Why is my hard drive clicking when reading?

A clicking noise coming from your hard drive when it is being accessed is usually an indication of a mechanical fault. This is often referred to as the “click of death” and can signify serious problems with the drive.

What causes a hard drive to click when reading?

There are a few potential causes of a clicking noise when accessing a hard drive:

  • Mechanical failure of the drive head – The read/write head which hovers above the platters may have experienced a mechanical malfunction. This could cause it to make improper contact with the platter surface, resulting in a clicking sound.
  • Misalignment of drive head – If the positioning arm that controls the drive head is misaligned, this can cause the head to irregularly contact the platters during seeking, producing a clicking noise.
  • Damaged or degraded platter surface – Damage to the physical platter surface, such as scratches or corrosion, may cause the drive head to click as it encounters these defects during access.
  • Loose debris inside the drive – Small particles of dirt or metal shavings inside the sealed hard drive case can interfere with the drive head, sometimes causing a clicking sound as they are hit.
  • Failing bearings – Worn bearings that allow the spindle to wobble may bring the platters into contact with the drive head intermittently, producing clicking noises.

When does the clicking noise occur?

The most common time for a hard drive’s clicking noise to arise is when it is first spun up during booting or when data is being accessed from it during normal computer operation. Some of the specific access types that may trigger clicking include:

  • Reading files when opening programs or documents
  • Writing data when installing software or saving files
  • Seeking when searching for specific data locations
  • Loading operating system during bootup sequence
  • Accessing swap file or caches

Hearing occasional clicks during drive access may be normal, but repetitive or rhythmic clicking noises can indicate a problem is developing.

How does a clicking HDD failure progress?

The clicking symptoms will generally worsen over time if the issue is caused by a mechanical failure. Here is how it may progress:

  • Intermittent single clicks – Occasional clicking sound when drive is accessed.
  • Frequent random clicks – Click noises become more common but not rhythmic.
  • Repetitive rhythmic clicking – Regularity indicates a specific mechanical issue.
  • Clicking accompanied by grinding – Indicates severe head or platter damage.
  • No spinup – Spindle motor fails to start indicating complete failure.

The clicking is often accompanied by other degradation such as slowed access, hangs when accessing data, or bad sectors appearing. As problems compound, the drive may fail to operate or even spin up.

Can a clicking hard drive be fixed?

It depends on the exact cause, but clicking drives can sometimes be repaired. Potential fixes include:

  • Drive head replacement – A damaged drive head is a common cause of clicking. A specialist can open the drive in a cleanroom and swap the head assembly.
  • Platter replacement – If the platter surface is damaged, it may be possible to transplant platters from a matching donor drive.
  • Bearing realignment – Realigning or replacing worn bearings can potentially fix clicking due to spindle wobble.
  • Firmware reset – Sometimes a firmware glitch causes misoperation. Resetting the drive’s firmware can resolve this.
  • Logic board transplant – Swapping circuit boards with a healthy matching drive may resolve electronic issues.

Successful repair depends on the specific failure mode and severity. Those performed by specialists in a dust-free cleanroom have the highest chance of fixing the drive.

How can clicking HDD damage be prevented?

Some best practices that can minimize the chance of a drive failure leading to clicking include:

  • Use SSDs for boot and high performance needs – Solid state drives have no moving parts and are less prone to mechanical failure.
  • Manage drive heat – Ensure adequate airflow and heatsink contact to prevent overheating.
  • Avoid vibration and shocks – Use mounts and computer cases that reduce physical stresses on the drive.
  • Perform regular backups – Preserve data on separate media in case drive fails.
  • Check S.M.A.R.T. status – Tool can warn of mechanical issues before failure occurs.
  • Consider redundant drives – RAID arrays continue working if a single drive fails.

How can data be recovered from a clicking drive?

Recovering data from a clicking drive that is failing presents challenges. Options include:

  • Repair the drive – Successfully repairing the mechanical fault may allow normal data access.
  • Extract platters – A specialist can remove the platters and access them in a new drive.
  • Chip-off – The drive’s memory chips can be removed and read externally.
  • Data recovery software – Specialized software sometimes can retrieve data despite physical issues.
  • Drive freezing – Freezing drives can temporarily stop clicks, allowing brief access.
  • Drive imaging – Clicking is bypassed by making a raw image of the drive to extract data from.

The feasibility of recovery depends on the drive model, failure mode, and data value. But techniques exist that can retrieve data despite many types of physical failures causing clicking.


Clicking noises when accessing a hard drive are caused by mechanical faults and signal future failure. While sometimes repairable, clicking is a serious issue and steps should be taken to protect data. Following best practices for drive handling and performing regular backups are key to avoiding data loss. In severe cases, expert data recovery services may retrieve important information from clicking drives.