Hard Drive Making a Clicking Sound?

Category: Hard-Drives

A reader asks: 'My hard drive is making a clicking sound. It started recently and seems to be getting more frequent. Sometimes I hear a repeated click-whir sound and then the computer locks up. Does this mean my hard drive is going bad?' Yikes! Read on to learn what that means, and what you should do if it happens to you...

Hard Drive Failure?

Generally a clicking sound coming from your hard drive is a Bad Thing. It could be a harbinger of horrific hardware happenings, or the drumbeat of data disaster. So my immediate advice is "BACKUP YOUR HARD DRIVE!" as soon as possible. If the drive fails, you're out of luck. In fact, even if you don't suspect a problem with your hard drive, it's wise to make regular backups so you can survive a hard drive failure with only minimal inconvenience. See my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS to learn about backup strategies, hardware and software.

On Windows, you can check your hard drive for errors (and sometimes fix them) by running the CHKDSK utility. To do so, click the Start button, then type CMD, but don't press Enter. Right-click on the CMD.EXE icon at the top of the search results, then click "Run as administrator." If you get a User Account Control popup, click YES to continue. When the Command Prompt window appears, type CHKDSK C: /F /R then press Enter. The /R option tells CHKDSK to scan for bad disk sectors, and the /F option means to fix any errors found.

You'll see a message informing you that "CHKDSK cannot run because the volume is in the use by another process. Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts?" This happens because CHKDSK cannot operate on the drive from which you have started Windows. Reply Y, then restart your computer. CHKDSK will run before loading Windows, and you may see a bunch of geeky stuff on the screen while it's scanning your disk. On Windows 8 or 10, you'll just see a black screen with the Windows logo and a progress indicator.

hard drive clicking

If CHKDSK offers to "convert lost chains to files", recover lost data, or fix something else, you should accept. (If CHKDSK tries to sell you a cheap Rolex, politely decline the offer.) After CHKDSK finishes, and you've restarted normally, you may want to see the CHKDSK results. To do so, click the Start button, type EVENTVWR, then press Enter. This will open the Windows Event Viewer. Click on Windows Logs, then Application. Scroll down until you see the Wininit item in the source column. Click on that line, and you'll see the CHKDSK log file. Hopefully, you'll find the phrase "Windows has checked the file system and found no problems" there. If not, the drive may be damaged.

If you decide to purchase a new hard drive (or a new computer), see [HOWTO] Copy Old Hard Drive to New PC for help with transferring your files.

Are You On The Level?

But before you trash your troublesome drive, you should try one more thing... Some hard drives are very sensitive to non-level surfaces, and will not function properly if they're sitting on a slant. Shut down your computer, make sure your system unit is on a flat surface (use a level to make sure), and then restart. I was all set to give up on an older computer that was doing the click/whir routine, but I noticed it wasn't sitting on a level surface. As soon as I fixed that, the problem was gone!

If your computer won't start, don't assume that hard drive is a goner. A few years ago, my hard drive got totally mucked up, and nothing I tried could restore the drive to working order. But I found a wonderful program called TESTDISK that was able to analyze the disk and recreate the damaged partition table and boot record. I was certain that all the data was lost, but TESTDISK did the job for me, and the computer was able to start just fine.

Sometimes odd noises may come from a cooling fan inside your desktop computer. If you are brave enough, pop open the hood on the system unit, turn on the computer, and see if the noise is coming from a fan. It's much easier to replace a bad fan than a failed hard drive.

Remember that clicking sound MAY signal impending hard drive failure, but you don't always get such a warning. So play it safe... back up your files on a regular basis.

Need more inspiration to back up your hard drive? Listen to some recorded sounds of hard drive failure! They'll haunt your dreams until your data is safe. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Hard Drive Making a Clicking Sound?"

Posted by:

Mark
29 Jan 2018

Any chance you can provide the same step-by-step instructions for testdisk as you did for chkdsk? I didn't find it that intuitive to use when it came to trying to diagnose and repair a hard drive.


