Why Is Your Hard Drive Clicking?
There are several signs of hard disk drive (HDD) failure besides the evident ones like error screen and failure to boot.
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 persistent hard drive clicking sound, also known as the “HDD click of death“, is one of the most common symptoms that prognosticate 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 a clicking hard drive are serious mechanical failures (and we’ll explain ahead about the circuit board issue or the controller chip failure), it is better to investigate right away the possible causes to avert serious data loss.
Top Summary: a clicking hard drive can be caused by minor to severe issues. But it will ALWAYS mean some type of failure and that your HDD is about to die or already dead. It’s important to learn the basics behind the clicking sound to understand that this noise always requires your immediate attention. 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 should be your only resort.
Why Is My Hard Drive Clicking?
The hard drive clicking sound comes from inside of the drive when the head disk assembly of the hard drive is reset to its position. This makes the actuator arm bump against the side of the magnet.
The reason why a hard disk drive so frequently and quickly resets the head disk assembly position – thus making the clicking noise – is that it is unable to calibrate itself. Then, it cannot find any servo markers on the platter designed to help position the head disk assembly so it can properly read the bootable firmware area.
In simple terms, this means your hard drive cannot read anything off the platters so it resets the heads to try again. At some point it often gives up and spins down the platters, then tries again, until it fully gives up (some drives never given up).
In this case, the heads moving along the platter are unable to find the data they need for calibration. Then your disk either can’t be recognized by the system or doesn’t match up with what is stored in its other areas.
For example, in many hard drives, defect lists, and firmware boot-up data are stored on the platters and on a chip mounted to the printed circuit board (PCB). For normal functioning, the data kept on the chip must be matching up with what is stored on the platter.
This, in turn, is the reason why a faulty hard drive PCB replacement with a new one doesn’t work in most cases. That’s because of the mismatching data stored in the modules.
Even with the original 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.
Summary: A hard drive making clicking noise louder than the usual fan or 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 please note that it is irrelevant when it comes to hard drive clicking fix.
HDD Clicking Noise Causes
With rare exceptions, there are several serious causes of a drive click that can result in severe data loss:
Faulty read-and-write heads
A brand new drive can start clicking due to a manufacturers’ defect. Particularly bad or degraded heads that are most likely to aggravate with continuous use. With a degraded hard drive stuck head or actual magnetic head damage giving warnings, this issue often leads to sudden hard drive failure.
Hard drive actuator arm clicking
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. In case the hard drive actuator arm cannot reach the data it needs to in order to calibrate, it will normally spin down after a few tries. Eventually, this issue leads to preamplifier chip failure, as the chip located on the actuator arm is what controls the head disk assembly to be positioned over the platters.
Power surges can damage both the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and the HSA (Head Stack Assembly), causing failure of read/write controller chip, for instance, as the most common issue. Ultimately, it interferes with the proper functioning of the hard disk, causing it to emit clicking noise.
Service Area (SA) issues
Service Area is a portion in your HDD where manufacturer data is stored. In case it gets damaged, the hard drive actuator arm will swing back and forth in an attempt to find the information, preventing your HDD from operating correctly.
Besides power surges and thunderstorms, this also includes insufficient power provided by a defective power supply unit (PSU). A poor power supply can as well be a reason for a clicking hard drive.
The fragile components of hard drives are also very susceptible to external factors. Sharp shock, fire, water, or strong magnetic fields can lead to heat damage causing a hard drive click.
Summary: As you can see, there are plenty of prerequisites for a clicking hard drive. Beyond faulty power connection, nearly every other problem is related to the inner workings of your hard drive and is truly difficult to diagnose without proper knowledge and practice. Given this, consider DIY repairs only appropriate if your HDD doesn’t contain any vital data. Otherwise, there is a good chance that you will end up rendering the information on it unrestorable, making it impossible to retrieve even for a professional data recovery lab.
How to Fix a Clicking Hard Drive
As mentioned before, although some clicking sounds might seem normal, a persisting clicking hard drive requires immediate attention. If an HDD clicking is left neglected, the internal damage will only become worse.
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 should not be ruled out.
A corrupted file might also cause the head to fail writing 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.
If along with the noise, the device is also warmer than usual, then the heat buildup could be causing the HDD clicking as well. Make sure all vents are unblocked and try a canned air duster to keep innards clean to avoid overheating your hard drive.
By elimination, you can also replace any power supply unit, like cables and sockets. Insufficient power makes the device work harder to properly function, causing the hard drive to click.
However, if the HDD clicking sound began after the device was dropped, then most likely the noise comes from displaced internal components. In this scenario, it is critical to power off the device immediately and seek professional help.
Summary: a clicking HDD can quickly – and safely – be fixed depending on the cause of the failure. Make sure to update your system and back up your data regularly. To stay on the safe side, regardless of the reason why your hard drive just clicks, a data recovery expert should be the only one opening its enclosure.
Debunking Clicking HDD Myths
While the Internet is teeming with questionable tips and bad advice regarding data recovery from a malfunctioning hard drive, a vast majority of them will rather worsen the situation than help. Below, we’ve gathered a few most popular myths that are definitely not worth following:
Data Recovery Software
As previously mentioned, clicking sounds typically indicate a physical or mechanical problem with the drive. As common sense suggests, that is definitely not something a free data recovery software can cope with. What’s more, continuing to operate with the disk may damage the disk and only muddle data recovery.
Control Board Replacement
This might work for electrical failure, but is a much more in-depth process than just a hard drive controller board replacement. Also, a clicking hard drive is very rarely caused by the circuit or controller board.
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.
DIY Repair Attempt
Opening the device yourself might be tempting. Unparking the stuck heads or replacing degraded pieces requires a cleanroom facility, proper tools, and expertise to be involved. If these conditions are not met, dust will settle on the drive platters, damaging the information beyond recovery.
Summary: There are plenty of possible reasons why your hard drive is making weird sounds. But eliminating them is much more difficult than it seems. Recovery attempts on your own, without proper equipment, controlled environment, and knowledge aren’t worth the risk. We do not recommend testing these methods since we know by experience they will do more harm than good. Besides, you can always request a free expert evaluation before experimenting on your own.
No matter what the root cause of the hard drive failure, or what brand and model you are using, at SalvageData we are glad to help you get your vital files back. In addition to a free quote, you can count on our No Data, No charge Guarantee, and different Recovery Service Options to choose from for your business or personal needs!