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Hardware

Computer Making Grinding Noise?

About 9 min reading time

Is your computer making grinding noises? The chances are, especially these days, that it’s probably one of the fans inside. Which is usually easily fixable with a bit of cleaning – and if it’s not fixable with cleaning they’re not that expensive to buy new ones. But there may be a more sinister cause. Let’s look into it a bit further.

What Causes A Computer To Make a Grinding Noise?

A grinding noise can only happen when there’s moving parts. There’s only two things that have moving parts in a modern computer and that’s a cooling fan or a spinning hard disk. Older computers will almost certainly have a spinning hard drive and if that’s getting worn out it can make a grinding noise too. We’ll cover that in a bit.

The first question we’ll need to ask is whether or not this grinding noise is on a desktop or a laptop? A laptop making grinding noise is probably going to be more tricky to fix – but still not impossible.

The second question is whether or not the grinding noise comes and goes or is there all the time. And whether it gets louder or quieter as things warm up in the computer.

Then we need to ask;

Does Your Computer Have A Spinning Disk?

Before we go to far down the ‘It must be a fan making that noise’ we probably ought to check you don’t have a spinning disk inside your computer. In 2016 CNet[1] stated that at that time 33% of computers sold that year had SSDs – meaning 67% had spinning disks. That’s 5 years ago now. In that article they predicted that by 2018 56% of computers sold would have an SSD. I’ve not been able to find up to date information but I suspect that number was actually significantly higher.

By the way, if you’re running Windows 7 you probably have a spinning disk (due to age of the computer) – unless you’ve upgraded and I assume if you’ve upgrade you know whether you put a spinner or SSD in as a replacement 🙂

As a guess, if your computer is over 5 years old, there’s a strong chance it has a spinning disk. If it’s newer than 3 years old there’s a strong chance it doesn’t. Nevertheless, there’s a fairly simple trick to find out if you have a spinning disk or not, if you’re running Windows 10 at least.

On your keyboard press Win and S. The Win key is the one usually to the left of the spacebar with the Windows logo on it. Hold that down while you press the S key. Then type defrag into the search box. This will open up a results box that looks similar to the screen to the right. Click the Defragment And Optimise Drives to start the Windows program. Don’t worry, we’re not going to actually do a defrag – we just want to see what it says we’ve got.

Defrag And Optimise Drives Screen
Defrag And Optimise Drives Screen

The next screen, shown below will tell us whether we have SSD or HDD (HDD is spinning disk).

SSD or HDD? HDD Can Make a Grinding Noise whereas SSD cannot.
SSD Or HDD? HDD Can Make A Grinding Noise. SSD cannot.

Ours says Solid state drive which means it has no moving parts (it’s solid) and so it can’t be this that’s causing our computer to make a grinding noise. For us, it simply must be the fans.

Deciding If It’s Fans or Hard Drive Making The Growling Noise

Noisy Fan Sound

Grinding noise from a PC is almost always fans. You can usually tell from the type of sound that it’s making. But you may need to open up the computer to find out where the noise is actually coming from.

A fan normally makes more of a buzzing or loud whirring noise that’s usually fairly low pitched in nature. It may also sound like a bit like a throbbing growly sound. Sometimes it won’t do it straight away, but gets worse as the computer warms up. Sometimes though, the noise starts straight away but gets better as it warms up.

If the computer grinding noise only starts when you begin to do something intensive such as playing games, editing or watching videos, or something else fairly heavy duty then the problem is almost always caused by a dodgy fan. Depending on what causes the noise, this could be a fan on your graphics card (if you have one) or somewhere else.

Noisy Hard Drive Sound

A hard drive by contrast is usually a higher pitched sound and generally fairly constant. It will almost certainly start the moment (or very shortly after) you switch on your computer and may be associated with clicking sounds too. It may sound more like a ‘metal on metal’ sound or a whistling sort of noise.

If you want to be sure it’s a hard drive you can open the case and have a listen. If you have a computer with multiple hard drives in it, such as a powerful server arrangement or storage system, a good way to get a ‘closeup’ sound is to find a length of solid plastic such as a ballpoint pen, place one end on the hard drive and the other end on your ear. This will amplify the sounds from inside the hard drive for you.

Caution: Risk of Electric Shock.
Risk Of Electric Shock Inside Computer Case

DO NOT USE METAL FOR THIS. THERE ARE HIGH VOLTAGES INSIDE YOUR PC CASE AND YOUR EARS ARE NOT THE PLACE FOR HIGH VOLTAGES TO BE SENT. USE PLASTIC. RISK OF DEATH FROM ELECTRIC SHOCK.

If you do amplify the sounds from inside your hard drive you will hear the whir of the metal platters spinning at high speed. This should be a nice clean sound though, with no scratchiness or grinding. Just a smooth, high pitched purr. If you hear anything else it could be a sign of impending failure.