Posted by:

Bob K
29 Jan 2018

No more worries about hard drives, since I've replaced my original HDD with an SSD. And because of it, now I have a much faster computer as well.


Posted by:

JP
29 Jan 2018

@Bob K: I don't know when this article was written, but you may want to take a look at it:

https://askbobrankin.com/ssd_drives_how_long_do_they_last.html

@Bob Rankin: It would be helpful if you'd date your articles.


Posted by:

Phil
29 Jan 2018

Just last week my C: drive failed suddenly. Because I only have the one machine I was forced to seek the help of a computer repair business. Overnight he had a new drive installed and a fresh (free) OEM copy of Win 10 installed (didn't know MS did that).

What made this incident so much less unnerving is that Years ago I accepted Bob's mantra of backup, backup, backup. I was up and running in just another day. BTW: always backup your download directory. Saves a lot of time reinstalling downloaded programs.


Posted by:

Wild Bill
29 Jan 2018

A clicking hard disk drive is definitely not a good thing. While chkdsk may well fix some HDD problems, it will not do much for the clicking drive: it is on its way out for mechanical reasons, usually. A solid state hard drive is definitely faster and not prone to mechanical failure but they do have other means to fail. A WD2 (SSD/HDD combo) I was using in
a laptop quit booting and sometime later I found that when it could no longer write reliably it would quit booting. Data could be recovered but only replacement restored laptop operation. No warning, either.


Posted by:

Karena
29 Jan 2018

Phil: MS sure didn't do that for me. That's when I finally made the switch over to Linux - my HDD suffered a complete mechanical failure, and neither the computer manufacturer nor MS would replace my paid-for, licensed and registered copy of Windows.(I didn't realize until this happened that I had no disks - this was back when manufacturers first stopped providing OS disks and just put a "recovery" partition on the drive.) Good for you, though! -Just so people know that they can't count on this happening.


Posted by:

David
29 Jan 2018

Bob K., your computer is still running at the same speed. Disc access is faster. I know, nit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If (for example) his computer formerly took 120 seconds to boot up, and now it takes 72 seconds, then the computer is arguably faster. Same applies for opening programs, switching from one app to another, etc. Yes, the CPU clock speed is constant, but that's only one part of "the computer" from the perspective of the user.


Posted by:

Rick Hamrick
29 Jan 2018

A tool which has saved my bacon at least a dozen times: SpinRite.

Steve Gibson developed the first version more than 20 years ago, and the product still exists as version 6.0. The latest version can handle NTFS file systems, so it will work for Win7 file systems. No idea about Windows 10, which I still have managed to avoid on my own home computers.

I have seen this product take seemingly dead drives and resuscitate them completely. Of course, as you emphasize, if a drive is resuscitated, the first thing to do is back it up completely! In my case, I have seen drives last for years after running SpinRite on them. I still have my copy of SpinRite 6 just in case!

https://www.grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm


Posted by:

SysOp404
29 Jan 2018

Some years back, the OEM drive in my IBM ThinkPad, started sounding like it was sending Morse code and I/O speed was also suffering. After ruling out malware and running some test/repair utilities, it was clear that the drive was getting sloppy. Read/write operations were constantly being repeated, due to the high error rate, so even the simplest tasks were taking longer and longer to complete.

After getting a new, larger drive and an enclosure, I started cloning the original. The errors caused the process to fail countless times, so had to be started over again and again. I was beginning to think it was going to be a lost cause, when to my surprise it eventually finished... well over 24 hours later and with a lot of fiddling around with what was actually (by today's standards) a pitifully small HDD. But thankfully, all my data was retrieved, while the thing was still (barely) functional.

Many people aren't that lucky to have gotten a little warning ahead of time. But if you do, don't ignore it! As for me, the episode taught me the importance of starting a regular backup routine.


