What's That Noise Coming From My Computer?
That's usually how it starts. You hear an unfamiliar noise when you turn on
your computer. Or, you may be working along and all of a sudden, your computer
stops responding. Most people just ignore either one of these signs that
something is amiss. They reboot or ignore the noise.
And therein lies the biggest problem. If the user immediately backs up all
critical data when these events occur, replacing the component (there's only a
few components with moving parts on a computer - the power supply fan and the
hard drive are the two major suspects when odd noises occur) is just time
consuming. But if the user fails to heed these signs, then the real fun starts.
Recovering data from a damaged or corrupt drive is not for the faint at heart.
The first question I usually ask on a service call (I run a computer service
company) is do you have current backups of all your data? When they say no
(about 75% of the time), the first thing I do is either instruct them on how to
backup or if I'm onsite I do it for them. Once there is a verified backup of
data, the rest is easy.
A qualified technician has about a 98% chance of retrieving data from a hard
drive if there is no physical damage. A normal user with some help (info, tools,
or both) has about a 90% chance. But depending on the situation, it can be very
frustrating and time consuming.
Soapbox on. Before I get into the troubleshooting aspects, let me impress
upon you the importance of having current backups of all of your data. If you
have current backups, no computer problem will cause you permanent damage. The
best defense against computer failure of any kind is backing up your data on a
frequent basis. The way I approach it is that if I've spent over an hour working
on some project, I backup as soon as I finish. I'm lazy, I don't like to do
anything twice, so I backup often. OK, I'll get off the Soapbox now.
Depending on what you do on your computer (and what you store there like
photos, movies, financial data, etc.) backing up is the best way to protect
yourself. There are so many easy ways to back up these days there is absolutely
no excuse for not doing so often. USB memory sticks and drives, DVD and CD
writers (although there has been a lot written lately about both of these media
not being reliable for more than 2 years), even 1.44 disks can be used if you
have the patience and individual files can fit.
My first choice is a USB drive since you can purchase a large drive for under
$75 these days. Many come with one click software that makes backing up your
data a snap. There are many ways to backup with incremental (to go back to a
certain point in time) small backups daily and then a full backup weekly. But I
digress since this article is about troubleshooting and not backing up data.
Back to the strange noise coming from your computer. Two items to check
first, the power supply fan and the hard drive. Both have bearings and spin at
high speeds. You normally can determine if the noise is coming from one or the
other. Replacing the power supply is not a big deal but can be laborious
depending on your computer model and case design. If you're not handy with a
screw driver and understand a little basic structure of positive and negative
connections, take it to a local computer repair shop. It's not difficult but it
is easy to make the wrong connection and you can fry your motherboard and
everything attached if something goes wrong.
So, you've checked the power supply fan and the noise is coming from
somewhere else. There are several items inside the hard drive that can cause
noise but I won't bore you with the details. Just suffice to say once the noise
starts it's time for a replacement. Mean time failure these days is 3-5 years on
most units. But remember that is based on some daily use value, so it can happen
at any time.
The easiest way to replace the hard drive is to buy the exact model, which
nobody does since the price point constantly goes down. So instead of a 20 gig
drive (that you never filled up), you go for the 120 gig replacement drive.
Along with the drive is a CD that has the installation routine for most
computers. You have to open the case (make sure the computer is not only off but
the power cord is disconnected from the back of the
computer) and remove the old drive, carefully replacing the connections in
the same manner as the old drive on the new drive. There are only two, one power
and one that connects the drive to the motherboard.
Once you have the drive hooked up and the case back together you're ready to
use the installation CD from the drive manufacturer. If your computer bios is
set to boot off the CD (which most are since many don't even have a floppy drive
more) you boot up once and get an error (we need to have power to open the CD
unit) and open the CD and place the hard drive installation CD in and close it.
Now you reboot and the CD will usually boot up with a menu that allows you to
configure the machine and often will ask you for your OS (normally WinXP) CD to
start the installation. And therein lies the first possible snafu. You don't
have your WinXP installation CD since your computer came with WinXP on the hard
Don't worry, it's a slow down but not an insurmountable problem. You now get
to call or go to the website of your computer manufacturer and ask for a set of
restore/install CDs. They normally will charge you 5-10 bucks for shipping but
will gladly provide the CDs. Make sure you tell them your exact model of
computer so you get all the correct video, sound card, and other drivers for
your computer. This is very important!
Most computer manufacturers have this down to a science and the CDs have
everything you need. You simply boot on the first CD and the restore/install
process is fairly automated with you just answering a few questions. This entire
process takes about 90 minutes and don't forget that you need to install any
applications that you installed after you bought the computer.
One very important detail you need to address is to make sure you install
Virus Protection software. Make sure you install this before you even connect to
the Internet. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a computer hit within
seconds of coming online, and if you don't have protection installed you get
banged immediately. Also install any WinXP updates by going to the Microsoft
website and clicking on Windows Update on the left side of the opening page. Let
it do it's magic and install all critical updates.
Now you can copy back all of your data to your new hard drive and now you are
back up and running. Now for all of you that are reading this article and have
not backed up your data, go do it right now. You'll be very glad
you did just in case disaster strikes.
About the author: John Dow owns
a website that specializes in computer troubleshooting, security, and repair
utilities. His Power Solutions CD has helped thousands of customers by providing
a collection of utilities and how to articles to fix and repair ANY hard drive
or computer problem. Click here to learn more: