Whirs, 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.
CD 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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