Whether you are a computer nerd or someone who just uses a computer to surf the internets, the sounds of a dying hard drive are a sign of terrible things to come.
Here is what to listen for and how to take action.
Buzzing, clicking, and other new noises = bad news
For the most part, you probably do not notice sounds coming from your computer—maybe a cooling fan or a CD drive when in use.
Usually, a dying hard drive makes a new and distinct noise—clicking and loud whirring sounds are the easiest to spot. If you are on the fence, check out this helpful database of the bad sounds made by dying drives (listed by model and manufacturer).
Play it safe and immediately backup your files
The bad news is that unless you take your hard drive to a professional, it can be difficult to tell whether your drive is a month from away from dying or one more reboot away from becoming a doorstop.
To be safe, I recommend immediately backing up everything immediately. Chances are, your hard drive will not die on the next reboot. But the chance of losing your data far outweighs taking that risk—eliminate it altogether.
If you did not already have a backup for your data, the death of your hard drive will hopefully convince you to always have a backup moving forward.
Options for backing up
If you do not use cloud storage, this is an opportune time to jump in and try Dropbox or Wuala. The reason they are attractive is that you can download them immediately and start backing up right away.
You can also use a external drive. If you do not already have one, you can run out and get one for between $50-$100, depending on how much room you need. My only concern with this route is that your current drive could conceivably fry itself during the time it takes to run to Best Buy. That is fairly unlikely, but something to be aware of if you choose this option.
Whatever you do, act fast. Losing your data sucks, but is preventable.