Hard Drive Clicking Noise: Causes and How to Fix

Does your computer make a clicking or chattering noise? Does it happen more often when you’re opening a file, saving something to the hard drive, or looking for something? Hard drive making noise like clicking or chattering is usually a warning that there’s a mechanical issue where there shouldn’t be.

Is your hard drive clicking? First, backup your data. A system error or corruption may require recalibrating the data chip, so it matches up with the hard drive to stop the clicking. Replacing the PCB that protects against electrical problems may solve the noise. However, replacing the hard drive may be the only solution.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what may cause a hard drive to click, what could be clicking, and how to fix a clicking hard drive. We’ll also explain how to recover data from a clicking hard drive. By the end of the article, you’ll have a better understanding of what hard drive clicking means, what a repair involves, and how to recover stored data.

Hard Drive Clicking

Is Hard Drive Clicking Normal

Most laptops, desktops, and external hard drives operate with minimal sound. The amount of sound can depend on the quality of manufacture and how well insulated moving parts are, so they operate more quietly. Some may quietly click occasionally as the actuator arm in the hard drive hits a limiter.

The arm sweeps the read-write heads across the hard disc or platter – instead of a floppy plastic disc – as it stores or searches for information. Some hard drives have one platter; others may have 6 or more platters, each with two heads. The limiters keep the arm or boom positioned over the discs, so a quiet clicking isn’t unusual.

There may also be a whirring sound as the disc spins too. However, repetitive clicking or chattering that is louder than normal often indicates a potential problem.

Why Is My Hard Drive Making Clicking Noise?

Unusually loud or persistent chattering or clicking sound from the hard drive could indicate you have a serious problem. The problem is drive or firmware related, in other words, mechanical components or PCB modules, not software related.

The platters of a hard drive may be metal, glass, or plastic. A clicking hard drive may make it difficult to get your data, music, pictures, and other important items from your computer.

Here are some reasons for hard drive clicking:

Physical Damage

The hard drive may have been damaged due to the computer or drive being dropped or banged against a hard surface. The impact could jolt or damage the hardware or internal firmware, causing a clicking noise.

A loose arm or read-write head could result from an impact or faulty or worn components and make a clicking. It could also scratch the platter, making data recovery difficult or impossible.

Service Area Issues

Service area issues occur when you attempt to access your drive to determine what is wrong or if data can be retrieved. The PCB on the drive could be locked and require a patch to gain access to the service area. Accessing the service area will provide information about the heads and platters.

Helping to identify if a head is damaged or platter corrupted. If the drive is clicking on powering up the heads and platters need to be inspected, one or more of the heads may not be functioning correctly. If the disc stays spinning or idling, it may be something else that could be fixed with software.

Weak or Failed Read/Write Heads

The heads are located at the end of the actuator arms and float across each platter on the air current produced by the discs rotating at 5,400 to 12,000 RPMs. They read or write data without actually touching the surface. There is usually a stack of platters in a drive with data stored on both surfaces.

There is a different head to read the top and bottom of each disc. So, if there are six discs, there will be 12 heads. If one fails, others may soon follow and cause more damage.

The heads may fail from daily wear and tear, a jolt or impact causing them to scratch and damage a platter or become misaligned, dust, or poor quality parts. The drive may still function, but any information stored on the platter read by a failed head won’t be retrievable.

It may repeatedly click, beep, chirp, or stop spinning. If you hear a scraping sound, that could be caused by the head dragging across the disc surface, which can make data recovery near impossible.

Heads Out of Alignment

A jolt, impact, or mechanical failure could put the read-write heads out of alignment. Misaligned heads won’t be able to retrieve data that is stored on the discs. Data is stored on both sides of the platter, and also vertically on disc stacks.

The head has to be calibrated to match up with the storage system, so any micron of misalignment can cause the arm and head to attempt to retrieve data, and then return to rest before trying again. Each attempt can cause a clicking noise as it is stopped by the limiters.

Defective Power Supply Unit

The power supply unit (PSU) converts AC power to DC and supplies various electrical components of the computer, including the hard drive. It has a built-in cooling fan to prevent overheating.

The PSU could have been damaged by lightning, a power surge or brownout. A defective power supply may not deliver enough power to the hard drive, causing HDD clicking or chatter.

Damaged Platters

Platters are made of metal, glass, or plastic and have a magnetized surface for storing data. Heads that fail or are damaged can touch the surface of the platters causing damage to the magnetized surfaces with scratches, making data recovery virtually impossible. The platters may be unreadable due to damage, and the heads will make a clicking noise as they attempt to read-write information.

Damaged Firmware

A hard drive uses PCBs and chips known as firmware when it is booting up or operating. Information is stored on a chip that matches up with information on the platters and is used to calibrate the disc. If the firmware is damaged or corrupted, the drive may make a clicking noise as the heads move back and forth, looking for information they require to calibrate.

