Hard drive clicking – causes and solutions

Monday, September 19, 2022 by Tim Black

Cleanroom-for-raid-recovery

In this article, we investigate what may be causing your hard drive clicking sound and provide some practical fixes you can try yourself.

You desperately hope that sound is nothing important - but since when have weird noises brought welcomed news? That clicking is a sign that something is wrong with your hard drive. Worst case scenario, it's trying to warn you of a crash and the impending blue screen of death. Therefore, it’s essential to identify the root cause asap to triage the situation and take appropriate actions.

Causes of hard drive clicking

While there are several causes of hard drive clicking, the noise itself usually originates from the actuator arm – a physical piece of the device that enables the hard drive to spin. In a normal hard drive, the disk head moves smoothly. But if there is a fault, the movement can become erratic, which forces the controller to bump back to the home position – it’s this constant bumping that creates the click.

So what’s causing the fault?

Physical damage

If the hard drive has been knocked, dropped, exposed to magnetic fields, or subject to moist or hot environments, it can be damaged. It’s likely that the hard drive will need to be replaced but seek professional advice first to ensure you don’t lose any data in the process.

Wear and tear

A hard drive is a physical piece of technology containing moving parts that are prone to failure. Just like a car or a washing machine, those parts will degrade over time due to natural wear and tear. On average, the lifecycle of a hard drive is 3-4 years.

Misaligned drive heads

If the hard drive isn’t handled with extreme care, it’s possible to knock the read/write heads, or the spindle arms, out of alignment. As the disk spins, the actuator arm can’t complete a smooth motion, so the clicking sound will commence.

Service area problems

The service area is a part of the hard drive where critical manufacturer data, which is required for HDD operation, is stored. If the hard drive incurs a module reading error or is damaged, the actuator arm will move back and forth attempting to locate the data, which creates the clicking noise.

Power issues

Insufficient power due to a defective power supply unit can cause hard drive clicking sounds. This is easily identified by using an alternative power supply. Also, power surges and electrical storms can affect the hard drive and cause it to fail.

Fixing hard drive clicking

WARNING: if you are in any doubt the best course of action is to call in the help of a professional – the last thing you want to experience is catastrophic data loss.

Firstly, as a preventative measure, ensure your hard drive is located within a ‘clean’ environment – even tiny dust particles can interfere with the disk and cause issues.

If the hard drive is clicking the first thing to rule out is a power issue by using an alternative power supply. Also, check whether the power supply is overloaded by unplugging anything else that is connected to it.

When this doesn’t fix the problem, the next step is to open the drive to recover the drive heads, which is a specialist task that should be performed in a cleanroom to prevent further damage that can make the data unrecoverable.

Home solutions that (don’t) fix hard drive clicking

There’s a myth that if you put a clicking hard drive in a freezer it is magically fixed. Under no circumstance should you put a hard drive in the freezer. It can corrode the platters and electrical components when the water vapour inside the drive freezes and thaws after it reaches room temperature again.

There is data recovery software on the market that enables you to transfer your data from a faulty hard drive to a new one. Approach this fix with caution. Data recovery from a clicking hard drive requires expertise, proper tools, and appropriate hardware and software. Also, if the fault is a mechanical issue, using recovery software could cause further damage.

It’s also possible to replace a control board within the hard drive. While that might sound easy, in reality, it’s a far more complex undertaking than just swapping out components, and again, requires a cleanroom facility. If in doubt, seek professional help.

Ontrack for clicking hard drive data recovery

Over the last 35 years, Ontrack has helped 600k+ customers to recover from all types of data loss from any make, model, brand or operating system. And we are authorized by Western Digital, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Seagate, Samsung and Toshiba to open and repair their hard drives for data recovery without voiding the warranty.

Discover more about how Ontrack can help with your hard drive data recovery

FAQs

Q: Is an external hard drive's loud clicking noise normal?

A: No. Like an internal hard drive, an external one contains physical parts that are prone to failure, which can lead to data loss. If your external hard drive fails, talk to Ontrack. Our engineers are equipped and experienced in successfully recovering data from external hard drives that have fallen victim to circumstances, ranging from mechanical failure and accidental drops to fire and water damage. Find out more about external drive recovery…

Q: My hard drive is clicking but it still works. Should I worry?

A: A fully functional hard drive is silent, so any noise indicates that something isn’t right. To avoid a complete disk failure, it’s best to investigate the issue and identify the root cause so it can be fixed without incurring any data loss.

Q: Can you fix a clicking hard drive?

A: This depends on what is causing the clicking noise. In any case, seek professional help as the investigation must take place in a cleanroom facility to prevent further damage and irretrievable data loss. If the drive cannot be saved, speak to Ontrack – we have 35 years’ experience and a 90% success rate when it comes to data recovery. Find out more hard drive data recovery…

Q: Besides clicking, what are the other signs of hard drive failure?

A: The most obvious sign of hard drive failure is a clicking noise, however, you should also be aware of the following:

  • An error message that says: “Operating System cannot be found”.
  • Your hard drive is not detected when you start up your computer.
  • Accessing your files takes longer than usual.
  • An external hard drive isn’t recognized when inserted.

Q: Can data from a clicking hard drive be recovered?

A: With appropriate expertise, tools, hardware and software it is possible to recover data from a clicking hard drive. Speak to a data recovery specialist like Ontrack – we’ve helped 600k+ customers, have recovered data loss from every make, model, brand and operating system, and we offer a free evaluation to let you know exactly what files will be recovered before you decide to go ahead. Get a free drive recovery evaluation.