Why is my computer making a scratching noise?

hard disk platter
A failing hard disk can make a scratching noise (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

There are two possible explanations for this. Either a mouse has found a way inside your computer – and we’re not talking about the thing that moves the cursor – or your hard disk is in grave danger of failure.

This article is an extract from Help! My Computer Is Broken. Click here to find out more and order a copy.

A hard disk is a bit like a vinyl record player, except the heads hover over the platter when reading data instead of a needle physically dropping onto the disk like they do with an LP. When a hard disk starts making a scratching or grinding noise, it’s normally a sign that the heads are coming into contact with those highly sensitive glass platters and that’s very bad news indeed. Terminal, in fact.

If you’re a wise owl, your computer will be backed up on a daily basis, meaning any data loss should be minimal. If you’ve taken a more laissez-faire attitude to backups, then you’re in something of a bind.

The longer you leave that computer running, the more chance you have of causing permanent damage to those hard disk platters and all that data being lost forever. However, unless you’ve got a clean lab, a degree in mechanical engineering and several grands worth of specialist equipment in your back bedroom, you’re unlikely to be able to recover the data yourself anyway.

Instead, if you want those photos of last summer’s holiday to Tenerife back, you’re going to need to send the hard disk to data recovery specialists such as Ontrack. We’ll warn you now, you’re likely looking at a bill that runs well into the hundreds of pounds to recover the data and have it sent back to you on a new hard disk.

Moral of the story is, of course, to always keep backups (Mark has some advice on changing backup disks here). Hopefully you read this sentence before something goes wrong…

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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