Beeps, Bleeps, and Chunks

When your computer talks to you, it is a good idea to listen. Sometimes what it says can help solve problems, or avoid costly repairs down the road.

Grinding Noises

Most likely, a buzzing or grinding noise indicates a fan with problem bearings. When a fan gets dirty or dusty it can get out of balance, which will eventually cause the bearings to become loose. The noise is generated by the vibration of the fan on its axis. Sometimes the fan will stop and start, generating an intermittent "quacking" or "mooing" sound (feel free to simulate these on your own to practice, if desired).

If the noise disappears, watch out! This usually indicates the fan is no longer spinning. Your power supply, CPU, or worse could be heading for the big parts bin in the sky. Since heat is a main enemy of modern computers, it is important to replace cooling fans quickly, preferably leaving the computer turned off until repairs are made.

Modern PCs usually have four to six fans, connecting to the PC case, CPU, video card, chipset, and power supply.


If the noise is a high-frequency squeal that sounds like something is spinning, it may be a fan bearing or a hard drive bearing failing. The tone may mildly fluctuate.

If your squeal is a steady tone in a relatively new PC, it may indicate a temperature alarm and/or the computer may have sensed a fan has stopped spinning. As discussed above, the PC should be powered off and the situation corrected as soon as possible.


This fun and unique noise typically indicates the hard drive has failed, or is failing. The noise is from the drive heads unsuccessfully trying to seek across the platter (imagine a record player's arm). Usually this will be most apparent as a periodic loud sound combined with a computer that will not boot. After minute or two a message may be displayed
referencing problems finding the hard drive.

If your hard drive starts making these noises while the computer is on, that would be a good time to quickly make a backup of your data files. If the drive is still functioning, usually data can be quickly copied to a replacement drive in a matter of minutes.


Since the early IBM XT models, PCs have used beep codes to communicate errors. For example, during the boot process a PC will usually beep if the video card, memory, or processor is not working correctly or not inserted properly. With no video the computer's BIOS has no way to display an error message, so it will beep in a specific pattern to indicate an error. Unfortunately the hundreds of manufacturers never standardized on a specific pattern, so each PC can be different. Note: one beep is normal at bootup, especially if the PC continues to boot!

Things to Listen For

As a rule of thumb, any noise your computer makes now that it did not make when it was new is generally a bad thing! When in doubt, give our Technical Staff a call for assistance.


November 2002

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