How to Identify Problem Computer Noises

identify_computer_noise.jpgWhirs, beeps and clunks — what’s that noise? It’s never a nice feeling when your computer suddenly starts making noises you’re not used to hearing. Often, this means a trip down to your local computer repair store and a few dollars out of your pocket. Sometimes, the issue is easily fixed or ends up being simply a sound that occurs during normal use that doesn’t require professional intervention. Now, let’s play a quick computer-based variant of Name That Tune.

walknbostonCD and DVD Drive Noises
Most modern computers come with CD or DVD drives. Today’s optical drives spin the discs inside very, very quickly. With this fast spinning comes a whirring noise, which generally doesn’t bother people as long as they know what it is. However, modern operating systems — Windows, Mac, and Linux — have a habit of checking the drive for CDs periodically, without being prompted by the user. Your PC will make a whirring noise that suddenly becomes much louder before going away just as quickly.

Lots of people mistake this for some sort of computer problem, when it’s just a standard procedure for the computer. If you hear something like this, make sure there isn’t any media hanging out in your computer’s optical drive.

LividFictionSnap, Crackle, Pop
There is nothing worse than random or unexpected noises coming from your computer speakers. When this happens, check these two things to try to hunt down the cause.

First, reboot your computer. It might sound simple, but you would be surprised how often this actually fixes problems. The reasoning here is that if anything unexpected is running in the background and causing unwanted behavior, it will be shut down and won’t necessarily restart when your computer comes back online.

If the noise persists, try plugging in another set of speakers (or headphones). This eliminates the speakers themselves as the source of problem. If you hear crackling or popping noises (or, occasionally, a hum), the problem may be with the connection where your speakers plug into your computer’s audio output jack; making sure things are connected securely is always a good idea!


aresauburn™Noisy Fans
Like houses that don’t have central air conditioning, almost all modern computers use fans to keep things cool. And like any other mechanical component, these fans can — and do — break.
If your computer makes strange buzzing, whining, or ticking noises (or starts to sound like a hair dryer or small vacuum cleaner), there is a good chance the culprit is a noisy fan.

Fans are used to cool different parts of your computer, each with differing amounts of importance, and also work together to cool your system. If they aren’t all working, your computer may freeze, shut down, or even incur permanent damage.

First, take a look inside your case with a can of compressed air in hand. Fans that are clogged with dust and dirt have to work harder to cool your components, in addition to being imbalanced by the crud that accumulates on their blades. (This is especially true if you leave your computer running 24/7 and have pets!) If even after dusting things off you still have a noisy fan, it generally means the fan isn’t working as well as it should, and it needs to be looked at and replaced.

Hard Drives
Unless you’ve upgraded to one of the new solid-state disks (SSD) now hitting the market (frequently found in lighter laptops, since they use less electricity and thus extend battery life), your hard drive makes a little bit of noise, too. Generally, this is a whirring noise (made by the magnetic disks inside as they spin), with the occasional clicking sound of the reader arm moving back and forth. You may also hear it spin up and down if you are using power-saving modes.


Generally, hard drive noises represent the technology working normally. However, there are a few things to be mindful of. If you hear your drive clicking once every 2 seconds or you hear a click and then your computer locks up shortly afterwards, chances are unfortunately good that there is a serious problem with your hard disk. (You have backed up your data, right?)

If you suspect there is something wrong or if your computer tells you there is something wrong with one of your hard drives, get it fixed as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the less chance you may have of recovering your data.

The Ominous Electrical Squeal
This is a less common issue, but it still happens. From time to time, the electronic components (chips, capacitors, and so forth) make noise — and when they do, it typically results in a high-pitched squeal.

What should you do if this happens? The only thing you can do is get someone to look at the machine, make sure they can locate where the sound is coming from, and replace that part. Alternatively, if there has not been any adverse impact on your computer’s behavior, you could attempt to ignore it. (We don’t recommend doing so, but it’s possible that the noisy component can continue to work just fine for a long time; it’s just annoying.)

Power-on Beep Patterns
If you switch your computer on and all you hear are a few loud beeps, without anything displaying on the screen, this is not a good sign. Something critical to the computer’s operation has failed, and you should get your PC to the repairer. If you have your motherboard’s manual, it should give you a rundown of the diagnostic codes that these beeps are presenting. Whether you feel up to tackling the repairs is up to you; these beeps can represent anything from “your CPU is dead” to “the graphics card isn’t plugged all the way in.”