Posted by:

Therrito
29 Jan 2018

I have been using the same 74G Western Digital (WD) 10,000 rpm Raptor HDD for over 15 years and it has not failed me yet. I recentlty purchased a 160G WD 10,000 rpm Raptor HDD to replace it with but I have an issue with my video graphics card (GPU) that needs my attention.
I sometimes get random flashing pixels on my screen. At first I thought it was the monitor so I switched to a different one but the problem remained. Then I went to the manufacturer's web site and got the newest drivers for my GPU but that didn't fix it either.
I have a spare GPU in another PC that I could install if my current one fails. Since it was my Nephew that built my PC I will need to collaborate with him to find out what GPUs would be compatible with my rig then choose one that would best suit my needs.
Until I get a new GPU I will wait to install my new HDD. Why open my PC twice when once is enough?


Posted by:

Nigel
29 Jan 2018

In 2012 I went on holiday and left my 2 year old laptop on to download email to save it trying to download several hundred when I got home. And yes it was backing up. When I got home I discovered that the HDD had seized. When I replaced the HDD I discovered that the back up wouldn't restore. I called support and they accessed my computer with my permission and discovered that the back up was corrupt. Their theory was that before the HDD seized it got slower and slower and was sending corrupt data to the back up drive. So my lesson was even with a back up replace a HDD at the first sign of trouble. The replacement was still working well 5 years later when I replaced it with an SSD.


Posted by:

Jim
29 Jan 2018

Silly as it sounds, cooling your mis-hehaving hd in the fridge, not necessarily the freezer, can bring the drive back to life for a period of time in order to enable a quick clone/backup. As a tech, I usually do this before taking the long way home on a drive that has not been backed up.


Posted by:

Paul
29 Jan 2018

Whenever I have a request to fix a computer that is having issues the first thing I do is boot off a Linux live flash drive and run the disk self-tests using the Linux Disk program, I would say 90% of the time the self-tests fail and a replacement hard drive is needed.


Posted by:

Phil
29 Jan 2018

Thanks Bob for your great articles. I'm trying this on my small W10 laptop. It went to 11% almost immediately and has now been there for a couple of hours. Should I kill this or wait it out?


Posted by:

Phil
29 Jan 2018

Approx 1 nanosecond after posting, it finished :-)


Posted by:

AllenL
29 Jan 2018

A bit embarrassing to admit, but a year ago I heard a noise coming form inside my desktop that sounded like the disk was continuously reading and / or writing, even when nothing should have been happening. One of the disk checks that I did indicated that my C-drive was about to say good-bye. So I rushed out and got a new disk and, lo and behold, the noise was still there. After further investigation, it turned out it was the fan on the CPU.


Posted by:

RandiO
29 Jan 2018

Not all clicking/ticking HDD sounds are imminent indications of "Click of Death".
*Hitachi and IBM hard drives are well known for making natural clicking sounds (unfortunately Hitachi hard drives were also prone to the click of death).
*Some hard drives are more prone to make clicking sounds when the drive is highly fragmented.
*Sometimes the manufacturers will release new hard drive firmware updates to resolve or reduce hard drive clicking noises.
*Very often hard drive clicking sounds are directly related to faulty power supply problems. [especially with high current draw GPUs, which are fed from the same rails of a problematic PSU.]
From http://harddriveclicking.net/
*You may also encounter a few HDD 'ticking' sounds if your 'Customized Power Plan' allows for multi-drive system to spin-down the HDDs.
@BobK >> You may find that the SSD swap (as the primary boot drive) will not yield longetivity as w/HDD.


Posted by:

Tazio57
30 Jan 2018

I too switched to SSD drives. I loved it. My computer did seem quicker. Everything was roses until the less than one year old drive suddenly died with no warning at all. When my HDD drives failed there had always been some kind of slight warning (clicking, bearing noise, disk errors) that slowly worsened indicating the drive needed to be replaced. Not so with the SSD drive.


Posted by:

JAMES
13 Feb 2018

WHEN YOU HEAR WHIRS, CLICK AND CHIPS THAT MEANS THE TRIPLATES ARE LOSING ITS TOLERANCE, ITS A HARDWARE PROBLEM.
THE CHECK DISK FIXES A SOFTWARE PROBLEM IN THE BLOCK AND CLUSTER SECTORS ON THE PLATES.


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