What to do when your hard drive makes loud noises...

(For a troubleshooting checklist, click here.)

When you get a shiny new computer (or even an old grimy one), it’s a box full of promise. Like a blank page, it’s just waiting for you to put something interesting down. It’s an invitation. It’s a challenge. And so you do. You put in pictures of family, friends, and vacations. You put your taxes in. You put your checkbook in. You put letters to family and friends, business and government, and even to yourself. You put in your calendar and your schedule. In goes your resume, your essays, your homework. It holds your address book, your Christmas card list, and lists of your favorite places on the Internet.

While you’re putting all this information in, you get used to the little noises the computer makes. You hear the tapping of the keys, the quiet hum of the fan. If you’re like me, you hear the occasional curse when the hunt-and-pecking fingers repeatedly type the wrong letters. I have a word for it — “distypic.” It’s my word, but you can use it!

Then it happens…

One day, you might notice that the computer is making a different noise. It could be a rattle, a vibration, or a hum. It could be a clicking or screeching or grinding. Rattles usually come from some screw having vibrated loose. If you hear a rattle, turn off the computer, and tighten all of the screws that you can find. If you hear a rattling or rolling around inside, then a screw may have come off inside. Be sure you unplug then open up the computer, then find and remove the offending screw before you plug the computer back in or turn it on. Otherwise, you might experience a catastrophic electrical short.

If you hear a hum or vibration that seems to be getting louder, you might have a dusty fan. Unplug and open up the computer, and spray out all the dust that has accumulated. You can use an air compressor or one of those cans of compressed air they sell at office supply and computer stores. Pay special attention to any fans that you find, to get all of the dust off of them. You will generally find a fan in the back of the computer chassis, and one on the processor on the motherboard or system board. There might be others.

Data safety tips here! — Or Call us toll free at (866) 345-3345

It’s not a problem every time…

Sometimes the hum or vibration is coming from a CD. That’s not a real problem, solved by opening the CD or DVD drive and removing the CD or DVD disk.

The problem arises when the humming or vibration is coming from the hard disk. You’ll know this because you will have taken care of all of the other causes. When these kinds of sounds come from the hard disk, it is best to back up the data immediately, and it would probably be a good time to replace the hard disk with a new one. They do not cost very much money these days.

The bigger problem comes when you hear a clicking, scraping, or grinding sound. These sounds indicate that a hard disk failure is imminent. If you can back up your data immediately, then by all means, do so. Then do a relatively simple test to determine if the problem is a crashed hard disk. Immediately turn off the computer. Let the hard disk stabilize for a few minutes and open up the computer. Then either remove the hard disk or unplug the power from it. Then turn the computer back on. If it’s still screeching (and there’s no power to the hard disk), the problem is not the hard disk. You’re in luck! Your data may still be safe and you should have your computer diagnosed. Once your computer problem is solved, you may reinstall your hard disk.

But most people are not so lucky. It is more likely that at this point, the computer has begun to slow down, if not fail outright. When your hard disk crashes, all your data, your pictures, your reports, your essays, go with it.

If your computer is making a clicking or grinding sound, especially if it has slowed down or crashed, turn off your computer immediately. It’s time for professional data recovery help.

Read more about data recovery here.

Why? What’s going on inside there?

Inside your hard disk, there are rigid, perfectly flat metal platters, spinning very fast. Most modern hard disks spin at 7,200 RPM, or 120 times per second! It creates a 75 MPH wind. This wind lifts the read/write heads up — they’re called flying heads, in fact. They fly only about 5 microns above the surface of the platters. That’s very close! A human hair is about 100 microns.

When there is a scrape or a ding on one of the platters, it creates a large amount of turbulence as it spins. When the flying head hits that turbulence, it can begin to bounce. When it bounces, it creates more dings and scrapes and pits, and the head itself is badly damaged. Where the scrapes or pits occur, the data is completely wiped out, beyond recovery in those particular locations. The longer the drive runs, the worse it gets — moment by moment – and as the number of occurrences of damage grows, the worse the chances that the drive will experience a catastrophic failure.

The clicking sound comes from the read / write heads losing their place and trying over and over to find calibration information. It can’t find the info, so the arms holding the heads runs into a crash stop that keeps the heads from sliding right off the platter. It’s like when your bumper hits one of those concrete blocks in a parking lot — over and over and over.

Can the data be recovered?

Amazingly enough, the answer is yes — sometimes. Very few data recovery houses have the ability to do the exacting kind of work required to recover data when the platters or heads are damaged. But the folks at Burgess Consulting originated this kind of recovery process almost three decades ago. If your crashed hard disk can be recovered, Burgess Consulting can recover it. Just call (866) 345-3345

Remember — humming, rattling or vibration, check the screws and dust the fans. Clicking, scraping or grinding — turn off the computer, and call Burgess Consulting.

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