Clicking Hard Drives

Probably the most common symptom of a failing hard drive is that distinct clicking noise – sometimes called the click of death.

If you have ever had this problem in the past, chances are it was diagnosed as a hardware failure. And in some cases it is. Unfortunately, I can’t fix this type of problem, but I can do what other local places will do and ship it off to a place with the appropriate tools to fix it for you.

Traditional IDE and SATA hard drives have lots of little moving parts inside. Your information is stored on magnetic discs arranged in a stack. Imagine an old record player, with a big stack of records instead of just one. And in between each record is a separate needle. That’s exactly how the platters that store your information work inside your hard drive. You ask the computer to read a file, and the platters spin to put the file under the correct head  so it can be read. There are motors and other parts in there too, but the point is, any of these parts failing or breaking down is going to cause your hard drive to crash.

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If it’s a physical problem, the clicking noise is usually caused when one of the heads can’t find the first sector on the drive and it goes into a loop looking for it. If you let the drive run and it clicks for a long period of time, the platter itself can get warped. Since the platters are where your data is, that’s not good. If your drive is clicking and you want to be able to possibly recover data from it, shut it down as soon as possible.

But sometimes, your hardware is functioning exactly the way it should, and the drive is clicking anyway. Newer, large capacity hard drives have a language they use to communicate called micro-code, which is stored on the green circuit board underneath your hard drive (called a PCB board).  If the firmware fails, the drive can do all kinds of strange things, including clicking.

The green circuit board seen on the underside of this hard drive is the PCB board. The little black chips contain the firmware.
The green circuit board seen on the underside of this hard drive is the PCB board. The little black chips contain the firmware.

 

If it’s a physical problem, you’re looking at an expensive repair, starting in the $1000 range and running to $1600. The drive needs to be shipped to a facility with a cleanroom so it can be opened without dust and debris damaging the platters. usually the process involves transferring good parts using a donor drive that’s the exact model of your hard drive. Once your drive is working, they can copy the data to a brand new hard drive that you can either purchase from them or ship to them. The  the donor parts are removed and your damaged hard drive is disposed of properly.

You can see the chips on the PCB board a little more clearly here, slightly raised off the surface of the board.
You can see the chips on the PCB board a little more clearly here, slightly raised off the surface of the board.

Luckily, if the problem is with the PCB board or the chips that are on the outside board, no cleanroom should be required and the cost is usually less than $500. One place I recommend checking out is 300 Dollar Data Recovery. They can diagnose your drive for you and if the problem does require cleanroom facilities they can even forward it along to one of those companies if you are interested. If you’d be more comfortable, I can handle the arrangements and ship it off to 300 Dollar Data Recovery for you.

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