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Computer hard drive noise can be unnerving for many users, but is not necessarily a sign of declining or failing hard drive health. Many drives will make humming or faint clicking noises during normal operation. Other types of hard drive noise can indicate mechanical problems within the drive. Even when your drive appears healthy, it is always a good idea to back up your data on a regular basis. If you believe that your hard drive is damaged, it is generally advisable to contact a computer repair center or professional data recovery service.
A modern hard drive is a complex device with tiny moving parts. Data is stored on a rapidly spinning round disk called a platter. A platter spins several thousand times each minute, which causes the drive to vibrate. This vibration can cause a humming or whirring noise. This type of hard drive noise is common, and is not a symptom of a failing drive.
As the platter spins, a read-and-write head on the end of an actuator arm retrieves and stores data. A faint clicking or ticking sound can sometimes be heard as the actuator moves the head into position. Though clicking noises can be a bad sign, it is normal to hear them as the hard drive accesses or writes large amounts of data.
If clicking hard drive noise suddenly becomes louder, is heard intermittently, or is different from the sounds the drive used to make, the hard drive may be failing. Other noises, such as squealing, rattling, beeping, or scraping are often caused by mechanical problems within the hard drive. The drive’s head may be sticking to or bumping the rotating platter, the actuator arm may be failing, or other components may be damaged.
Software tools aren’t always able to detect mechanical issues within the hard drive and may instead show that the drive is functioning properly. Any drive making abnormal noise should be treated as if it might be close to failure. There is generally seldom a cost-effective way to repair a physically damaged hard drive.
Hard drive noise in and of itself not necessarily a reliable predictor of when a hard drive will fail. Some drives will become unusable almost immediately after the noise begins, while others may run for years. A computer with any kind of abnormal hard drive noise should always be approached, however, as if it is about to fail. Data should be backed up immediately if you haven't already done so. In addition, consider replacing the drive itself as soon as possible.
If a computer will not boot after abnormal hard drive noise, a professional data recovery service may be able to retrieve the drive’s contents. Some users have also taken extreme last-ditch efforts, such as freezing, hitting, or dropping the drive. These methods can damage the drive further, so important data recovery should be left to professionals.