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What Causes Hard Drive Clicking?

Click. Bang. Ping. Tick. No matter how you describe the sound your hard drive is making, the reality is the same. There’s a strange noise, and you’re worried. As long as there have been hard drives, they’ve been making weird noises. Sometimes, these hard drive noises are relatively benign. So hopefully, what you’re experiencing turns out to be the drive’s fan or another part of your computer that isn’t significant. 

But unfortunately, there are cases when that hard drive clicking is a sign of a serious hard drive issue and an imminent crash.    

When you’re in this situation, you want to know what that hard drive clicking sound is and what it means as soon as possible. Should you be worried? Or can you safely ignore the noise? Here are a few of the possible issues your hard drive may be having.

Why is My Hard Drive Clicking?

In newer model hard drives, the cause can be either software or hardware. In older models, the issue is almost always in the hardware. Either way, you should definitely try to determine why the hard drive is clicking, before you lose any data.

The Most Common Cause of Hard Drive Clicking

Every hard drive has a read-write actuator to input and interpret data from the disc. The actuator scans over the hard drive’s platters either reading or writing that data. When the actuator is in use, the motion to read and write data from the disc should be fluid. 

When this movement isn’t so smooth, the actuator tries repeatedly to reset itself. This is what results in the familiar hard drive clicking sound. And, in most cases, this is what’s causing your hard drive noise

But what’s at the root of the problem? What’s causing the actuator arm to move this way?

Physical Damage

This is probably the most obvious cause of hard drive damage, so it deserves to be mentioned. Hard drive clicking can start after the drive has been dropped, moistened, exposed to fire, subjected to high magnetic fields, and more.

These scenarios are a sure sign your hard drive is in need of professional assistance!

Wear and Tear

No piece of equipment is perfect, and hard drives are complex pieces of machinery with many opportunities for failure. Even brand new hard drives can have issues. But over time, the actuator arm can become worn out and begin to malfunction, resulting in a hard drive clicking sound.

Damaged Platters

If a platter is damaged, the actuator arm simply cannot function properly. The arm continues to seek out a platter but with no success. This constant swinging back and forth to find an intact platter can cause a rhythmic ticking sound. The repetition of this hard drive noise is very frustrating.

What Else Causes Hard Drive Clicking Sounds?

Poor Power

In some cases, an insufficient amount of power from a defective power supply unit can cause hard drive clicking sounds. This one may be easy to troubleshoot if you have an alternate power supply you can test.

Misaligned Read/Write Heads

If the hard drive is dropped or not handled with care, the heads or spindle arms can get out of alignment. When they do, their malfunction often results in an audible hard drive clicking sound.

A Malfunctioning Printed Circuit Board

The printed circuit board in your hard drive connects electronic components. Sometimes, that board or the head stack assembly is damaged by a power surge or surges. When either of these are damaged, the hard drive cannot function properly, and the result is a hard drive noise that sounds like a click or tick.

Service Area Issues

The service area is a part of the hard drive where manufacturer-specific data is stored. This information is critical for HDD operation, and it can be damaged by module reading errors or bad sectors. If the service area is damaged, its information is no longer available to the drive. The actuator arm, seeking out service area information, swings back and forth in an effort to find the data. When this happens, once again, the hard drive clicks.

What Can You Do if Your Hard Drive is Clicking?

The short answer is nothing. If your hard drive is clicking or making a noise of any kind, and you are without a backup, contact DriveSavers right away. 

They have the know-how, tools, and technical expertise to diagnose your hard drive noise and rescue your data. Unfortunately, the damage has probably been done to the clicking hard drive, and you’ll need to replace that one. But the most important thing in these circumstances is recovering your data. 

If you choose not to use a hard drive recovery specialist and attempt to repair hard drive clicking on your own, there’s a very real possibility you’ll lose your data forever!

Don’t take the risk. The best chance of saving your data is to call a data recovery specialist today.

Mike Cobb, Director of Engineering and CISO
As Director of Engineering, Mike Cobb manages the day-to-day operations of the Engineering Department, including the physical and logical recoveries of rotational media, SSDs, smart devices and flash media. He also oversees the R&D efforts for past, present, and future storage technologies. Mike encourages growth and ensures that each of the departments and their engineers continues to gain knowledge in their field. Each DriveSavers engineer has been trained to ensure the successful and complete recovery of data is their top priority.

As Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Mike oversees cybersecurity at DriveSavers, including maintaining and updating security certifications such as SOC 2 Type II compliance, coordinating company security policy, and employee cybersecurity education.

Mike joined DriveSavers in 1994 and has a B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside.

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