External hard drive light constantly flashing in Mandriva

Q I have Mandriva 2006 on a box with two hard drives. The second is a backup partition. After loading the KDE desktop all appears OK; however, the indicator LED for the hard drive keeps flashing on and off faster than I can count (several times a second). It also does it on an older box that I use just to try out any software. I was advised to remove Kat, but that did not stop it. I tried SUSE on the old box and there was no problem, but I would like to stick with Mandriva if I can. I don't know why Mandriva is trying to wear out my hard drive, but I want it to stop doing it! Any suggestions to this end would be most welcome.

A Removing Kat makes sense as a first suggestion. Kat indexes all files in your home directory, which means that during its first run it has a good stab at making a fast 64-bit computer emulate the speed of a Sinclair Spectrum. However, there are other programs that will scan your hard disk from time to time, the most likely being Updatedb, which builds the database for locate. This is run as a Cron task - one that Mandriva defaults to running once a week, in the early hours, so you wouldn't normally notice the disk activity. If you have the anacron package installed, this will run any Cron jobs that were missed because the computer was turned off, which could account for the disk activity after you turn it on.

Run top in a terminal while the disk light is flashing and nothing else is running. This will show the tasks using the most CPU time, which would usually include whatever is hammering your hard disk too. If the culprit is Updatedb, there's nothing to worry about. It normally only takes a few minutes to update its database, once a week, and it is well worth having. Try leaving the computer switched on for a while. If the light is still flashing after, say, half an hour, something would appear to be amiss and you should use top to find what it is. It is worth noting that your 'hard drive' LED actually monitors activity on the IDE bus, so it doesn't necessarily mean that your hard drive is being used. For example, checking whether a disc is in the DVD drive can cause this light to flash. It could be something as innocuous as Partmon, which warns you if a partition is close to full. You can disable this in the System > Services section of the Mandriva Control Center.

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