Picture of a Samsung laptop disk drive in USB enclosure, bottom view.

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking




Keeping a large audio library built over fifteen years, we’re quite anal about keeping current backups. That’s your first, best strategy for how to recover a hard drive that is clicking!  Hopefully, you’ve made recent backups of the HDD before it began clicking.



Indeed, backup drives enable us to quickly replace clicking hard disk drives (HDD). Our backup strategy involves six 6 TB external Seagate Backup Plus USB hard disk drives (HDDs). We keep an up-to-date full copy of the library on each drive. We then store each hard drive in separate places, offsite. Then, we periodically sync among these hard drives. This assures that al drives have the same files and file versions. As mentioned earlier, keeping your backups up-to-date is perhaps the best hard drive making clicking noise recovery. That way, when a hard disk starts that click of death sound, swap it with a backup HDD. So, backup, backup, BACKUP!

How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Picture of a Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB HDD, top view.
How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB HDD, top view.

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Failure Scenario

The Problem: Hard Drive Making Noises Clicking

With our six hard drives, over the years many of them have shown the same failure symptoms. It matters not whether the HDD is SCSI, IDE/PATA, SATA, or any of these types, hidden inside a USB enclosure. The problem occurs no matter which data interface is used.

That Dreaded Click of Death Sound

When accessed, the drives give off a repeated clicking sound (tick-tick, tick-tick, tick-tick). This can sound like a lumbering grandfather’s clock. And, while hard drive clicking, any programs that try to access that hard disk drive hang, waiting for the requested data to come. Then, after several seconds, the clicking stops. Then, they send the data normally. Once it warms up, the hard drive thereafter works flawlessly.

Accessing Certain Files Worsens the Click Tick Sound

Accessing some files exacerbates this erratic behavior more than others. Some files cannot be completely read at all, while others read perfectly every time.

How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Picture of a Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB hard disk drive, bottom view.
How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB hard disk drive, bottom view.

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Cautions and Warnings

Avoid Static Electricity while handling the Hard Disk Drive

Be careful handling the drive, especially around its data ports, power connectors, and any exposed printed circuits. One snap of static electricity at any of these places can destroy the drive.

Back Up the Hard Drive First

Before attempting to recover the hard drive, do a complete HDD backup. If the clicking drive has data you need, copy it to another drive before proceeding below. The steps that involve reformatting the hard drive will make inaccessible any data stored on the clicker. Also, even if you are just swapping power supplies and / or data cables, you could corrupt the HDD. If that happens, you’ll be happy that you made a complete backup.



How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Possible Solutions

Verify that the Hard Drive is not Overheating

Note that hard disk drives normally operate at temperatures high enough to cause some discomfort when you touch them; especially after they’ve been running for an hour or so. So it can be hard to tell if the normally warm drive is actually overheating when it clicks. So, make sure you have plenty of air blowing around the drive. Many computer cases and HDD enclosures have fans. These bring in a constant supply of cool air from the outside. Check that these are all working, and that vents to them are not blocked. However, hard drive clicking after you do all this, means that your problem is likely not due to excess HDD heating.

Replace Faulty Power Supplies

If the hard drive is used in an external enclosure, check its power adapter for correct voltages if it has one. They should read within 5% tolerance. So for a 12-volt supply, you should read no more than 12.6 volts and no less than 11.4 volts.

Note that some drives need more than one voltage. This is so with the internal ones. This might need plus and minus twelve volts, and plus or minus five volts. Check for the right readings on these lines as well. Try a more accurate power supply if voltages you read differ from expected values.



How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Verify Proper Software Operation

Power up the drive, but leave the data connector disconnected. The HDD may still click again and again. If so, then the problem is likely in the drive itself. This clicking does not depend on any external software to make it happen. This takes the blame away from your installed apps.

Test the Hard Drive, Away from Strong Sources of Electrical Interference

EMI (electromagnetic interference) and RFI (radio frequency interferences) can trigger unreliable HDD operation. So, try moving the disk drive away from sources of said interference. Get it away from computers, switching power supplies, and brush motors. Brush motors especially, arc inside and thus, create much radio hash. Also, fluorescent lights, televisions, cell phones, Wi-Fi access points can also interfere with hard drive operation.

How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Picture of the Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB hard drive, showing the SATA port side.
How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Seagate Barracuda SATA 500 GB hard drive, showing the SATA port side.

 

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Try the Hard Drive in a Different Enclosure

How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Picture of a Samsung Laptop HDD in USB enclosure, top view.
How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Samsung Laptop HDD in USB enclosure, top view.

If the clicking disk drive is in a USB drive enclosure as pictured above, the enclosure could be the issue. These housings contain electronics to convert one data cable format into another. E.g. USB to IDE or SATA to PATA. Though rare, these electronic parts can fail, leading to drive clicking. So, try moving a drive to a different but known-good enclosure. Or better yet, try connecting the HDD to your computer via its native data interface. If it’s a SATA hard drive, use a SATA or eSATA cable. If the clicking persists, then the problem is NOT the drive enclosure.



How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Try Quick Formatting the Hard Drive

In the Windows operating system, you can either fully- or quickly-format an attached disk drive. Now the hard drive clicking can happen due to a corrupt file system on the disk. One hard drive click of death noise fix is thus, to quick format the HDD. Formatting creates a non corrupt file system. This then replaces the old, faulty file system.

A quick format, even for a multiple terabyte hard drive, takes just minutes. But a complete format can take well over a day. In either case, we suggest formatting with NTFS (New Technology File System), especially if you’re running Windows OS. This is the Windows default file system. It is less likely to break in the future than the older FAT32 file system. Why? Because it has built-in redundancy and added error checks that it uses to keep itself healthy.

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Replace any Faulty Cables and Connectors

Loose connectors, or broken wires in strain relief tubes cause erratic power and data transfers. If this occurs during long read / writes, drive clicking can result. So, it’s always a good idea to keep some spare USB, SATA, SCSI, USB, and internal power cables handy. With these, you can swap out the data cables to check for good cable function. If the problem keeps up though you replace each cable, then the problem is NOT a bad cable. On the other hand, it might clear up. If so, then pitch the bad cable. Next, order yourself a new spare, and consider yourself lucky.

How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Picture of a Samsung laptop disk drive in USB enclosure, bottom view.
How to recover a hard drive that is clicking. Samsung laptop disk drive in USB enclosure, bottom view.



How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Try Fully Formatting the Disk Drive

However, if the clicking problem persists, you will have to perform and exhaustive disk formatting; a procedure that forces writing into every sector on the disk. A full formatting forces the hard disk drive hardware to test each sector. It then and mark any it finds as faulty. This prevents use of that sector in the future.

So, full formatting is a way to exclude damaged disk sectors from future reads and writes. Sometimes the clicking results when the drive attempts to write and read bad sectors. So, by deleting them from the available sector pool, you often reduce the clicking and speed up access too. Once the hard disk drive is again formatted, then you’ll find fewer bad sectors later. Thus, the chance of clicking and failed read/writes goes down.

How to Recover a Hard Drive that is Clicking: Low Level Hard Drive Formatting, Perhaps

But if none of the above suggestions solves your slow, clicking HDD, the drive may have suffered internal hardware damage. Or, it may have been exposed to strong magnetic fields. These can erase some of the low-level formatted information on its data platters. In either case, your best bet is to replace the HDD. Why? Because of how inexpensive they’ve become in recent years. Low-level formatting may be possible though, in older hard drives. But how to do this is different for each brand of drive. Thus, low level formatting is beyond the scope of this post.

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Revision History

  • 2018-06-04: First published.