Clicking Hard Drive: What does it mean and how to fix it?

This typical hard drive clicking noise means that the System Area (SA) cannot be read. It could be simple or complex to fix.

There are 2 cases:

  • Your hard drive is still visible by windows or Mac
  • In such case, backup your data, your drive is dying.

  • Your hard drive can’t be accessed anymore
  • There are a few tricks you can try to get your data back. See below for the full explanations about this symptom.

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The System Area (SA) in 2 words

The System Area is located on the magnetic platters of your hard drive. It is typically on the outside cylinder for a 3.5″ hard drive and on the inside cylinder for a 2.5″. This is a very complex area.

It is knows as well as Maintenance track, Negative cylinder, Reserved cylinder, Calibration or Initilization area or even Disk ware.

Inside the System Area you can find the following (the list is not exhaustive):

  • S.M.A.R.T.
  • Serial number
  • P and G list
  • Firmware/Overlay code
  • Drive Specific Tables
  • Factory Default tables
  • Security Data Passwords

Clicking noise you said?

Check out our data base of clicking hard drives sounds on soundcloud:

Why is the hard drive making this clicking noise?

We know now, it is because the System Area cannot be read. You can have 4 main reasons (and a possible combination of them) for this to happen:

  • Heads are dead
  • Preamplificator is dead
  • SA corrupted or scratched
  • Firmware on the PCB

Whatever you do, you will need to repair the hard drive first.

For heads and preamplificator…well you only have a choice which is to swap the head of your drive. This is where it gets expensive in terms of data recovery services. Head swapping should be done in a white room, but if you are skilled enough you can try it in a clean environnement if you don’t plan to spend money anyway on your data. Head issue is very common if you dropped your external hard drive.

If the SA is scratched you might have a shot through a live pcb swap. It will basically bypass the reading of the SA and you have a cheap shot at getting your data back.

For firmware issue on your pcb, a pcb swap is the operation you should do. This is doable by most individual thus not that simple.

Dead Engine or Spindle of a hard drive

The following noise is from a dead spindle or motor. It is a light sound and a rare problem. In such case, you need to have your drive opened in a white room and have the platters moved to a donor drive, if you want to get your data back.