Hard drive clicking is a problem that usually precedes total loss of information on a hard drive, a phenomenon known as the Click of Death. The clicking sound itself does not cause the problem, but is audible proof of a deeper problem. Sometimes hard drives will click or make noise on rare occasions, but if the sound happens frequently or repetitively it may indicate that the drive is about to stop working. It is important to back up information often since the Click of Death can happen without warning and once it begins there is no telling when the drive will die. Complete loss of the drive may happen in minutes, hours or days after the persistent clicking noise begins.
Although older hard drives were once noisy during everyday operation, it is no longer normal to hear clicking noises from a modern compact hard drive. These noises now indicate one of the following problems:
- Faulty or loose cable connections in the drive leading to problems with the power supply
- The spindle motor is short circuiting, causing the drive to lose its ability to spin
- The head positioner repetitively parking or unloading its heads
Faulty Connections or Power Supply
Problems with the power supply are relatively uncommon, although it is generally possible to fix this issue. It is always safer to assume that the problem is repetitive parking of the heads, since this problem is overwhelmingly more common and is potentially catastrophic.
Short Circuiting of the Spindle Motor
The spindle motor works to spin the platters of the drive. When the motor coils suffer from a short circuit, the drive is unable to spin and makes a clicking sound as it unsuccessfully tries to move. This is also uncommon, but can be fixed by chilling the drive in the freezer, which causes the coil to move out of the position that causes the short circuit.
Head Positioning Problems
Most current hard drives use an embedded servo to tell the drive where to move the heads to access information. When the mechanism begins to fail, the heads cannot detect where the information tracks are. This leads them to repetitively swing or move, producing hard drive clicking when they make contact with the stop. Since contact with the stop does not allow the drive to access information, it tries again and continually produces the clicking noise.
Whatever the problem may be, it is always safest to assume that the hard drive clicking is permanent and take action to protect data before the drive has a chance to die. Back up any important data as soon as you suspect that there may be a problem. Do not try to perform diagnostics or maintenance before making copies of important data. If the problem is with head positioning, this means that the drive could fail in minutes or hours. The first instinct of most people is to restart the computer and see if the problem fixes itself upon shut down. This is never the case with head positioning failure, and shutting the computer down at this point may well mean that it will never start back up again. Lost data can generally be recovered by an expert, but may cost over a thousand dollars to do so, making it worthwhile to save copies of the data before it might be lost.