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I have an Asus X201E netbook (with 2 GB of RAM) and Ubuntu 12.10.

The hard drive can almost always be heard being accessed, even when doing nothing. It is as if a search had been run on the entire drive, but this never stops. This is not "swapping" because the "free" command reports 900 MB of unused RAM and 0 MB of swap space used.

I am afraid that this is going to kill the HD prematurely. Any ideas where this could come from ?

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How do you know it's swapping and it's not some processes doing something on the background? Have you checked the output of "free" to see how much swap is in use? – LtWorf Apr 28 '13 at 12:01
"swapping" is actually not the correct word. "free" tells me that 900 MB of RAM is unused, and none of the Swap is used. – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:03
So it's not swapping. That said, probably you have some process doing a lot of I/O. For example if you are downloading torrent, it's quite normal to hear the disk often. – LtWorf Apr 28 '13 at 12:04
Unfortunately, I am not doing anything. This behavior can be observed even when ubuntu has just booted, without launching any programs. – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:05
It's interesting to note that the noise pattern is not constant, as if it was actually doing /something/. – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:05

You should use iotop to find out which process is doing I/O, and then decide if it's something you need or something you can live without, and remove it in the latter case.

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According to iotop, the only process that seems to be doing some HD I/O (write only, it seems) is jbd2/sda4-8, but most of the times it doesn't even appear - and the HD noise is heard at all times, even when iotop reports ZERO hard drive activity. – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:10
Maybe your disk is just noisy/damaged? – LtWorf Apr 28 '13 at 14:47
I did a SMART check and there is nothing wrong to report... – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 15:43
SMART is not the solution to all the problems. In any case if the OS doesn't report activity, I'd say it's the hardware. – LtWorf Apr 28 '13 at 16:09

I had this issue with my Laptop and I tried everything but in the end I found it was a Toshiba drive. The Toshiba drives have a problem with the park option and it goes haywire and continiously tries to park the drive and that is the noise you are hearing.

The solution is to disable the power management, although that will decrease battery life. This worked for my drive but as you haven't told us what drive you have this solution might not work and needs a different parameter set.

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No, mine is an Hitachi HTS54503. And you'll have to admit that disabling power management is not an optimal solution :/ – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:17
True, but if the driver is buggy or the hard disk is,not much choice and it is a way to narrow down the issue – Meer Borg Apr 28 '13 at 12:19
I tried hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda (also with the value 254, as indicated by the page you recommended), and this didn't have any effect on the noise. – calvin tiger Apr 28 '13 at 12:24
I went trough quite a few params before it worked for me, but it might not be the issue. Although no hard disk activity from the other answer tends to lead to parking issue. In the old days I would say your drive had a bearingbball issue but those things are rarer these days – Meer Borg Apr 28 '13 at 12:29
You might also want to check if your drive has SMART technology which stores information about the drives health. That gives data like errors of the drive and other issues… – Meer Borg Apr 28 '13 at 12:32

I had the same problem. More or less by accident, I noticed that whenever I had GMail open in a browser, a rattling hard drive would be the result. In my case, if GMail would be running in Google Chrome, Opera, Safari or Vivaldi, it would result in constant rattling. In Firefox, it would still cause some hard drive access. I ended up with Midori, and now my hard drive no longer makes a lot of noise.

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