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Find Out Why Your Hard Drive Clicks

Find Out Why Your Hard Drive Clicks

Hard drive clicking is one of the most ominous noises in computing. These short, sharp sounds, known as the Click of Death, occur in a failing hard disk drive (HDD). Mechanical breakdowns or electrical problems can cause the device to emit a series of clicks while reading or writing data. If left unchecked, these failures will worsen and cause complete data loss. We explain the reasons behind hard drive clicking and offer tips for preserving files.

5 Causes of Hard Drive Clicking

First and foremost: Shut down and stop using the hard drive at the first sign of trouble. Continued use could degrade the device and make retrieving important data even more difficult. In addition, do not open the disk to diagnose the clicking noise. Doing so could damage its sensitive components further.

Hard drives are complex. The device relies on dozens of intricate parts to manage files. A single failure impacts whether the drive can still store data. One of the best methods for predicting failures is abrupt changes in the disk’s behavior. That includes unusual sounds.

Despite using foam and rubber to reduce noise and vibration, modern HDDs produce a slight humming or whirring sound. However, abnormal noises like loud clicking can indicate a terminal issue. These sounds are often the result of feedback errors that lead to repeated attempts to load or save data. Hard drive beeping or grinding are some different warnings of a failing disk.

Below are the five likeliest causes of hard drive clicking.

Clicking Heads
Clicking Heads
The clicking sound of a failing drive often indicates problems with the movement of the drive's read/write actuator.
Dead Heads
Dead Heads
This clicking sound is made when the actuator arm continuously resets itself because the read/write heads have failed.
Torn Heads
Torn Heads
This clicking and buzzing indicates damage to the HDD read/write head(s), which processes data stored on the disk platter(s).
Scratched Platter
Scratched Platter
This high-pitched whine usually signals scratches in the disk platter(s) that prevent read/write heads from processing stored data.
Stuck Motor
Stuck Motor
A buzzing or chattering sound coming from your HDD device could indicate a stuck or damaged spindle motor.
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Physical Damage

An image of a scratched platter inside of a hard drive.

Damage is the most obvious cause of clicking. Dropping or mishandling the drive could dent or scratch the platters. Once that happens, accessing the data on the damaged sectors of the disk is impossible with a standard approach. Platters are deformed or destroyed through other means as well. Exposure to foreign substances (such as dust or liquid), humid environments, or strong magnetic fields could ruin the drive. Each of these events could explain a consistent ticking noise.

Mechanical Wear

A close-up of the actuator arm of a hard drive.

Mechanical failure is another common reason for clicking. Moving parts inside of a hard drive are susceptible to wear and tear over time. The actuator arm, which moves read/write heads to tracks on the spinning platter, could become worn. Heads can also become detached or torn from the armature after prolonged use. Either of these conditions can create a clicking sound as the drive seeks.

Misaligned Heads

A close-up of read/write heads in a hard drive.

Read/write heads are the delicate instruments that record and retrieve data in HDDs. These heads hover a few nanometers above the platter surface while reading or writing data. A misaligned head does not have the precise positioning required to interact with the stored data. As a result, the hard drive clicks because it cannot fulfill the request despite its persistence. Furthermore, heads are parked to the side of the disk to prevent incidental contact when the device is inactive. Sometimes, they get stuck in the parking ramp. At that point, the drive will attempt to release them again, causing a clicking noise.

Faulty Electronics

A close-up of electronic components on a hard disk drive’s Printed Circuit Board.

The electronics on the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) are crucial to a healthy hard drive. Components on the PCB provide an electrical current to the voice coil motor. In turn, the motor directs the actuator to the exact location on the platter. However, circuits can degrade because of power surges or overheating. Faulty electronics can generate erratic movement with the actuator, including the arm hitting its limit and resetting. Such movements could produce repeat clicking. The sudden starting and stopping of a spindle motor can have the same effect.

Defective Service Area

A Service Area (SA) is a reserved space on the platters that contains critical firmware, calibration data, and defect lists. The disk will not function if it cannot read the SA due to corruption or platter damage. The hard drive could fail to interpret instructions or give improper commands without access to the SA. These feedback loops can create repetitive ticking.

How To Fix Clicking Hard Drive

An image of a data recovery engineer preparing to retrieve files from a failed hard drive.

The truth is that hard drive clicking cannot be fixed. The hard drive has reached the end of its lifespan. Once clicking starts, it is no longer a question of whether the device will stop working but when failure occurs. And the public does not have the specialized facilities or tools to address a broken disk.

Hard drive repair is challenging. Experienced engineers must diagnose the source of the clicking sound in a controlled lab to mitigate more damage. Upon pinpointing the problem, a technician will fix the failures, image the device, and recover the data.

For example, some hard drives might need a head stack assembly (HSA) replacement and recalibration. Other clicking HDDs might require an engineer to rewrite firmware or reconstruct the SA.

Regardless of the issue, a professional data recovery service is the best option for restoring failed drives and essential files.

Reliable Hard Drive Recovery

Hard drive recovery is the only reliable method for retrieving lost data from a clicking disk. Data recovery software cannot resolve hardware failures and DIY repairs often worsen the situation.

Secure Data Recovery is a proven partner that delivers the best results in the industry. Since 2007, we have recovered billions of files across thousands of demanding cases and maintained a 96% success rate. In that time, our experts have developed tools and techniques to reverse data loss involving any device or failure type. Trust the service with a certified cleanroom, free diagnostics, audited process, and No Data, No Recovery Fee guarantee.

Call 800-388-1266 now to get started and reclaim what matters most.

Article by

T.J. Burlee is a content writer for Secure Data Recovery Services. He specializes in various topics in the data industry, including data recovery technology, storage devices, and digital forensics. Throughout his career, he has covered complex concepts and provided accessible solutions for users. Before joining Secure Data, he worked as a freelance technical writer.

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