Due to the firmware failure, the heads are unable to match up with stored information, or it isn’t recognized. Replacing the PCB and chip may solve the problem if the information on the chip matches up with that stored on the discs. Although the hard drive is clicking, data recovery is possible.

How to Fix Clicking Hard Drive

If your hard drive is clicking, you have few options – shut it down immediately and take it to a professional computer repair facility, or try to identify where the clicking is coming from and fix it yourself.

If your hard drive still functions, back up your essential files. Unfortunately, there’s a risk of damaging the hard drive, so even professional data recovery won’t be possible.

Here are some suggestions on how to repair a clicking hard drive:

  • If the computer or external hard drive is clicking and it’s still under warranty, turn it off and take it in for service. If you open it up, the warranty is usually voided.
  • Test to see if the power supply is supplying enough power. It can make the hard drive click. If it is the PSU, replacing it should fix the noise.
  • You can attempt a ‘check disc scan’ to ascertain if it identifies any damage. Unfortunately, that may also cause more damage.
  • If the computer or laptop is past warranty, remove the hard drive from its mount without disconnecting if possible. The goal is to remove the drive, so it is easier to hear if the clicking noise is coming from it or the power supply unit.You’ll need to get your ear close to the drive to hear.A healthy drive will have a low hum at start-up as the platters spin, followed by rapid clicking as the actuator arm moves the heads to search the discs for data.

    After the initial burst of clicking, the sound should settle into the hum with irregular clicking.A noise that is louder or doesn’t stop means there’s a problem. If the hard drive attempts to spin up, then stops and repetitively tries to startup, it may not be the discs but a drive problem. Damaged heads or firmware, however, can also cause the drive to behave similarly.

  • Remove and replace the hard drive with a new hard drive or a solid-state drive (SSD), which has no moving components, and then reload your software and saved data.
  • To fix a clicking sound caused by damaged heads or firmware will necessitate the opening up of the hard drive to recover data. We do not recommend this unless you have experience repairing computers. Cleaning the disc area with compressed air may remove dust that is interfering and causing the clicking.

    Removing and replacing the PCB and chip may fix the noise provided the calibration information on the chip is the same as what is stored on the discs. Replacing the read-write heads may also fix the clicking sound. Unfortunately, if the discs have been scratched by loose or damaged heads, data recovery is unlikely.

How to Recover Data From Clicking Hard Drive

A clicking hard drive is a wakeup call most of us don’t expect or want to hear, especially if you don’t regularly back up your drive. Some back up monthly, others weekly, and a few back up daily.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t do it at all. So, when you hear an unusual clicking sound, it’s a serious issue.

Although we recommend leaving data recovery to professional computer recovery services, here are some possible ways to recover important data:

  • If the clicking hard drive is still functioning, attempt to back up the data on a USB or external hard drive.
  • Use a Windows 95 or 98 startup disc to access DOS. The plan is to copy the data from the hard drive to another drive or cloud storage using fundamental DOS xcopy commands and copy directory and subdirectory files.
  • Purchase or download a data recovery program onto a computer that doesn’t click or chatter. Follow the software interface instructions to create a bootable CD, DVD, or USB stick. Shift the DVD, CD, or USB to the clicking computer and reboot.You want to access the BIOS Setup Utility settings. Go to the Boot file and select ‘CD-ROM Drives’ for a CD or DVD boot disc, or ‘Removable Devices’ for a USB, and then ‘Save and Exit’ (F10) to save the changes.

    Wait for the next screen to come up and launch data recovery. Follow the prompts and select the data to recover and where to save it to. Similar programs can be used to attempt recovery of data from a clicking external hard drive too.

  • Opening up the clicking hard drive is the last resort in an attempt to recover data, and should only be done by someone experienced in computer repair. We do not recommend it as a DIY repair. If the platters are scratched or damaged, the chance of recovery is reduced. Replacing firmware or read-write heads may make it possible to recover data.
  • A seized motor bearing replacement requires a new bearing from a matching donor drive. The platter stack, actuator arm, heads, and circuit board from the defective drive have to be moved to the donor and reinstalled in the laptop, desktop, or external drive. The new configuration allows for hard drive recovery.

Conclusion

Many of us store years of photos and data on computers, laptops, and external hard drives, so when they start clicking unusually, it’s no laughing matter. Hopefully, it’s possible to recover data using specialized software, replacing read-write heads, drive bearings, or firmware.

If recovery of data isn’t a concern, then replace the hard drive with a compatible one or an SSD. It is often less expensive than replacing the whole computer.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful. Please share with others who may find it of value. Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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Eugene Sokol
Hi, I’m Eugene. I work with noise all day, so I enjoy any peace and quiet I can find. I began looking at ways to improve the sound quality of my home and to make a soundproof office for myself. As a DIY enthusiast, I looked for solutions I could do. I created this blog to share what I learned and to make it easier for you to improve your quiet space too.

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