Short version: my laptop suddenly became very slow, and has since slowed down so much I can no longer get into windows properly, I get stuck at the blue log-in screen. I could only get in using safe mode. And I didn't backup my files and programs and I'm afraid of losing them, and now I got a message out of the blue saying that hard drive failure is imminent.
Long version: For a few days prior to my laptop meltdown, I noticed that it had gotten a bit slower: pages would load slower, it would take a few seconds for typed letters to appear, etc. That was unusual. Two days before the meltdown, the laptop had twice been accidentally left on for around 15hrs (it's supposed to shut off if it's not being used, but it never seems to do that anymore). Then, on the day of, it just seemed to freeze while I was online. I rebooted, and that's when my laptop started to act very slow. Slow to load windows, to open folders, everything. And interestingly, it seemed to get slower with every passing hour--or each time I restarted it anyway. Opening My Computer took 5 mins at first, then later 30 mins. My screensaver still worked (using images from my pics folder). I had no clue whether it was a virus/malware or hardware failure. I have Norton Antivirus Suite, and tried twice to run a scan, but after I opened it and clicked "scan" it would sit there for a bit, then the windows disappeared (crash?). And when I double-clicked on the desktop icon nothing happened. I also tried using it's Backup but same thing happened. After I found this website, I decided to follow the 'spyware/malware removal' instructions first, and used the TFC cleaner and erunt. I also got Malwarebytes scanning (slowly), but after 66hrs running without finding anything, while I think it was in the middle of scanning 'system32' folder (?), the outline of a windows update popup appeared (the kind that restart your computer) and...yup, it restarted my computer. And this is when I discovered that I couldn't get past the blue log-in screen. I could still move the mouse and all, but it seemed to be loading so slowly/stuck that after a few hours of log-in screen I shut my laptop off. After this, I used F8. I tried the 'last known good config' first, with no change. But I can get in using safe mode. I couldn't get Microsoft's backup to work, I got an error (labeled: 'catastrophic failure'?!). So I deleted a few files, moved some files, and copied some files to an external hdd. I ended up leaving it alone for a few days, then when I turned it back on I got a black screen saying something about SMART disk failure (?) and how I should backup all my files because a hard drive failure is imminent and I should replace it. That was an unpleasant surprise. And I still can't get into windows in normal mode. After that imminent hdd failure message I haven't tried safe mode. And I don't have my hdd properly backed up and I'm afraid of losing files & programs, I dread the thought of having to wipe my laptop clean (or replacing my hdd, ouch) aaaand I'm broke Any help would be appreciated.
Other notes: laptop gets warm quickly. I usually have a fan blowing on it. I have about 13 gigs free, which I know is less than the recommended amount. But I've had as little as 2 gigs free and it never slowed up on me even remotely like this (it would be fine after I freed up space). In the days leading up to this I hadn't installed anything, downloaded anything suspicious, or visited any websites that gave me cause for alarm, for what that's worth. I also use firefox and have ABP & NoScript. Also, this laptop had a C: drive and a small D: drive.
Gateway MX6543 laptop
Processor Type: AMD Athlon 64 X2
Processor Speed: 1.6 GHz
Processor Configuration: Dual Core
Memory (RAM): 2 GB
Hard Drive Capacity: 160 GB
Operating System: Windows XP Media Center
Primary Drive: DVD+/-RW