That is exactly what happened to me tonight. The hard drive on my laptop produced this horrendous noise then all activity on my laptop froze. I shut off the power and tried to reboot. It told me to insert a disk. It didn't recognize the hard drive. I turned it off again and let it sit for over an hour afraid of what I suspected was true.
After the wait, I turned the laptop on again. I figured if the hard drive had crashed, it wouldn't matter if I turned it back on again. It started up and began loading Windows, but I could hear what sounded like something hitting fan blades. As soon as the login screen came up, I shut down the laptop. When the laptop was completely shut down, I could hear the hard drive come to a quick stop. It sounded as if something was dragging.
I'm afraid that I won't be able to get the important files backed up before it completely seizes up. I knew better than to use my laptop as my workhorse machine, but it is the fastest computer that I currently have, so I gradually began using the laptop more and more.
There are only a few data files that I really want. My Outlook data, my Microsoft Money data, and my genealogy data are the most important. Luckily I have most of the Money and genealogy data on this computer already. I will only lose 1-3 months of financial and genealogy work, but I will lose about 2 years of archived emails and contacts as well as my future calendar appointments.
The funny thing is I had begun a complete backup of my laptop. I just hadn't reached the documents directory yet.
As soon as my efforts to salvage what I can have been exhausted, I will call the computer shop and see where to send my laptop. Thank goodness I opted for the 4 year warranty. The warranty expires this December.