‘My 2-year-old hard drive is making a clicking sound. It started recently and seems to be getting more frequent. Sometimes I hear a repeated click-whir sound when starting or using my computer. Does this mean my hard drive is going bad?’ Yikes! Read on to learn what that means, and what you should do if it happens to you…
Impending Hard Drive Failure?
Generally a clicking sound coming from your hard drive is a Very Bad Thing. It could be a harbinger of horrific hardware happenings, or the drumbeat of data disaster. So my immediate advice is “BACKUP YOUR HARD DRIVE!” as soon as possible. If the drive fails, you’re out of luck. In fact, even if you don’t suspect a problem with your hard drive, it’s wise to make regular backups so you can survive a hard drive failure with only minimal inconvenience.
On Windows, you can check your hard drive for errors (and sometimes fix them) by running the CHKDSK utility. To do so, click the Start button, then type CMD, but don’t press Enter. Right-click on the CMD.EXE icon at the top of the search results, then click “Run as administrator.” If you get a User Account Control popup, click YES to continue. When the Command Prompt window appears, type CHKDSK C: /F /R then press Enter. The /R option tells CHKDSK to scan for bad disk sectors, and the /F option means to fix any errors found.
You’ll see a message informing you that “CHKDSK cannot run because the volume is in the use by another process. Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts?” This happens because CHKDSK cannot operate on the drive from which you have started Windows. Reply Y, then restart your computer. CHKDSK will run before loading Windows, and you may see a bunch of geeky stuff on the screen while it’s scanning your disk. On Windows 8 or 10, you’ll just see a black screen with the Windows logo and a progress indicator.
If CHKDSK offers to “convert lost chains to files”, recover lost data, or fix something else, you should accept. (If CHKDSK tries to sell you a cheap Rolex, politely decline the offer.) After CHKDSK finishes, and you’ve restarted normally, you may want to see the CHKDSK results. To do so, click the Start button, type EVENTVWR, then press Enter. This will open the Windows Event Viewer. Click on Windows Logs, then Application. Scroll down until you see the Wininit item in the source column. Click on that line, and you’ll see the CHKDSK log file. Hopefully, you’ll find the phrase “Windows has checked the file system and found no problems” there. If not, the drive may be damaged.
But before you trash your troublesome drive, you should try one more thing… Some hard drives are very sensitive to non-level surfaces, and will not function properly if they’re sitting on a slant. Shut down your computer, make sure your system unit is on a flat surface (use a level to make sure), and then restart. I was all set to give up on an older computer that was doing the click/whir routine, but I noticed it wasn’t sitting on a level surface. As soon as I fixed that, the problem was gone!
If your computer won’t start, don’t assume that hard drive is a goner. A few years ago, my hard drive got totally mucked up, and nothing I tried could restore the drive to working order. But I found a wonderful program called TESTDISK that was able to analyze the disk and recreate the damaged partition table and boot record. I was certain that all the data was lost, but TESTDISK did the job for me, and the computer was able to start just fine.
Sometimes odd noises may come from a cooling fan inside your desktop computer. If you are brave enough, pop open the hood on the system unit, turn on the computer, and see if the noise is coming from a fan. It’s much cheaper to replace a bad fan than a failed hard drive.
Have a great week from all of us at ZI