What To Do If It’s The Hard Drive Making A Grinding Noise?

If you’ve determined that the hard drive is where the grinding noise is coming from then you’re going to need to backup all your important stuff. Depending on how big that stuff is will determine the best backup solution. Don’t waste any time, back it all up now before it’s too late. A grinding noise from a hard drive will inevitably always end with hard drive failure. How long it will last varies, but the end result is ultimately always the same. And that’s because grinding noises on moving parts means little pieces are literally being ground off and flying around inside. Backup now before you lose all your cherished data.

If it’s documents and pictures, something like Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive can help with this and free options are available from both Google and Microsoft for a small amount of storage. Microsoft offer 5Gigabytes of storage[2] on their free plan, and Google offer 15Gigabytes of storage[3] on theirs. I prefer Microsoft Onedrive as it’s better integrated into Windows and bizarrely I prefer their privacy policy. You may prefer something far more private like a USB3 Thumbdrive instead though.

The only fix for a hard drive that’s making a grinding noise is replacement unfortunately. Unless you have access to a clean room. And lots of specialist tools. And new bearings. Replacement will be cheaper 🙂

I personally recommend the Western Digital Blue hard drives, I’ve found them (anecdotally admittedly) more reliable than any other manufacturer and a good price point. If you’re replacing a spinning hard drive it’s worth considering whether you might want to take the opportunity to upgrade to an SSD. You’ll speed up your computer no end (particularly if your boot drive is an HDD) and breathe a whole new lease of life into it. SSDs have shown to be reliable and are almost the same price now as spinning drives. And they won’t ever make a grinding noise!

What To Do If It’s Fans Making A Grinding Noise

The prognosis for this situation is far better than that of a hard drive grinding noise. This is because computers these days will shutdown to protect themselves if they get too hot. Since the fan is only there to prevent them getting too hot, if the fan isn’t working then this could well be the next step.

If you think it’s a fan making the noise you can determine whether it is that particular fan by placing your finger gently on the middle part of the fan (the circular disk) and gently pushing until the fan stops spinning. If the noise goes away, it’s that fan at fault. Don’t stick pencils or fingers into the blades, always use the solid circle in the centre. Pencils and fingers can cause permanent damage to either the fan or the appendage.

You won’t cause any long term damage to a fan by stopping it once to work out if it’s the culprit.

The first thing to try is to clean the fans by blowing off any dust. If there’s a heatsink that the fan is cooling make sure to blow any dust away from that too. This is best done outside and best done with a can of compressed air from a computer store or Amazon.

Do not blow on the fan with your mouth to blow the dust away. Firstly you have to inhale and you’ll inhale dust – nasty. Secondly your breath will contain water particles no matter how hard you try not to. You’ll spit all over the fan and likely make things worse. Compressed air is better.

Do not use compressed air from a compressor such as you might find in the garage or shed. This compressed air may have small particles of oil in it from the compressor and will almost certainly contain moisture. Compressed air cans are cheap and safe.

Also, check that none of the cables inside the computer are touching the fan. If they are they will make a nasty noise that can sound like the fan is failing. If they are touching the fan simply move them away and perhaps cable tie them safely out of the way.

If none of the above fixes the problem, you may need to replace the fan. Fortunately computer fans aren’t overly expensive and are readily available. But you’ll need to replace like with like so you’ll have to measure the dimensions of yours first, and choose one that matches. Computer fans can be bought on Amazon Prime and many are delivered next day. You can even get ones that have LEDs inside these days and will glow different colours if you find your computer is too boring!

If you’d like a bit of a visual guide on how to do all this then this guy (who isn’t anything to do with Most Useful) on YouTube has a pretty good tutorial. How to Fix Computer Making Grinding Noise (Easy Method)

Summary

If your computer is making a nasty grinding noise it could be the fans or the hard drive. I’ve shown you how to determine if you have a spinning drive or a solid state and shown that if you only have solid state SSD drives then it must be fans. I’ve shown what you need to do if you determine it’s a hard drive making the nasty noise and given some tips for how to be sure it’s that.

I’ve outlined how the sounds might be different between failing fans versus failing hard drives to help you pinpoint the source of the noise. I’ve also shown how to determine which fan is making the noise if you suspect one of the fans is failing.

I’ve then shown how to attempt to fix failing fans, or where to get new ones from and linked to a quick YouTube video to help you.

Hopefully this has been some Most Useful Information for you – please leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments.

References

1: CNet – Say Bye-Bye to Spinning Rust: Soon Most PCs Won’t Have Hard Drives. Fetched 10 March 2021 from https://www.cnet.com/news/most-pcs-will-use-ssd-not-hard-drives-in-2018/

2: Microsoft OneDrive. Fetched 10 March 2021 from https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/microsoft-365/onedrive/compare-onedrive-plans

3: Google One Pricing. Fetched 10 March 2021 from https://one.google.com/about/plans?hl=en

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