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Continuous hard drive access

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The hard drive access light of my Dell 310 is on continuously from the time I power up until I shut down. I can hear the drive grinding away continuously, even with no applications open. I have left my computer on to see how long it continues, and it goes on for hours, seemingly never stopping. I'm worried about my drive failing, and I don't know why it would behave in this fashion. Has anyone experienced this?
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