Checklist for when your hard drive makes loud noises

There’s nothing scarier than strange noises coming from your computer.
A few steps may help.
  • Copy or back up your important files!
    • If your computer is still functioning, copy your important files to an external disk drive, flash/ USB drive, or whatever you’ve got. If your hard disk is in the process of giving up the ghost, you may not have another chance!
      • If the computer starts malfunctioning, the drive may not have much time left. The safest thing to do is to turn off the computer and get your disk drive to a data recovery house. But if you wish, there are still some troubleshooting steps you can take first, below:
  • Determine where the noise is coming from.
    • There may be something very near your computer, or noise bouncing of a wall near your computer. Rule that out first.
  • Find out if it’s coming from your CD/DVD player.
    • Open/eject the optical drive on your computer.
    • Remove any disk that’s in there.
    • If the noise stopped, good news! – The problem is likely the optical drive – not the hard disk.
    • If the noise is still there, see below.
  • Find out if the noise is coming from a fan.
    • Most desktop computers have a big fan opening on the back of the computer. They can get quite noisy over time and the noise can be worrisome. If you move your ear close to this fan, you may be able to tell if it’s that fan.
      • If noise is coming from here, the fan may just be full of dust. Get a can of compressed air from any office supply store & thoroughly blow it out.
      • The bearings on the fan may be worn, in which case, it’s time to replace the fan. They are not very expensive and most any computer shop can do this work.
  • Laptops usually have a fan too.
    • If you can see the fan, you can use a vacuum – perhaps with the brush attachment – to remove the dust, and then you may be able to tell if the noise is coming from that fan. If it is, a computer repair shop (or the manufacturer) should be able to replace that fan.
    • If you cannot see the fan, but you can see or feel the port though which the hot air escapes, you may be able to see dust lining that port. In any case, with the laptop off, use a vacuum with brush attachment to get as much dust out as you can.
    • In either case, it is not usually an easy matter to remove power from the disk drive. If the noise is clearly coming from the fan, or clears up once vacuumed out, you should be golden.
    • If the laptop is still making noise with the optical drive open and the fans dusted, you can reasonably assume the problem is a disk drive about to fail. You can try backing up your files, but otherwise, it’s time to get thee hence to a data recovery house before the disk drive gets any worse. Data can become unrecoverable.
  • Many, if not most, desktop computers also have a fan on the heat sink / conductor that sits on top of the processor. These can also get dusty and wear out.
    • Turn off the computer, open it up, and unplug the power from the disk drive. Be careful to note or mark what cable you remove so you can put it back in the right place.
    • At the time of this writing, most computers have SATA disk drives. For SATA, the power cable is the wider of the two cables that plug into the back of the disk drive.
    • For older IDE/ATA/PATA disk drives, the power cable is the one with 1 or 2 black wires, a red wire and a yellow wire that all go into a white connector. Unplug that connector.
    • As long as you haven’t dropped any screws or tools (or your coffee) into the computer, turn it back on now. If the noise is still there, it’s not your disk drive, but rather probably a fan.
    • Look on your system board, aka “motherboard” to find a fan that is attached to a heat/sink. The heat sink is usually square, made out of metal, and has a bunch of metal fins on its sides. It may have a fan on top of it. Blow the dust out of it in the same fashion as described above for the system fan.
    • If the noise still persists, you may need to replace the CPU fan.
    • If the noise has stopped, plug the power back into your disk drive.
    • If the noise starts up again, you can try backing up your files, but otherwise, it’s time to get to a data recovery house before the disk drive gets any worse. Data can become unrecoverable.
  • Side note: It is important to keep your CPU relatively cool. Heat is the enemy of computers! There is a handy and free utility called “CoreTemp” that can inform you whether your processor’s temperature is safe, as long as you have a modern Intel, AMD or VIA processor (there’s a list on this site).

Final note:
Should you need data recovery, may we recommend Burgess Consulting?
Since 1985, they have recovered thousands of drives and restored essential data of all types. Call (866) 345-3345, or fill out this handy online form.

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