Why is my Toshiba external hard drive clicking?

An external hard drive is a storage device that connects to a computer externally, typically using a USB cable. It provides additional data storage space and serves as a backup for important files. The purpose of an external hard drive is to store and access data outside of the main internal hard drive. Having a separate external drive protects files in case the computer’s internal hard drive fails.

One common problem with external hard drives is that they can start making a clicking noise. This clicking sound, which resembles a ticking or tapping noise, indicates there is a mechanical issue with the hard drive. The clicking often means the read/write heads are unable to properly access the drive’s data, resulting in failed drive operations.

Possible Causes of Clicking

There are several issues that can cause an external hard drive to make a clicking noise:

Mechanical failure – If the read/write heads or spindle motor inside the hard drive malfunction, they can produce a clicking sound as they try unsuccessfully to operate. This is often caused by wear and tear over time. Physical damage like being dropped can also lead to mechanical failure and clicking (Ontrack, 2022).

Loose components – Small components like screws coming loose inside the hard drive case can produce a clicking or rattling noise as they vibrate. This is more likely in drives subjected to frequent movement or rough handling (Flashback Data, 2022).

Corrupted firmware – The firmware controls the functioning of the hard drive. If it becomes corrupted, it can cause the heads to misalign or repeatedly click against the platters. Firmware damage often stems from a sudden power loss during a firmware update (Ontrack, 2022).

Insufficient power – Hard drives require stable, consistent power to run properly. If power is interrupted even briefly, it can cause the heads to stick and click upon startup as they reset. Using low quality cables or connections prone to power fluctuations can trigger this (Flashback Data, 2022).

Disk read/write error – If the hard drive encounters bad sectors during reads or writes, it may make repeated attempts to access the sectors. This can manifest as a repeating click or series of clicks. It indicates physical defects or data corruption on the drive (Ontrack, 2022).

Mechanical Failure

One of the most common causes of clicking sounds from an external hard drive is a mechanical failure. This refers to a physical issue with the drive’s internal components, such as the read/write heads, spindle motor, or actuator arm. A faulty read/write head is a frequent culprit behind clicking noises.

The read/write heads are responsible for physically reading and writing data on the hard disk platters inside the drive. They float just above the surface of the platters on an air bearing. If a head becomes misaligned or damaged, it can make repeated contact with the platter surface, causing a clicking sound each time it taps the platter (Source: https://www.securedatarecovery.com/blog/hard-drive-clicking). This is often referred to as the “click of death” and indicates the drive can no longer reliably read or write data.

As the head rapidly moves back and forth across the platters, a faulty or misaligned head will tap against the surface multiple times per second as it attempts to access data, producing the repeating click sound. Unfortunately, this usually means the drive needs to be repaired or replaced.

Loose Components

One potential cause of clicking noises from an external hard drive is loose parts inside the housing. Hard drives contain sensitive internal components like read/write heads, spindles, and platters. These parts are designed to operate with tight tolerances and can be thrown off balance if any screws, brackets, or cushioning become loose (https://www.quora.com/Why-my-external-USB-hard-drive-started-to-make-cliking-sounds-and-it-isnt-reconized-by-the-computer-anymore-Can-I-repair-it-by-myself-or-its-better-to-send-it-to-an-technician-Am-I-going-to-loose-everything-that-is). When parts are able to vibrate or move excessively, they can collide with other components during disk operation, causing audible clicking or grinding noises.

Vibration from loose screws or brackets near the spindle can cause the heads to click against the platters. A loose PCB board can oscillate against the interior housing and create repetitive knocking sounds. Insufficient cushioning can also allow internal parts to knock around inside the bare drive if the external enclosure is subjected to shock or movement. These types of minor impacts can lead to the “click of death” sound over time.

While loosening is more common in hard drives subjected to frequent movement or drops, it can happen to any drive with enough wear and tear. But this mechanical failure points to a defective drive that is unsuitable for long-term reliable operation.

Corrupted Firmware

Firmware is the software that controls the mechanical operations inside a hard drive. It tells the drive’s actuator arm when and where to move to read/write data. Corrupted firmware can cause the actuator arm to swing wildly back and forth, banging into the drive’s internal components and creating a clicking noise (Source 1). This is commonly referred to as the “click of death.”

Firmware corruption can occur due to a sudden power surge/loss, disconnecting the drive before it has finished writing, or even just normal wear and tear over time. When the firmware code becomes damaged or degraded, it leads to the actuator arm moving chaotically and hitting the drive’s internal stops (Source 2). The resulting clicking sounds are the arm colliding repeatedly with mechanical components as it attempts to read/write data per the corrupted instructions.

