Computers are prone to making all sorts of unusual noises – whirrs, beeps and musical tones – but one sound you never want to hear is the sound of your hard drive clicking. Often called the “click of death”, the sound of a clicking hard drive is usually caused by one of the drive heads hitting an internal stop. It’s typically a mechanical problem, meaning something has become misaligned inside the drive; but, because a hard drive is such a delicate piece of machinery, even minor mechanical problems can cause substantial damage to the drive. If your hard drive starts clicking, it is crucial to take the correct steps to fix it, as soon as possible.
Back up your files immediately
It’s difficult to tell whether a hard drive click means that your drive has a minor error or it’s in danger of complete failure, but either way the first thing you should do if you hear unusual sounds coming from your hard drive is to back up your data. Use an external hard drive, connect it to your computer and back up everything on your computer. If you’re an Apple user, you can use Time Machine to make a carbon copy of all your data and preferences. Windows 7 and 8 also have built-in backup applications; you can also download a program like Cobian Backupto clone your hard drive’s contents to an external drive. The sooner you back up your files, the less likely it is that the drive will take all your data with it if it fails.
Stop using the damaged drive
Once your files have been backed up to an external drive – or even two – you should stop using the clicking drive immediately. The drive clicks because the drive head meets an internal stop; the more you use the drive, the more often the drive head meets that stop and the more likely it is that it will cause structural damage to the drive. Continuing to write data to the drive not only causes the problem to continue: it also puts your data on a damaged drive, which is a sure recipe for data loss. Assuming your files have been backed up, the only action you should perform with the drive once you realize there is a problem is to diagnose the problem and, if you can, to try to fix it.
Try to diagnose the problem
Most modern operating systems have some kind of disk utility or disk repair system. Sometimes hard drives fail because of corruption in the software: if the corruption is minor, it may be possible for your operating system to fix it. If you’re running Windows, try using a program like Disk Defrag to run diagnostics on the faulty hard drive and see if you can fix the error. On a Mac, you can use Disk Utility to identify the problem and try to fix it. Do not run any disk repair system unless you are absolutely certain that your data is securely backed up: in extreme cases, the only way to repair the drive is to wipe all the data and reformat the drive from scratch. If this is the only option, you risk losing all of your important data if you don’t have it backed up to another drive.
Check the connections to the hard drive
A drive head meets an internal stop because it is having trouble finding the correct place on the drive. Sometimes this is the result of mechanical damage to the drive, but it can also be because of the drive receiving incorrect information, perhaps through a faulty connection. If you feel confident with the interior workings of your computer, carefully remove the casing and check that the eSATA and power cables are firmly connected. Check the connectors for broken or bent pins: these could cause a faulty connection that results in incomplete information being sent to the drive. If the problem is a damaged eSATA or power connection, the solution is as simple as replacing the damaged component, after which your drive should work as normal.
Take the hard drive to be fixed
If the problem is not with the connections to the hard drive, then it is very likely that there is damage to the hard drive itself, which means that the drive will need to be diagnosed and fixed. Unless you are extremely experienced with computers, it is a very bad idea to try to repair your hard drive yourself. A laptop or desktop hard drive is full of extremely delicate components that can be very easily damaged, and most DIY solutions are likely to cause more harm than good. Minor damage can be exacerbated by inexpert repairs, causing what might have been a quick and cheap fix into an expensive repair or replacement. Look for a professional computer technician with experience in hard drive recovery and repair: not only will a professional’s expertise make it easier to diagnose the problem; a professional technician will have access to tools that enable him to repair a hard drive without as much risk to your data.
Clone your drive to another hard drive
In the event that your hard drive is too damaged to be fixed, ask your technician whether the problem is hardware or software based. If the problem is corrupt software, there’s very little you can do, but if the problem is mechanical and the data is fine, then you can try using a hard drive enclosure to clone the contents of your damaged hard drive to a new one. Look for a hard drive enclosure with two slots and one-click cloning so that you don’t have to use a friend’s computer as an intermediate device. Even if you have backups of your data to external hard drives, there’s an advantage to cloning an existing drive: all of your preferences, settings and shortcuts are preserved, making setup much easier when you install the new drive.