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Identifying Hard Drive Sounds and Determining What They Mean

 

In this article find information on the types of sounds you might hear coming from your Seagate or LaCie external hard drive, and what the sounds say about the drive’s activity and health.  

An external hard drive will make a range of sounds during regular use, which are perfectly normal and expected. There are also environmental elements which can impact sound perception: 

  • In an otherwise quiet room, HDD sounds can get exaggerated.  

  • The HDD might be placed on a surface that amplifies its sounds. 

  • Other factors near the HDD may echo its sounds. 


Note: Hard Disk Drives (HDD) produce sound because of their spinning parts. Solid-State Drives (SSD) do not have moving parts and are generally quieter.  

 

This document provides a variety of information about type of sounds you may hear from your storage device. See a list of topics with its direct links: 

 

Topics
Expected sounds 
How to avoid healthy HDDs making more sound than necessary
Unexpected sounds
Troubleshooting a drive which is emitting unexpected sounds
 

 

 

Expected sounds 

 

Normally, the faster the drive motor spins, the higher-pitched the resulting sound will be, and there is a greater chance of a low hum.  Hard drives are generally audible, especially 3.5". Perhaps: Historically, drives have made an acceptable amount of perceptible noise. However, there can be exceptions even during normal use.  

A drive can "chatter" or "click" when reading and writing data. These are reassuring sounds indicating that the drive is active.  Also, some drives occasionally run off-line scans resulting in similar sounds even when the drive is not actively reading or writing.  

The different sounds that might come from a hard drive during regular use include: 

  • While an HDD is reading or writing data, the disk’s platters are spinning rapidly – this typically emits a whirring sound and can be more pronounced when an HDD is winding up or down. Even if not actively being accessed by a user, hard drives are often used by the computer in the background, for example, during automatic indexing.  
     

  • The HDD’s heads, which read and write the data, are constantly making rapid movements as well – this usually sounds like an occasional soft click during use but can sound like a hard click when the heads get parked, for example during shutdown or when entering sleep mode. 
     

  • Some external drive enclosures have internal fans, especially devices with multiple hard drives.  These can also produce sounds which can be more noticeable in warmer environments where the fan will kick in sooner and more often – this sounds like the HDD whirring mentioned above. 
     

  • When HDDs spin, they create vibrations and vibrations from an HDD sitting on a desk may cause other objects on the desk, or even the desk itself, to emit a sound. 
     

  • If an external HDD has its own power supply, you might hear a slight humming coming from the power supply’s, especially if the power supply is a bit older.  
     

  • Enterprise class HDDs are designed to provide higher performance and reliability. However, this elevated performance can include increased levels of noise versus standard drives. 
     

  • Different use cases may cause different levels of sound. For example, writing new data to an encrypted volume may produce a higher level of noise compared to a standard volume.  
     

  • With multiple HDDs in an enclosure, the more likely potential there is for higher noise levels. This is common with large RAID devices.  

 

 

How to avoid healthy HDDs making more sound than necessary 

 

  • Do not place the external HDD near the wall. These devices are often designed to “push noise” out of their backs, away from users. However, if placed too closely to a wall these sounds can bounce back. 
     

  • Do not put the external HDD directly in contact with the desk. Especially with certain materials, like a wood desk, the sound waves will propagate in the wood and can act like a speaker. When possible, try to isolate the drive from the desk in these cases. For example, with a rubber mat or Vibration Dampening Pad. 
     

  • The farther away you can put the drive from your working environment, the less likely any noise coming from it will be bothersome. If limited by the original cables, longer ones are commonly available for purchase. 
     

  • It is not recommended to stack drives, as this combination can increase noise levels. 
     

 

Unexpected sounds 

 

Below are HDD sounds which are abnormal and possible indicators of an issue. If you hear these sounds coming from a hard drive, verify immediately that there is a full backup of any important data on the drive: 

  • If you hear a grinding or scratching sound coming from the drive, depending on severity, it can mean that continued use will cause physical damage to the disk’s platters and there is a risk to the data. Consider contacting Data Recovery Services for best next steps. 
     

  • While all spinning drives will cause a modicum of vibration, a faulty drive can experience exaggerated and abnormal vibrations. Compare multiple drives when possible to establish a normal vibration baseline. Listen for irregularities in the vibrations as well. A healthy drive emits mild and regular sounds of whirring. 
     

  • Mentioned above, a solitary hard clicking sound can mean the heads are getting parked. But if a hard clicking persists or is accompanied by any kind of repeating clunking (or grinding) sound, then there is likely a physical issue with the drive. When possible, compare to other drives known to be healthy. 
     

  • If an external HDD has its own power supply, as mentioned earlier, it’s normal to hear a slight humming coming from it. If the humming is pronounced, or you can hear occasional crackles coming from it, it’s possible the power supply is no longer supplying enough power to the drive. Another hint is that the drive no longer spins up (doesn’t whir or vibrate), and some models will also emit an intermittent but regular beep. 
     

  • External Hard drives will only beep if they’re experiencing an issue. In most cases, a single intermittent beep means the drive isn’t getting enough power. If it has its own power supply, test with another supply which is compatible. If the device is powered by USB, or another interface, test with a different cable, a different port, or on another computer as it might mean the interface cable is faulty. For other kinds of beeps and their meanings, check the specific drive model’s User Guide. 

 

Troubleshooting a drive which is emitting unexpected sounds 

 

IMPORTANT: If a drive is making a grinding sound during use, this could mean that physical damage is being caused to the drive’s platters by continued use. If you absolutely need any data on the drive, contact Data Recovery Services immediately before troubleshooting. 
 

  1. Make sure you’ve identified the correct hard drive or computer part. Do this by disconnecting the drive completely from the system and checking if the sound persists near the computer or not.  

 

  1. Swap out any cables available to you, including power and interface cables. Make certain that the power supply used for testing is compatible with the storage device.  

 

  1. Test the drive on another system altogether to see if the sound follows the drive. If possible, try moving the original computer and the drive to a new location and note if the noise is reduced. 

 

  1. Run tests on the drive using Seatools for the most accurate results.   

Note: Seatools is only available for Windows.    

 

  1. If the HDD is healthy, and you know the device has its own fan, using compressed air to thoroughly clean out the enclosure, but especially the fan, can sometimes make a big difference. Replacing the fan is another option.  

Note: Except for select devices, changing a fan can only be performed by Seagate or LaCie or an authorized service repair center.   

 

  1. Devices that have a fan can appear noisy when cooling the storage device. Avoid placing a device in a confined space, make sure the fan is not obstructed, and that there is natural airflow.   

 

  1. If the sound seems to be caused by excessive vibrations, check how solid the enclosure is and if there might be any screws or bolts that could be tightened. Minor vibrations in a loose enclosure can cause exaggerated noises.  

 

  1. For devices that come with a power supply, try moving it to a different place and check if the noise is diminished or reduced.  

 

  1. Evaluate if the sound is produced by echoing. To perform this test, hold the enclosure suspended in the air and note if the sound has diminished. Only perform this test with devices that are light enough to lift. Multi-drive devices may be too heavy to lift.