In most cases, the click of death from firmware issues means the drive is beyond repair and the data is likely lost. Professional data recovery services may be able to extract some data by transplanting the drive’s platters into a working drive, but this is expensive with no guarantee of success. Regular backups are the best way to protect against permanent data loss from firmware corruption leading to the click of death.

Insufficient Power

One potential cause of clicking or beeping noises from an external hard drive is insufficient power. External hard drives require consistent, stable power in order to function properly. If the power supplied is intermittent or inconsistent, it can cause issues.

Hard disk drives have retractable read/write heads that hover just above the drive platters. When power is lost, even briefly, the heads will automatically park or retract onto ramps outside the platters in order to avoid crashing into the platters and damaging the drive. When power returns, the heads unpark and move back into operating position.

If power to the external drive is being interrupted frequently, such as from a failing power adapter or loose cable connection, the heads may repeatedly park and unpark. This can cause them to tap or scrape the platters as they retract, creating audible clicking or beeping sounds. Insufficient power may come from issues like:[1]

  • Using an underpowered USB port, hub, or cable
  • Connecting multiple high-power devices to the same USB hub/port
  • Damaged or inadequate power adapter
  • Loose power cable connections

So in summary, inconsistent power forces the retractable heads to repeatedly park and unpark, which can create audible clicking sounds as they scrape or tap the platters. Providing stable, sufficient power can often resolve this issue.

Disk Read/Write Error

One potential cause of clicking from an external hard drive is a disk read/write error. This occurs when the head is unable to properly read data from or write data to the platter. The head relies on tiny magnetic oscillations to store and retrieve data. If these oscillations are disrupted or corrupted in some way, the head may not be able to find the data it needs. This forces the head to keep rapidly moving back and forth across the platter in an attempt to find the data, causing a repetitive clicking or ticking sound.

Disk read/write errors can be caused by a variety of issues such as bad sectors, corrupted firmware, mechanical failure, or problems with the USB bridge board in external drives. When an error occurs, the operating system will display warnings about being unable to access data. At this point, the drive is at high risk of failure.

To fix a disk read/write error on an external drive, solutions include updating firmware, running the CHKDSK utility, or using third-party repair software. However, once clicking sounds emerge, it often indicates mechanical failure is occurring and data recovery should be attempted before the drive completely stops working. Regularly backing up your data is the best way to prevent data loss from drive failure.

Fixing the Clicking Hard Drive

There are several ways to fix a clicking Toshiba external hard drive and recover the data stored on it:

Try running the manufacturer’s diagnostic tool to repair errors – Toshiba provides utilities like HDD Diagnostic Tool to test hard drive health and fix issues [1]. Reformatting or repartitioning the drive using Disk Management could also resolve corrupted system files causing clicking.

If the hard drive click is due to mechanical failure or loose parts, replacing damaged components may be necessary. Opening the external enclosure carefully and reseating connectors could temporarily fix a loose drive. Consider swapping out the damaged drive with a new one.

Using data recovery software before attempting repairs lets you safely back up information. Programs like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard can clone drives and recover data from clicking hard disks [2]. Saving this data to another external drive allows safe troubleshooting.

Freezing the drive for a few hours might temporarily stabilize clicking long enough to copy data off it if electrical issues are causing problems. Place the drive in a sealed bag in the freezer, then quickly connect and recover data before condensation builds.

Data Recovery

If attempts to fix the clicking and access the data are unsuccessful, the hard drive is likely experiencing mechanical failure and will need professional data recovery services. Companies like DriveSavers and Secure Data Recovery specialize in hard drive recovery and have experts who can disassemble drives in a dust-free clean room to extract the platters and recover data. The cost for data recovery ranges from $300 for basic logical recovery up to $3000+ for a full forensic-level recovery. The price depends on the drive type and amount of damage.

Preventing Future Issues

There are several steps you can take to help prevent a Toshiba external hard drive from clicking and failing in the future:

Properly eject the external drive before disconnecting it – Always use the “Safely Remove Hardware” option in Windows or “Eject” in Mac OS to disconnect the drive. Improperly disconnecting can lead to file corruption and drive errors (Source).

Use a surge protector – Power surges can damage the drive’s components and lead to failure. Use a surge protector to regulate power and prevent voltage spikes from reaching the hard drive (Source).

Keep the drive cool – Excessive heat can degrade the drive over time. Make sure it is placed in a well-ventilated area and not covered by other objects.

Handle gently and limit vibration – Dropping or jarring the drive can damage the internal components. Also avoid placing it somewhere that vibrates excessively like on top of speakers.

Perform regular backups – Maintain backups of your important data on a separate device. This ensures you can recover files if the external drive fails.

Use antivirus software – Malware and viruses can corrupt files and impact drive performance. Keep your computer and drive protected.

Check the health periodically – Use a disk utility like CHKDSK in Windows to scan for and repair errors. This can help prevent minor issues from becoming major failures.