Thanks Rolli - it was a WD drive. I added some details about when I installed it (Aug 2011). My old drive was failing and making horrid noises as well so I know about failing drives. This drive is super silent ... but I will run some diagnostics against it.
Could it be my cheap connector?
[StarTech 18in SATA to Right Angle SATA Serial ATA Cable (SATA18RA1)]