Hard Disk Help: From Unusual Noises To Random Crashes

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Know the warning signs to stop your hard disk dying

Modern hard disks are incredibly reliable, but like any component they can and do - go wrong. Sometimes, a failing hard disk will give indications that it’s about to go wrong, so knowing what to look out for is extremely useful.

Suspect noises

Hard disks contain moving parts, so they can never be totally silent, but unusual noises that appear suddenly – particularly clunking, clicking or screeching sounds – could signal impending disk failure. If this happens, back up important files immediately and consider buying a replacement drive. Complete disk failure will stop Windows starting, usually with an error that days ‘Operating system not found’ or ‘No bootable medium found’.

Hard disks contain moving parts, so they can never be totally silent

Hard disks contain moving parts, so they can never be totally silent

Humming and faint clicking or scratching noises in a desktop PC are usually caused by normal disk activity being amplified by the metal case. One solution is to fit anti-vibration washers between the drive and the mounting cage. It’s easy, and washers are cheap – sells packs of eight for less than $1.5 (

When you use a laptop, you’re closer to the hard disk, so it can seem noisier. Watch out for sudden changes in the noise type or volume. Visit to hear examples of bad disk noises.

Download the free DiskCheckup to keep an eye on your hard disk

Download the free DiskCheckup to keep an eye on your hard disk

Non-stop disks

If the drive’s activity light is always on, even when the PC is doing nothing, don’t panic – it could be Windows’ indexing service, or an anti-virus program scanning the disk. These tasks begin when the computer is idle, and may take a while to complete. In Vista, 7 and 8, activity can also be caused by the weekly disk-defragmentation task, which helps to keep the disk in good condition.

When Windows is short of memory, it uses the hard disk as temporary storage, so this can also cause excessive activity. Adding more memory is cheap and can dramatically reduce the wear and tear on eth hard disk.

Prevent errors

Power failures, forced shutdowns and other problems can cause disk errors. Symptoms include programs freezing when files open and Windows crashes. Programs that temporarily store data on the hard disk (such as web browsers) can also be affected. Another bad sign is if a ‘Checking file system on drive C:’ message frequently shows up before Windows starts. Download the free DiskCheckup tool ( – the latest version can check SSDs.

Before condemning a drive, check internal cables. Sata data cables (connecting the disk to the motherboard) can be particularly unreliable, so it’s worth replacing these.

Many disk errors are temporary and can be fixed by Windows. Right-click the drive in Windows Explorer, choose Properties, then Tools. In XP, Vista and 7, click the ‘Check now’ button, tick both option boxes and click Start. Click ‘Schedule disk check’ if prompted. Restart the PC to run a check, but note that a full check can take hours. In Windows 8 click Check, and then click Scan Drive – you won’t have to restart the PC.

Faulty Sata cables are common and can cause peculiar disk errors

Faulty Sata cables are common and can cause peculiar disk errors

Be cautious when you disconnect external USB disk drives, as this could cause errors. One symptom of this problem is if Windows shows the message: ‘you need to format the disk in drive X: before it can be used’. If this happens, don’t format it but run a disk check as explained above. To avoid this, right-click the drive, choose Eject and wait for the prompt.

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