During the Mandrake installation, the default hard drive format is for it to format it quickly and not check for bad clusters. It'll ask you if you want to do a low level format... this will take a while depending on home big the disk is, but if you choose that it should return bad clustering information if there is any. Also, you may want to try a text-based install, which has a slightly better chance of not screwing up.
Also, if your machine is newer and the drives or either jumpered for CS, cable select, or just jumpered funky; like set for master with a slave when there is no slave... this can sometimes give the kernel a hiccup during installation that leads to a freeze, and it did the same thing to the DOS based Windozies.
Also... it could just be a deranged CDROM, but admitedly if its hardware dying the HD is more likely.