Ubuntu and a Scratching noise !

Well, this might prove to be the worst night-mare for some of you long-time Ubuntu users.

My laptop has been running on Ubuntu (Hardy Heron ) for around 3-4 months. Ever since then, I’ve been ignoring an unusual noise coming from my harddisk , taking it to be the normal noise for any harddisk. But finally, I decided to google upon it, and what I found scared the hell out of me. In some cases (not all), the noise that is coming is coming due to frequent physical collision of the read/write head of your harddrive with the disc. This happens whenever the read/write head of your harddrive is parking itself more times than it should do optimally.

If you dont know about Parking, then Parking is a process by which your harddrive tries to save power. Usually, the read/write head is always roaming over the rotating metal disks, whenever the harddrive is in use. But when it is idle, the heads are “parked” or moved to a “parking place” present in the harddisk, where it can rest till they’re in need of use again. This saves power but decreases performance.

So If you’re dying to save power and you’re ready to compromise performace for that, then you should want your rw-heads to be parked whenever they finish their job. But as you know, when your computer is ON and you’re using it, then the harddisk gets very little time to rest. This is because almost every action of yours like listening to music,surfing the net,gaming,etc and other heavy-weight applications, requires harddisk for storing cache, temporary data and accessing & updating their core drivers, etc.

Even when you’re not using your computer, most of the time many other activites are going inside it, which are all scheduled using cron/anacron/etc. And if you have configured for “maximum power conservation”, then this means that you’re rw-heads are parked, then again unparked to do some job, then parked again, and again and again. And this means “frequent” collisions of your rw-heads with the discs which happens during every parking/unparking.

All this happens when the default configuration in Ubuntu harddisk driver isn’t compatible with the type of harddisk you use. The another possible reason is that your harddrive , is indeed already faulty. But If it’s not, then it is on its way of becoming one.

The sound which I heard from my harddisk is more like a “Crunching” noise whenever I do some activity that requires harddisk activity – like creating a file or a folder or accessing it. It is sometimes so quiet that I’ve to hear it by sticking my ear to the laptop and other times, it is so loud that I can hear it even when distance between me and laptop is 1 metre !

Well, if you’re facing similar problem, then I recommend you to read this article about this bug :
https://bugs.edge.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/acpi-support/+bug/59695

And the first thing you should do to check whether you’re really a victim is to download the “smartmontools” package.
Run:

sudo apt-get install smartmontools

And then find out the number of Load_Cycle_Count & Power_On_Hours variable of your harddrive using the following command :

sudo smartctl -d ata -a /dev/sda | grep Load_Cycle_Count

sudo smartctl -d ata -a /dev/sda | grep Power_On_Hours

Then to know the Average Load Cycle Count per hour by dividing the 2 numbers you got :

Load_Cycle_Count/Power_On_Hours

This value should be less that 15 for most of the time (except during very high use of your harddisk). If its more and you’re not doing any heavy activity and some strange noises are coming, then you are a victim! But wait , dont lose hope yet. May be it’s not too late. These frequent collosions degrade your harddisk slowly, so may be you can still save it. IMMEDIATELY CHANGE THE SETTING OF YOUR HARDDISK DRIVER BY RUNNING THIS CODE :

sudo hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda

Something more about this command, hdparm is a command to communicate with the kernel that runs your harddrive. Use “/dev/sda” if you have a SATA drive , otherwise use “/dev/hda“. -B options means you want to set the Power Management Feature. The value of 1 means “Aggressive Power Management” , and the valuee of 255 means completely Disabling Power Management Feature.

You may not want to completely disable it as it can raise the temperature of your harddisk. You can check for the temperature of your harddisk by issuing the following command :

sudo smartctl -a /dev/sda | grep Temperature_Celsius

If its too hot, then you should immediately enable power management feature and set it to come value around 200. But for now, change it to 254 and see it the noise coming out from your harddisk is lowered or not.

If it does, then I think you have good chances and better leave it with those settings for a few days and then calculate your Average Load_Cycle_Count again using the above steps, and see if it is reduced or not. If it doesn’t or if changing the value to 254 doesn’t reduces the noise, then better take the following steps immediately :

i) Read that article whose link I posted above.

ii) Immediately backup everything you want to save because your harddisk can die any moment.

iii) Call your Customer Service and get your harddisk replaced.

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