External HD: normal noises or should I be worried?

By JesseM ยท 11 replies
Feb 3, 2011
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  1. I've had a Fantom external for quite a while now (2-3yrs) and it has always been a bit noisy when accessing data (very fast random clicking noises) which I have always just taken for granted and dismissed as "normal" hard drive noises. However, it seems like these noises are lasting longer and coming on when data is not being accessed. They are the exact same noises as data accessing, and do NOT sound like the head scraping (the drive functions perfectly fine).

    In particular, when I first turn on the drive (already plugged in to my comp) it has always done the data access thing until I close the window that pops up in Windows asking me what I want to do with the drive. Now, the noise will persist for at least another 30sec. Also, sometimes I'll leave my computer and HD on and leave for a while, and when I come back the HD will be clicking vigorously like it is being accessed. After I start using the comp again it will stop. It almost seems like Windows is trying to automatically defrag the drive or index the files or something, but I know I have scheduled defrag turned off and I'm not sure about anything else.

    All this thinking about the possibility of my drive failing has me very worried as I have 931GB of stuff on there including every picture I have ever taken (I'm a photog). Could this be my drive failing or is it Windows accessing the drive behind my back? Or is it just normal and I didn't notice it before? Thanks for your help.
  2. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 7,188   +470

    Try plugging the external drive into another PC and see if it does the same thing.

    Regardless of whether or not the hard drive is failing, you should back up your data as soon as possible. If you wait until it actually fails, it will be too late. Maybe you'll have to buy another hard drive but it will be cheap compared to losing your files.
  3. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    Sounds bad. Get Seatools and check the drive. I'd be backing up everything in any case because having 931GB of important data stored in only one place is not good at all.
  4. JesseM

    JesseM TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 220

    Despite hesitation that it would ruin my drive, I ran that Seatools utility which made my drive make terrible noises and sound like it was going to die for sure. I couldn't take the thought of losing my data so I aborted the test. I'll be buying a new drive regardless of the health of this drive because it is almost full and as both of you said I should have my data backed up anyways. I had been hoping this drive would last until SSDs became more affordable, but it doesn't look like it...

    I've never lost a hard drive before, but it seems like I've been hearing more and more reports of drives failing. Are they just being made more cheaply or are externals more prone to failing or what?

    Thank you both for your help.
  5. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    I don't think they are failing anymore often. You might just hear about it more because people might be running more than 1 drive in their computers?

    I had a couple drives die around 2000 or 2001 then I had really good luck with drives until last year where I lost 2 more.

    Once you get your data backed up it might be worth opening up the external and seeing if the drive itself is still under warranty.
  6. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Agree with all the others: bad mechanical sounds are never a good sign

    Additional comments re: drive failures
    1. I find CrystalDiskInfo pretty handy and easy to use freeware that quickly provides a visual summary of disk status, temperature and SMART data

    2. That said, Google published an interesting paper a couple years back with some interesting observations
    • Some SMART parameters (scan errors, reallocation counts, offline reallocation counts, and probational counts) have a large impact on failure probability.
    • 36% of drives fail without any SMART errors
    • Given the lack of occurrence of predictive SMART signals on a large fraction of failed drives, it is unlikely that an accurate predictive failure model can be built based on these signals alone
    Which i interpret
    • Replace a drive when it shows a single SMART error. (I wouldn't wait for the error count to exceed its threshold level)
    • Over a third of drives can fail WITHOUT any warning. A good reason to always backup :)
  7. JesseM

    JesseM TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 220

    Thanks again. I'm buying a new drive as soon as possible. I'll stop at Fry's next time I'm nearby.

    By the way my drive passed the SMART test, but it could still be failing as you pointed out.
  8. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Sure. Since you're buying a new drive i'll offer one more opinion. I have no hard statistics but from my own observation and heuristics reading in forums and my impressions about ext USB drive problems

    If you're buying a ext USB HD for backups, I recommend buying one that comes with its own AC adapter.
    > USB drives without an AC adapter must rely on computer USB port for power
    > Its not uncommon to find problems about portable drives (with no AC adapter) that seem to have problems drawing enough and stable power from a USB port. (i once read the WD portables are notorious for this)

    Anyway, just my own view...

    /* EDIT */
    And, of course, remember that anything can fail. You should always have at least TWO copies of important data on physically separate media. I keep TWO ext USB drives on my desktop and/or sometimes burn very important old files to DVD
  9. JesseM

    JesseM TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 220

    Good to know. I use eSATA so my drive has to have its own dedicated power anyway. Backing up the most important files on DVDs is a great idea, I'll definitely keep that in mind.
  10. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    That Google paper on their HD failures was a great study. It helped re-affirm a lot of thoughts that I (and a lot of other people) had, but we didn't have enough drives to say for sure. I really like their 'survival of the fittest' results, that basically if a drive doesn't die quickly then it has a good chance of surviving a long time. So something to take from that is, don't put a bunch of important data on a new drive and then delete it from the old drive. If you are going to only have 1 copy, at least have 2 copies for a couple months or so.

    Also, just a note on backing up to DVDs. Reburn them every 3 years or so, burnable disks don't last forever.
  11. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +184

    That's an excellent point / conclusion i missed when i skimmed the Google paper. Thanks for highlighting it and pointing it out! :grinthumb
  12. JesseM

    JesseM TS Booster Topic Starter Posts: 220

    I just received my new Fantom 2TB drive (same as the old one but twice the capacity). Had a bit of drama at first because I forgot you have to "safely remove" until you change the option for quick removal of hard drives, but it seems to be working fine now that that's over.

    However, this new drive still makes almost as much noise as my old Fantom. I kind of think they are just noisy drives... The new one makes a single loud click when it spins down due to inactivity but other than that it is quieter when reading data. It also makes peculiar noises when starting up (almost sounds bad, could be).

    Bottom line is my original question was never really answered. Now that I'm not worrying about losing all my data I'd like to know if external drives usually make noises. Anyone else have a Fantom external?

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