On the upside, unless something very severe and improbable has happened, the data on your hard drive should be just fine, even if other components have failed and need replacement.

flicker_davitydaveSumming Up
No matter what type you have — Windows, Mac, or Linux — all computers make noise. Most of the time it’s simply a matter of course, but if something doesn’t seem right it really is worth getting it looked at.

Computers tend to be one of the more expensive items most people own, and the last thing you want is for a $15 fan to stop working, damaging the hard drive or other internal parts which are worth much more.

So keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary, and be alert, not alarmed!

What noise has been driving you crazy?




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  • GothamGirl

    Sometimes my laptop is huffing and puffing and the activity monitor doesn’t help me figure out the problem. Will def put this article to use!

  • Leonice

    MARIE! THESE ARE AMAZING! I hope Beth loves them. They are SOOOOO good. She looks great! Why oh why did I not listen to you about taknig maternity pics with Jack????

  • mbt shoes store

    Good article and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is actually the best place to ask but do you guys have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thanks in advance :)


    when you install audio drrevis they are on the mother board cd or your sound card CD just install from there and then go to properties and click the box show vol control on the task bar you do not need volume control to be downloaded separately from internet apart from that all media players are having volume controls

  • Daniel Carter

    The click, click, click of a hard drive that’s head is stuck as parked drives me nuts. Heard it too many times lol.

    • quietHDD

      google the small program called quietHDD, download it, execute the .exe, right-click it in your windows tray(?) (right bottem of your windows taskbar where your background programs are listed) and select “Disable HDD APM now”. (which stands for Hard Drive Disk Advanced Power Management, which seemed to cause the head parking thing to stop for me, this is to stop the automatic head parking which settings are apparently determined by the manufacturer of the HDD’s and are indeed annoying as hell).

      I still have another problem though, more of a rythmic tchk, tchk, tchk coming from the back of my PC near all the connections (there’s an old networkadapter there that broke down long ago and has never been removed, could that have influence? My pc wouldn’t recognize the new networkadapter when my brother took out the old one, so we kept it in, now there are 2 with one as far as I know disconnected, how to check if that’s causing it?). Here’s the odd thing which leads me to believe it has something to do with codecs/ my video card or something with 3d or 2d gpu clock settings, perhaps even Windows Aero, when I start playing a video of a specific type in BSPlayer or Windows Media Player, it stops. Certain games make it stop, other games don’t (again, certain video it seems). It doesn’t seem to have any direct relation to gpu fan speed since the sound remains constant and the same rythm. so the noise stops when I start a video. When I close the video, it starts again. Also when I pause the video.

      My fan for my gpu is at the front of my pc, the sound is coming from the back where all the cables and my USB mouse and keyboard are connected. It’s almost like windows is trying to access something there and is denied and keeps trying until I start a video, very odd. Please, does anyone have a clue cause I’m having a hard time finding any similar problem for anyone through google? Searchterms I tried I’ve included now.

      Next to that my gpu clock can get stuck in 3d mode (the P-state) when watching flash player (when using pause in fullscreen, then play again) causing heating on my video card (even without load, 0% gpu load still goes up to 75-80 degrees C when in P0 state and the fan noise starts to get annoying beyond 60% or so which seems to translate to more than 10,000 rpm, high 3d performance state, for example when alt-tabbing out of a game) and sometimes with certain colors on screen different electronic chirping, at different pitches depending on what I’m watching. This can also happen when opening favorites in firefox in a sidewindow and scrolling in there, and then I can adjust the pitch of the electronic chirp by adusting the width of that firefox window compared to the main firefox window/screen/whatever it’s called.

      Ingame it goes beyond 100 degrees within minutes (I know, this probably means i need a new videocard by now, but it’s still working otherwise), Dragon Age highest
      settings, videocard is NVIDIA Geforce GT 320 1024MB. It doesn’t throttle
      down when it gets that hot to lower P-states or less GPU load, lower
      end older games have less issues, for example Sid Meier’s Pirates, so I
      stick to that, one problem at a time, first the tchk, tchk, tchk, the
      chirp seems unrelated to the tchk, and it’s the chirp that seems to do
      the overheating. Perhaps if I can get rid of the tchk, I will have less GPU load in high end games as well, cause that tchk can be much more erratic and less rythmic and constant (same speed) when playing games or using the HDD in any way (like working with the HDD prevents windows from doing something else that is causing the tchk and might be in my windows taskplanner or tasks or something, or the firewall is blocking something, I dunno).

