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Most Common Hardware Failures: Diagnosing by Noise

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In spite of the fast-paced world of technology being constantly improved and every now and then supplied with new methods of gathering, operating, and storing information — from refined solid-state drives and helium storage devices of today to DNA memory and quantum computing we’re about to see in the future, — everlasting hardware is yet to be invented. These days, however, mechanical damages still occupy the top positions in the ranking of the most common causes of data loss. Among others, hard disks are particularly prone to mechanical malfunctions and component wear due to their extremely fragile design, which is why they go belly up more frequently.

The good news, however, is that, in most cases, you can tell your HDD is having difficulties operating by the sound it makes — and even, with skillful and timely diagnostics, find out the exact reason why this is happening. In this article, we’ll go through some most common sounds coming from one’s hard drive, and determine what kind of disrepairs they foreshadow.


When It’s Alright

When things move, they often make a sound. HDDs are made up of moving parts, namely a platter (or a few) and a spindle, that is a read-and-write head.

Now, your data is stored in a very orderly pattern on each platter, arranged in circular concentric paths called tracks. Whenever you need to either save or access a specific piece of information, the read-write head moves across the platter to the right location and is reading/storing the data there.

As your machine is booting up and the hard drive begins spinning, it’s perfectly normal to hear a quiet whirring or low humming; the same goes for read/write operations or intensive work: as the spindle comes into motion, seeking the right track and accessing data, you might hear a bit more noise than usual. In other cases, though, clicking, rustling, buzzing, or grinding sounds are most likely to indicate that something is seriously wrong.



Aside from the hard drive itself, your computer has other elements, such as a fan, disc drive, or other moving parts, that can get noisy as well. Buzzing is most likely to be related to something large obstructing the normal functioning of the fans that keep the hardware of your machine cool.

As your machine starts up, it’s normally powering up the fans at a higher speed for several seconds to dislodge and blow away anything that has accumulated around the blades (tiny pieces of dust and stuff).

The sound becoming weirder or louder, however, may imply there’s something large has stuck between the blades. If so, it will be easy to spot: all you need to do is open up your computer and inspect the fan — and once a fan problem is diagnosed, you can let out a sigh of relief that no hard drive recovery is needed.



As for why your hard drive is clicking, everything is not so rosy here: as a rule, a repeated loud clicking noise is a sign of defective movement or failure of the read-and-write actuator. Basically, it results from your drive making continuous attempts to restart that are followed by an error. 

Due to its fragile structure and a variety of failure causes each requiring a specific solution (like glitching PCB (Printed Circuit Board), physical damage to a hard disk, read-and-write heads misalignment, etc), trying DIY repair won’t be a good idea unless you’re not afraid to lose all the data. Instead, power down your machine as soon as possible, and contact a data recovery company for a consultation.

For instance, the SalvageData recovery lab can offer you a no-obligation expert diagnosis along with a further quote for hard drive recovery. With more than 10 years of experience in the field and all required certified tools and proprietary software, they can retrieve data even when other recovery labs have claimed your case hopeless. So, whatever happens to your data, just make a call — and let the professionals do the rest!



The beeping sound comes from the struggles of the drive’s mechanical components and usually is caused by its electronics failing to supply enough power to the spindle motor, so the latter is unable to spin up at all. Being rather the sound of stuck parts inside the computer than a programmed “beep”, it indicates your hard drive cannot move as usual. You can learn more in our in-depth article about why your hard drive is beeping.



As it was mentioned above, a hard disk is constructed with a platter and a needle — similar to a gramophone; however, the significant difference is that the read-and-write head doesn’t actually touch the platter: instead, the needle hovers above its surface a few millimeters higher, and that’s how your data is stored and accessed.

Now, the grinding noise coming from the HDD is the worst possible scenario. Why? Because it poses a symptom of the drive’s read-write head coming into contact with the platter, which, somehow or other, will result in data loss.

Again, unscrewing the hard drive cover in order to “put the needle in place” is certainly not a good idea since such repairs require certified professional equipment and experience — not a tweezer and bare hands.



Whatever the reason for the failure of your hard drive, you are unlikely to be able to help it yourself. Inspired by numerous YouTube videos that claim retrieving lost data from a faulty drive is an incredibly easy thing to do, home repairs normally result in all the stored information being rendered irreversibly unrecoverable rather than salvaged.