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I have the latest macbook pro 17 and it seems no matter what I do, particularly noticeable when I simply scroll up and down on a window, I hear the hard drive tapping away like it's being accessed or written to repeatedly. I used to also get frequent pauses with that ever annoying spinning color cursor until I upgraded to 8gbytes ram. Now the pausing happens a lot less frequently (though it still occurs), but I still get that hard drive craziness for everything I do.

I run intellij, chrome (maybe also firefox), sftp client, tomcat (with low memory limits) and not much else. Even 4gbytes should've been plenty.

Maybe what I'm hearing is not the hard drive? I'd be very surprised... What's going on? Is there a good tool for diagnosing this? top tells me I have plenty of memory free.

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I have had great luck using the Activity Monitor to find out what's running on my Macs. It should point you to the app that is accessing the hard drive. I would start in "My Processes" and look to see which apps are consuming CPUs. If this view does not help, then try switching to "All processes, Hierarchically" which will include your Apps and core System apps. The bad guy should be consuming lots of CPUs.

You can also run the Apple hardware test that Apple included on your OS X disks. This test is explain in Apple Support document HT1509.

Given your past experience with the Apple spinning beach ball, I think there's an app behind this but between Activity Monitor and Hardware test, you'll have a better idea of what's going on.

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I have to find my OS X disks for that hardware test, but the Activity Monitor didn't really highlight much. When I scroll in Chrome making that hd sound WindowServer and Chrome spike up to 10% and 15% cpu, respectively. Up from about 2% without doing anything. –  at01 Jul 3 '11 at 6:38
    
I would run the hardware tests, or bring it in to an Apple store. Sounds like a serious problem. Back up your hard drive too, the "clicking" you're hearing is very bad. –  spudwaffle Aug 31 '11 at 23:12
    
No part of the disk activity graphs in Activity Monitor points to an app or process. Percentage of CPU does not equate to disk activity. –  Graham Perrin Apr 27 '13 at 11:52
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