Why is my hard drive clicking?

What’s that sound?

Can you hear a click? As you can probably imagine, unusual sounds coming from your hard drive are not a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that your data is lost forever! Check out our post about hard drives to learn a little about how your data is stored. If you look below, you can see the tiny head that is responsible for reading and writing data to your drive.

bad head

So what exactly is causing that sound anyway? Here is a little video we took from a drive with bad heads to show you what is happening inside the hard drive.

Now what??

Okay, so if you’re hearing a clicking sound from your hard drive, it’s probably an issue with the heads. That is just about the worst-case scenario and it definitely means that you’ll have to have a data recovery professional look at the drive. In order to get your data back, it’s likely that the heads will need to be swapped with parts from a donor drive. All hope is not lost, and your data isn’t necessarily lost forever!

Contact us if you need data recovery!

Do you need data recovery?

Well that actually depends on what you’ve lost and what you’ve lost it from. As you probably know, all your computer really understands is a series of 1s and 0s. Most people tend to think of their hard drive as being full of these binary digits, but the platter (the metal storage device inside magnetic drives) actually has trillions of tiny magnets that can be up or down (1 or 0). That being the case, your files can never really be deleted, you can’t delete a magnet! What happens when you delete a file, is that the space where the file was allocated, is marked as empty, i.e. it can be copied over. Whether or not this happens right away depends on a number of things, but if you have just deleted a file, there is very little chance it will be copied over immediately. In fact, it could remain for weeks, months, or even years!

Hard Drive Platter
Fig. 1 – Mirrored surface of the platter
Can I fix it on my own?

For the average user who has accidentally deleted a file or folder, there are a lot of data recovery software options that you can use and you probably don’t need to pay a data recovery company, as long as you are comfortable installing and running the software. Some software has a limit on how many files or how much, (in terms of megabytes or gigabytes) you can recover for free, but a quick Google search should find what you are looking for. A piece of advice though, if you go this way and you output the results of the scan, make sure you save it to another device. If not, you could be writing over the very file(s) or folder(s) you wanted to recover!

Hard Drive Issues

Apart from accidental deletion, there are a lot of other reasons that you might not be able to access your data, and here is where you probably need to let a data recovery expert look at the drive. Issues with hard drives can be divided into two categories:

    1) logical issues
    2) physical issues

By way of analogy, a book with a logical problem may have grammatical errors, poor sentence structure, or even just strings of random gibberish. You can read it just fine, but it doesn’t make any sense. A book with a physical problem has pages that are torn out, ripped, wet, rotten, chewed, or they came out of a printer that was running out of ink. It is anyone’s guess if you can read something meaningful off the page.

Logical issues can include things like a corrupted partition table, MBR/$catalog file errors, bad sectors, firmware corruption, etc. Symptoms might include your drive running very slowly, files and folders being visible, but not accessible, or not being detected at all by your computer. A combination of specialised software and hardware can address logical issues, so in terms of severity, these are on the lower end of the scale.

Physical issues cover things like damaged heads, PCB/power issues, and platter damage. Symptoms might include your drive not being detected by your computer, making strange sounds like beeping or clicking, or the drive not turning on at all. To remedy these issues often requires finding a suitable donor drive and exchanging parts, which although it doesn’t sound complicated, it’s very specialised and requires a lot of special equipment; ideally done in a class 100 clean room. You should never open your drive on your own, there is nothing you will be able to do to fix it and you will almost certainly make the problem worse.

What to Look For

A reputable data recovery company will examine the drive before they give you a quote and then allow you to decide if you want to proceed before they start recovery. Make sure you find out their policy on this and if they charge to look at your device.

Data Recovery Works is based in Perth, Australia and can be reached on Facebook, Twitter, email, or telephone.