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The Sounds of a Hard Drive and What They Mean

Computers can be noisy things sometimes, especially if they’re getting on a bit. Whether it’s the hum of a fan or a whir of a disc drive, chances are you’ve started to ignore the sounds coming out of your computer as standard. However, that can actually be a dangerous practice. Some of the sounds might be coming from your hard drive. Although not every sound is something to worry about, there are certain ones that will be a warning sign of a failing drive.

Now, bear in mind that this only applies to hard disk drives (HDDs). A solid state drive (SSDs) uses flash memory, like a USB stick or SD card, and doesn’t have any moving components inside to make a noise. A HDD, on the other hand, is mechanical. It is made up of lots of different delicate parts which, if damaged, can cause great loss to your data.

To illustrate how delicate they actually are, did you know that even a tiny particle of dust landing on the drive’s platters can cause data loss? Data recovery experts can only open hard drives up in clean rooms, where the airborne particles are maintained. As such, if your drive ever fails mechanically then never attempt recovery yourself.

Back to the hard drive sounds. You may have heard of something called the ‘click of death’. This refers to the head of the hard drive repeatedly attempting to access data and being unable to. You will literally be able to hear the head knocking or clicking inside the drive. If you ever hear this then you need to back up your data (if you’ve not already done so) and stop using the drive immediately. To keep using the drive is a risk and means you could further damage your data – at this point your drive is a clicking time bomb.

If you haven’t already backed up your drive, be sure to do so immediately. At this point it’s probably best to use imaging software, just to take everything off the drive in an exact copy. There are lots of programs available to download that’ll help you with this, including R-Drive Image.

However, clicking isn’t necessarily the only sound you’ll hear. You might hear rattling, grinding, squeaking or chattering. It can vary depending on the drive manufacturer what specific sound you might be hearing. A great resource has been created by Data Cent, allowing you to listen to some examples of what failing drives sound like. You can usually tell whether your drive is making a troublesome noise – the occasional whir as it spins up is fine, for instance.

It’s certainly possible for your drive to fail without making any sort of untoward noise, so don’t simply rely on your ears when trying to determine drive issues. If you ever notice files going missing, files not opening or your drive running sluggish then you should begin to ensure that everything is being backed up successfully. Once your drive fails it’s usually a case of having to buy a brand new one, so be aware of that too.


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