      • quietHDD

        oh, the chirping is coming from the GPU btw (in case anyone thought it was coming from the speakers or anywhere else, like cpu or HDD). Unless there’s something else right next to it but that seems unlikely since it’s so related to what 3d colors I’m looking at (it’s only with 3d as well, for example when I run the 3d example in NVIDIA control panel). Sometimes it seems louder than other times but this may have to do with the different pitch when watching something in a game for example from different angles (I guess I should test this with the NVIDIA example cause it’s always the same, but then I’d have to test at different times to see if it’s a different volume after I played a game for a while or something).

      • quietHDD

        the tchk tchk definitely seems related to the HDD and APM, since I managed to make it stop one time when activating quietHDD immediately after a headpark and choosing disable APM as mentioned above. But now the tchk tchk has come back and restarting my PC without activating quietHDD does not reset my APM values so it won’t park anymore so I can’t time my activation of quietHDD to just after a headpark. I tried setting the value back to 128 in quietHDD, causing my HDD heads to start parking and unparking again, so I could set the slider back to 255 (disabled) and click “apply” as soon as I hear the first parking event (just after) to simulate my first success with quietHDD concerning the tchk tchk, but it doesn’t work as before. Notice I’m using the slider now, since I can’t do it exactly like before cause quietHDD was set to 255 when I first opened it, now it would be 128 when I open it otherwise I can’t get the heads to park without setting quietHDD at 128 first, so it takes more time now to go to the sliders and set it to 255, which is enough time for the heads to unpark and the tchk tchk to start back up before I have a chance to set the slider, clicking “disable APM” doesn’t seem to do anything anymore, the settings remain at 128 unless I use the slider, leaving quietHDD at 255 then exit, restart, also doesn’t work cause like I mentioned, no parking then, so tchk tchk doesn’t stop and is already present before Windows is loaded, noticed it as well as I was looking at the BIOS setttings without Windows 7 even loaded up yet.

        The tchk tchk tchk stops just seconds before the head is parked. Remains quiet as long as the head is parked, but starts up again as soon as the head unparks. HDD activity also seems to stop individual tchks, more activity means more tchks not heard/skipped, which is perhaps why running certain videos makes it stop (or it sounds that way) cause I can see near constant activity on my HDD Led light when I’m running the video. Note that there is no Led light activity from the tchk tchk tchk. I may be mistaken as to the location of the sound before, it might be coming directly from the HDD or very close to it, it doesn’t sound like regular HDD activity though, perhaps reading sounds different from writing.

        I’m at a loss. Out of ideas. Please anyone?

  • Michelle Hileman

    My DVD/CD drive has been making this clicking/grinding noise when the disk spins in my computer. this isn’t just the normal whirring sound it sounds like the disk isn’t in there correctly but when i check it always is. The big bummer is that when it starts making the sound whatever disk is in won’t work, it effects some but not all of my CDs and DVDs, it doesn’t matter how scratched the disk is, if it’s an original or something I burned or if it’s a DVD or a CD some of them do this and others don’t its weird and extremely frustrating because it means I cant watch some movies, rip music from my CDs or burn music onto some CDs. Any idea what could be wrong?

  • Gizmosgirl

    Just got a new all-in-one, an HP PC, not a MAC, and it is noisy, Sounds like there’s a lame gerbil in there tap-dancing lightly. Can’t describe it any other way. Any ideas about this?

  • Guest

    Shouldn’t forget the transformers for laptops. I plug mine in and when the battery is full it starts whining.

  • W-girl Canada

    I get a chinking sound though the speakers like coins accompanied with hushed sounds like people moving and whispering in the background. I was convinced someone had hacked into my PC but after exhaustive professional investigations(my best friend is an IT guru) there is nothing untoward with my system. It is totally random too and more than a bit disturbing. Tried everything. Swapped the speakers, powered down. checked out all the recommendations I could find.