Identifying and troubleshooting hard drive noise issues

Today's hard drives are very quiet and usually the system fan noise covers the drive. When the system ventilation fans get dirty or out of balance they can begin to make noise.  Sometimes the hard drive is suspected of making these new noises.

Older hard drives will make noise during normal use. The level and type of noise may change depending on the function the drive is performing. Users must be able to distinguish normal noises from detrimental, abnormal noises.

Normal sounds include:

  1. Whining noise during drive spin-up.
  2. Regular clicking or tapping sounds during drive access.
  3. Hard clicks when the drive heads park during power saving modes like Standby or Hibernation.

Abnormal noises include:

  1. High-pitched whining sound can be an indication of abnormal function.
  2. Noises can be caused by mounting issues. This is due to either a high frequency vibration in the mounting hardware, or a potential drive failure.
  3. Repeated, regular tapping, grinding or beeping.
  4. External (especially USB-only) drive clicking or beeping at time of connection, often accompanied by non-detection problems.
  5. Seagate and Maxtor-brand hard drives do not contain audio speakers. Some failure mechanisms may make a regular repeating beep from the computer's internal speaker. This may or not be hard drive related. Check your system documentation for an explanation of system beep codes. If a drive failure is possible, it is always important to make an immediate backup.
  6. Two hard clicks at start up and then a boot error message or system shutdown is a symptom of a failed drive.  Check your cables and connections in case they might have gotten loose. You can use SeaTools for DOS to diagnose the drive. If SeaTools fails to function properly or is unresponsive, replace the drive.

Troubleshooting noise issues for internal drives:

  1. Run SeaTools for DOS for ATA and SATA drives, SeaTools Enterprise for Seagate SCSI drives. SeaTools and SCSIMax will determine if the drive is malfunctioning or defective. In addition to checking for errors with SeaTools’ Short and Long Test, you can use the Acoustic Test to spin down your ATA or SATA hard drive while your system is on to determine if your drive is making the noise, or if the sound is caused by another device in your system such as the fan.
  2. If the tests did not detect any errors, try connecting the hard drive from only the data cable. If the noise stops, check the physical installation of the hard drive.
  3. Remove the hard drive from the mounting brackets and place the hard drive securely on an insulated surface. If noise stops after the hard drive is removed from the mounting brackets, check cables for twisting, warping and insert gasket washers between the mounting brackets and drive screws.

Troubleshooting noise issues for external drives:

External USB drive clicking and beeping can occur if the USB port does not provide enough power to operate the drive, often a USB 1.x port, or an unpowered USB hub.
To resolve this noise, connect the drive with both of the USB connectors (if possible), or if your drive only has one connector, try connecting it to other USB ports on your computer. If that does not work, connect it to a powered USB hub to ensure enough electrical power.

The Seagate Portable, Seagate FreeAgent Go Classic, and Maxtor OneTouch mini drives, in particular, included a USB Y-cable with two USB connectors so that, if one USB port did not power the drive enough, it could be connected to a second USB port.
See the special USB cable below:

Seagate Portable cable
FreeAgent Go Classic cable / Maxtor OneTouch mini cable