Why does my MacBook lock up soon after booting up?

My MacBook Pro (unibody mid 2009) locks up in the pinwheel of death soon after booting up and loading any program. Have tried many suggestions from the paper manual but none have corrected the problem. I have done a re-installation of the OS, and a disk repair from the Utilities menu. I have much sensitive data on the hard drive that I'd like to retrieve. Would changing the hard drive solve this problem.

Any suggestions short of purchasing a new computer?

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If your hard drive is not the problem - Yes.

Take the HD out and put it in an external case, you can connect that (or take that) to a computer which can duplicate/copy the data. If your HD is failing or has failed you will need some expensive data recovery software, or extremely expensive physical drive repair.

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