HDD Suddenly Extremely Slow - Unexplained High Usage & Active Time

System Specs in my signature - I may have trouble giving detailed information about certain things because I am obligated to make this post on my laptop. The desktop is so slow it's difficult to accomplish much of anything.

Only a few days ago my PC was working fine, just as it has since I completed building it in late April. The issue seems to only apply to the HDD (my storage drive) and not the SSD (my boot/OS drive). There is a symbolic link that makes all SSD:\Users\ data save to the HDD:\Users\ folder - this was done so downloads, temp files, etc. would not get saved to the SSD which has far less available space. Not sure if that is affecting the performance issues I'm having, but thought it was worth mentioning.

I have tried some methods to identify and/or fix the issue from searching in Google, but so far this has not helped. These include checking if the problem still persists in Safe Mode (it does), running a system file checker scan to see if essential Windows and registry files are either missing or corrupt (the scan returned no issues), running a check disk scan on the affected HDD (cannot complete the scan because read/write is so slow on the drive), running anti-virus/malware to detect malicious activity that could be causing the problem (cannot run MSE, the HDD is far too slow to explore).

When running any sort of analytic or diagnostic software, the hard drive slows down to almost a complete stop. Sometimes, after a few minutes of running MSE for example, it will stop completely (at least as far as I can observe). The problem also causes Log Off/Shut Down processes to be exceptionally slow. The startup process takes significantly longer (maybe 60-90 seconds) than it had when the PC was functioning properly (again, it was fine just a few days to a week ago). Internet browsers also function very, very slowly. I had originally thought the issue was simply related to my router/modem, but I soon figured out I wasn't so lucky :(

I made a last ditch effort to open the case up, remove any dust (there wasn't much) and make sure all wired connections were secure. This didn't do anything either.

I suppose the last resort would be a complete reformatting of the drive - obviously, I want to avoid this as much as possible, especially because I have been complacent recently and have not backed up this drive in probably a month :non: But even then, I can't be sure it will solve the problem. I would hate to lose so many important files only to find that the issue lies with the physical drive itself, and it has to be replaced or something similar.

Please offer any advice and I'm happy to answer further questions that might shed light on the issue. It may take a while to do any exploring on the drive, however. As I have said, it's very very slow.

One more thing, in Resource Monitor - I see nothing unusual about CPU/RAM workloads. The anomaly clearly exists with the Disk Usage stats, with extraordinarily high Active Time (constantly at 100% when anything tries to read from the drive), high data I/O, and long read/write times (thousands of milliseconds on multiple processes).

Thanks in advance to anyone who reads or offers help!

/edit/ I should mention, there is PLENTY of space left on both the SSD and HDD
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  1. An update on the status of this issue:

    I had downloaded the WD Diagnostics Tool to test the drive. I remember using this tool to test the drive when I first received and installed it - it passed both the quick and extended test back then. Now I have run it on the drive following this issue and found that it failed the Quick Test. It also was unable to complete the Extended Test, as the diagnostic tool's reading process completely froze at a certain point (only about 1-5% of the total data on the drive, as the progress bar showed). With this information I called WD Tech Support. They informed me the drive was still under warranty and recommended filing for RMA status.

    I went through with applying for the RMA process. I am waiting to receive a replacement in the mail some time next week. The representative told me that I can pursue data recovery at one of their registered locations (Best Buy and the like), but this would be my responsibility to pay for (I know from the experiences of others that they sometimes claim it will cost hundreds of dollars (USD) to fully recover the data, and even then it is not guaranteed). However, I have 30 days to return the defective drive to WD, so it would be possible to recover the data and transfer it to the replacement drive once I receive it next week.

    I was also told that if I am able to solve the issue on my own before my replacement arrives, I can deny the package and it will automatically be sent back to their warehouse. At that time the money they are temporarily holding on my credit card will be replaced (as it would if I returned the defective drive instead). Sounds standard enough to me, and while I'm disappointed with the performance of what I thought would be one of the better drives out there, at least WD customer support is overall quite reasonable and helpful.

    Still, I will continue to try and solve this issue in the interim. Any advice is appreciated; it may be futile, particularly if the drive itself has failed mechanically or otherwise, but worth the effort in my opinion.

    I am a little concerned about whether the replacement drive will be easy to set-up or if I will have to go through the arduous process of setting up symbolic links again (as I mentioned in the original post). Will the symbolic link from SSD:\Users\ to HDD:\Users\ remain functionally intact if I physically replace the HDD with an identical model? I hope so, but it would be nice to know for sure. If you are aware of what would happen in this situation, please let me know.
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