected machine. Another thing I noticed is that now, when I do a hard power off (press power button for 5 seconds) I can hear the hard drive spin down over a few seconds ("bZZZZZzzzzzz...."), where previously all I heard was a sort of "Bzt" sound as, I presume, some sort of electronic braking system ground everything to a halt within a split second.

    At this point the laptop is sitting, power and battery disconnected, while I consider my options. What I want to do is get the hard drive replaced, and do a clean OS install. The existing drive, I'd like to take out and place in an external drive enclosure, to see if I can mount it and retrieve the rest of my files.

    Any thoughts? Is the drive hosed or do I have any hope of recovering the rest of my files?
  2. macrumors 65816

    Santa Rosa

    That probably seems the best you could do. If it was me I would go with that.

    Good luck with getting it sorted!! :)
  3. macrumors 603


    Thanks. I'm afraid to try powering it up any more often than necessary in case there is a hardware failure.

    I've never had a hard drive fail on me until now (well, except for the one I dropped from 3 feet onto ceramic tile... oops) so I don't actually know what to look for. I suspect that the symptoms I've observed can't be good, though.

    I feel like an idiot at the "oh, if only I had known" stage... if I had known, I would have immediately done a full file backup during those few days when all seemed well.
  4. macrumors 65816

    Santa Rosa

    Just one little suggestion, when you get your PB fixed instal the program SMARTReporter, it is a small free utility that sits up top in the menu bar and will warn you if your hard drive is going to fail. I use it for the 7200RPM drive in my MBP because I aint just entirely sure about it yet!!!

    Hope your PB makes a quick recovery and it isnt too much hassle for you!! :)

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