What Does This
Sound Mean?


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Ever heard a hard drive that is failing? Zzzzing! Zzzzing!

When a hard drive (geeks say hd...) fails you may get some warning...  Sadly not so with a SSD.

Hearing a strange noise coming from your computer?

Listen closely is it one of the fans or --

  • Is it the floppy drive?
  • Is it the CD/DVD drive?
  • Is it the hard disk?

There is an article about these failures, Bad Sectors  on your hard drive, in this section that lists the different ways a hard disk can fail.

However I did not tell you what you should listen for if you suspect your hard disk is failing.

Normally a hard disk today will not fail mechanically, that is one of the moving parts in the hard disk has failed and is causing a problem with the drive.

Some of the things that can fail on a mechanical hard disk:

  • Platter motor (this motor runs at a set speed to spin the platters, you see them rated at 5400, 7400, 10K, and up to 15K rpm).
  • The platters.
  • Seeker head stepper motor (this is a small solenoid type device that moves the arm that the seeker head is on in and out over the platters for read and write functions).

Those are the only mechanics in the actual drive.

When you hear a 'clicking' noise or a 'chattering noise' coming from your computer and the computer either will not start or you can not read or write to your hd then the stepper motor has failed.

Normally you will not hear the next symptom unless you impact the hard disk or the seeker head has came loose from it's mounting point on the seeker arm:

A high pitched screeching noise.

This noise is the seeker arm and / or the seeker head dragging on one of the platters.

In both cases the hard disk has failed.

With the stepper motor failure it could be either mechanical (the actual stepper motor has failed) or the IC that supplies the voltage and current to the stepper motor to make it move has failed. (This IC was the prime reason drives failed back in the early days of the HD, these IC's have improved greatly since then).

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In the case of the stepper motor IC failure you could conceivably recover the data from the drive either by finding another good drive of the same make and model, removing the electronics from the new drive and replacing the electronics on the bad drive. I have done this a few times with success. However if the mechanics has failed then the only way to recover the data reliably is to send the drive to a Data Recovery company that has the clean room, tools, and spare devices to get the data from the drive, and it is costly!

If the seeker head has impacted or is trapped between the seeker arm and the platter the platter surface will be destroyed, thus making it impossible to recover the data on that platter. Like the case above you could use a Data Recovery company to get the good data off the platters.

I had a comment last week that the poster said: "There are two types of hard disks. Those that have failed and those about to fail!"

Ummmm, ya, you could say that with an exception: SSD

Up to about ten years ago hard drive failure was a really big problem but the manufactures have increased the quality of the materials and the manufacturing process where an actual hard disk failure is getting rarer. That isn't to say your new $55 1 TB hard drive won't fail because of my motto: "Buy Cheap, Get Cheap!". When it comes to hard disks I always try to buy higher quality products, that doesn't mean they won't fail it means the failure may be beyond the useful life time of the drive.

Take note of this article before you go "green".

Laptops will have a larger failure rate than desktops with mechanical hard drives.


Because we carry laptops around with us everywhere we go. We are careful but there are times when the laptop will have an impact and then you hear that zinnnnnnnggggg noise.

For a laptop this is a good case for upgrading or buying the computer with a SSD then when an 'accident' happens the data will be safe!

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If you put your ear close to your computer's hard disk bay you will hear your hard drive, it should be fairly quite, memorize this sound then when it changes you will know the hard drive is about to fail.

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