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There are several signs of hard disk drive (HDD) failure besides the evident ones like error messages, blue screen of death, and failure to boot. It’s possible to make a hardware diagnosis by noise, analyzing common failure sounds, like hard drive clicking, beeping, grinding, or ticking, and what they mean.
A persistent hard drive clicking sound, also known as the “HDD click of death“, is one of the most common symptoms that predict an imminent crash.
Never dismiss an HDD clicking noise as just a minor mechanical issue related to the fan or merely something harmless like a head parking to avoid disk thrashing.
Although not all cases of hard drive clicking are serious mechanical failures, it is better to investigate right away the possible causes to avert serious data loss.
Top Summary: While they now boast larger storage capacities, more compact sizes, and faster speeds, hard drives still have a quite fragile design. This means that the possibility of breakage or malfunction increases in proportion to the frequency of disk use. A hard drive clicking will ALWAYS mean some type of failure and that your HDD is about to die or already dead. There’s no safe method for fixing a clicking hard drive at home, but you can double-check its power source or dust off its vents for instance. For complex cases or anytime valuable data is at stake, a trained data recovery technician is your only resort.
Why is my hard drive clicking?
First, it is important to remember that hard drives are made of moving parts. It does make natural sounds when you use it or as you turn your computer on. However, persistent and loud sounds can indicate damages and you must address them to avoid data loss.
A hard drive making clicking noise usually means the hard drive cannot read anything off the platters so it resets the heads to try again. Sometimes, it spins down the platters, then tries again.
In this case, the heads moving along the platter are unable to find the data they need for calibration. Then the computer system either can’t recognize your HDD or doesn’t match up with what is stored in its other areas.
This movement, or the attempt of moving, makes the hard drive click as you try to use it.
6 main reasons that lead to clicking HDD
1. Glitching PCB
Power surges can damage both the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and the HSA (Head Stack Assembly), causing failure of the read/write controller chip. Ultimately, it interferes with the proper functioning of the hard disk, causing it to emit a clicking noise.
Even with the original printed circuit board (PCB), the hard drive just clicks if any of the other critical modules in the system area are corrupted. Whereas this doesn’t mean there’s a physical problem with the device, it manifests itself in a similar manner and therefore could be the culprit for the HDD clicking noise.
2. Faulty read-and-write heads
A brand-new drive can start clicking due to a manufacturer’s defect, which means that your warranty should cover it.
However, older HDDs tend to have more issues, including misaligned drive heads. Particularly bad or degraded heads that are most likely to aggravate with continuous use.
You can have read/write hard drives head issues when you don’t handle your HDD carefully. This is a delicate device and physical shocks can knock the read/write heads, or the spindle arms, out of alignment.
Then, you’ll hear clicking noises coming from the hard drive as the heads or spindle arms are not aligned.
With a degraded hard drive stuck head or actual magnetic head damage giving warnings, this issue often leads to sudden hard drive failure.
3. Hard drive actuator arm clicking
The actuator arm is responsible to move the read/write head to the appropriate place where the data is on the disk.
As the heads sweep back and forth across the platter’s surface, they hit the limiter designed to keep them from going too far in either direction. If the hard drive actuator arm cannot reach the data it needs to calibrate, it will normally spin down after a few tries.
This is more an issue due to the natural lifespan of the HDD, but high usage wears down actuators and makes them fail faster.
4. Service Area (SA) issues
The service area is a portion of your HDD where manufacturer data is stored, also known as firmware. In case it gets damaged or corrupted, the hard drive actuator arm will swing back and forth in an attempt to find the information, preventing your HDD from operating correctly.
5. Electricity issues
Besides power surges and thunderstorms, insufficient power can also make your hard drive click. Using a power supply unit (PSU) can help your hard drive have sufficient energy to accomplish tasks. This is especially important for RAID and servers using hard drives.
6. Physical damage
Summary: As you can see, there are many reasons for hard drive clicking. A hard drive making clicking noises louder than the usual head working sound is a red flag. The clicking sound comes from the movement of the head assembly trying to read off the platter unsuccessfully. A hard drive PCB replacement service might be your first presumed course of action. But, it’s important to determine why the hard drive is making clicking noises. Internal damages such as faulty read/write arm or actuator are a few of the common reasons behind this persistent clicking sound. And if your HDD suffered an accident, such as if you dropped it, clicking noises can indicate physical damage. In this case, you must salvage your data and you probably will need to replace the HDD.
How to fix the hard drive clicking sound
It’s important to consider any events that lead up to your HDD-clicking issue before trying to fix it. If the noise started after an update or download, malware or virus causing bad sectors could be behind the weird sounds.
A corrupted file might also cause the head to fail to write data and keep retrying it again, thus making clicking noises. In this case, you can try reformatting your HDD. But this is best advised if a backup of your data is safely stored somewhere else as formatting the hard drive will delete every file on it.
If along with the noise, the device is also warmer than usual, then you should address the heat buildup and make sure all vents are free and clean any dust from it or from the fan.
Some quick solutions that may stop your hard drive from making clicking noises are:
- Replace or add a power supply unit
- Check cables and connectors
- Scan the hard drive for viruses
- Check the hard drive’s health
There are two actions you MUST avoid: Freezing your HDD and opening it to attempt to fix it on your own. DIY solutions when the problem is very likely because of physical damage are not recommended as you may further damage the device instead of fixing it. The same goes for freezing the hard drive.
Clicking hard drive data recovery
Recovery attempts on your own, without proper equipment, a controlled environment, and knowledge isn’t worth the risk. We do not recommend testing these methods since we know by experience they will do more harm than good.
To increase your chances of full data recovery, stop using the clicking HDD immediately and find a data recovery center near you or open a help request online.
Request a free evaluation of your hard drive making a clicking sound. No matter what the root cause of the hard drive failure is or what brand and model you are using, SalvageData experts can guarantee the full recovery of your hard drive data.
Hard drive making clicking noise FAQ
Is it possible to recover files from a clicking HDD using data recovery software?
No, you can’t recover data from a clicking hard drive using software
As previously mentioned, clicking sounds typically indicate a physical or mechanical problem with the drive. And data recovery software is designed for software issues or accidental deletion.
Can a control board replacement fix the clicking issue with my hard drive?
This might work for electrical failure but is a much more in-depth process than just a hard drive controller board replacement. Also, a hard drive clicking sounds is very rarely caused by the circuit or controller board.
Freezing the HDD will make it stop clicking?
Another outdated method is to put the clicking hard drive in a freezer to constrict mechanics and free up disk space. Needless to say, the corrosion of the plates and electrical components caused by the water vapor inside the drive, first frozen and then thawed out, has nothing to do with data recovery.
Is it safe to use DIY repair solutions?
Unpacking the stuck heads or replacing degraded pieces requires a cleanroom facility, proper tools, and expertise. If you don’t meet these conditions, dust will settle on the drive platters, damaging the information beyond recovery.