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Is your hard drive sata or pata? If your run hdparm -tT /dev/sda several times in a row do the speeds go down significantly?
I've seen this type of behaviour on pata drives that are running under the new libata and thus designated sdx instead of the traditional hdx. Some ide controllers have very buggy implementations in libata and many distros have resorted to using the legacy pata modules for these controllers instead of libata. Of course, if your hard drive is sata, this would have no application to your problem.