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hard disk access on every keystroke in console mode!

Every time I perform a keypress at the console (command line, nano, etc.) I 
can hear a tick from the hard disk.

Also, compiling from the console is almost 4 times slower than compiling 
from inside KDE3. This doesn't make sense to me.

I get similar results for 2.2, 2.4, and 2.6 kernels.
Does anyone know what causes this?

Every now and then I also get some pauses for a couple seconds that freeze 
my mouse and keyboard, cause cd skips, etc. This happens both at the 
command line and in KDE. The kernel preemption doesn't seem to have helped. 
Is there something I can do about this as well? It's kind of annoying. It 
doesn't seem to matter if I'm doing a lot of things (playing the cd, 
playing a couple wave files, a couple of midis, and some text editors) or 
next to nothing (in nano with no guis running at all).

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