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What Does a Clicking Hard Drive Mean?

Depending on the type of hard drive a computer has, some sound is to be expected during normal operation. Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are built using moving parts, so it’s not hard to imagine that they would make a little noise as they work. Paying attention to the kind of noise coming from the hard drive, however, can make a big difference in discovering a problem before disaster strikes or losing computer function and file access.

There are many noises a hard drive can make when something is wrong, but one of the most common is clicking. When a clicking hard drive is encountered, it is a sign that the drive is getting ready to give out. Clicking can be noticed before anything else seems to be wrong with the computer, but it may also occur in the wake of other problems like boot issues or file loss. Users who notice a clicking sound when they are using a hard drive, whether it be contained within the computer or an external component, would do well to immediately stop using it until the problem can be remedied.

What causes a clicking hard drive?

HDDs often make low humming noises during normal operation because they have to move in order to work. Many people think that the sound is the read/write head coming into contact with the platters that store the information, but it actually accesses the data in the magnetic coating by flying over the platters without touching them. The sound normally made really comes from the spinning platters themselves.

Solid State Drives (SSD) are much quieter devices, often making little or no noise at all during normal operation because there are no moving parts. If a clicking sound is coming from a computer with an SSD, it’s probably not the hard drive making the noise. Still, clicking noises in computers are not normal, so even an SSD computer should be taken in for a checkup if clicking is notices, as there may be other problems occurring somewhere else in the device.

Clicking in an HDD, however, is usually coming from the hard drive itself because of damage to the platters. The read/write head is not supposed to come into contact with the platters, though it does happen on occasion. There are protective measures in place to prevent damage if this happens once or twice, but if hard or repeated contact is made then the platters will become damaged by the head. The severity of the damage can vary, but once it has occurred a clicking hard drive is the result.

When the read/write head encounters damage, it will hit a stop that results in a clicking noise that is fairly obvious to the ear. Louder clicking can often indicate the severity of the damage, though it doesn’t take long for clicking to turn into a complete malfunction. In these cases, data recovery may be an inevitable necessity.

Clicking hard drives can lock up files and stop a computer from working

In some cases a clicking hard drive can be heard even though the computer still seems to be working normally. This can lull people into a false sense of security, because they may think the computer is simply getting old and just makes that noise due to age. The reality is that clicking indicates a problem, no matter how well the computer seems to be doing in spite of it. If a clicking hard drive is ignored, the computer will continue trying to work past the damage, often break more catastrophically in the process.

The best way to avoid such a problem is to take note of the clicking noise as soon as it is noticed, and so something about it. If a computer is taken in right away, the computer can sometimes be saved, or the data can be saved before a new computer is necessary. If the hard drive is allowed to fail completely and cause a non-functioning computer, the situation becomes more complicated.

The first thing a user should do with a clicking hard drive is turn the computer off properly and stop using it. Attempts at home repair can cause damage that will make data recovery an impossibility even if it is turned over to a file recovery expert. If the computer is backed up somewhere then data recovery may not be necessary. However, if the data needs to be retrieved then it should be attempted by a professional. Users should not attempt to take anything apart.

A data recovery expert can diagnose the problem and use proprietary file recovery technology in a clean and safe environment that allows the highest chance of recovery. Even if some data has been irreparably lost, the rest can still be retrieved so the user doesn’t suffer a total loss.


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