Strange PC noises
April 8, 2006 7:50 PM   Subscribe

What are the strange noises coming from my computer?

My PC is making a couple of strange noises. There is a high-pitched noise that is constant, and a clicking noise which seems to accompany any operations performed on the computer (i.e. starting an application, opening a document, etcetera). For a short time after I boot the system, there are anomolies in the image displayed on the screen. Horizontal lines may flash across the portions of the screen in which the image being displayed is changing (for instance, when the mouse pointer moves).

I have tried a number of solutions. I have unplugged each of the hard drives in turn and booted the system, unplugged the power from the video card and booted, unplugged the power from the case fan and booted, and adjusted the speed of the processor fan. The high-pitched sound persists, and the clicking also persists when any operation is performed. I am beginning to suspect a processor issue is the culprit. Is it possible for a processor to make a clicking sound? Any other ideas? I will post the systems components below.

Intel P4 3.0 gHz Processor w/ Zalman heatsink and fan
ABIT IC7-Max3 Mobo
1GB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM
2x WD Raptor S-ATA Hard drives
1x 250GB WD S-ATA Hard drive
Asus 16X DVD-Rom
GeForce 6800 GT 256MB video card
Sound Blaster Audigy 2ZS sound card
Ultra 500W modular power supply
posted by raddevon to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Response by poster: I tried that just now. The sound is definitely coming from the computer case itself. However, I can't really localize it within the case.
posted by raddevon at 8:04 PM on April 8, 2006

Are you sure the high-pitched sound isn't coming from your monitor?
posted by The Monkey at 8:06 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: I've tried unplugging the DVI from the monitor and turning the monitor off to no avail. The case sits on the floor and is a good distance from the monitor- far enough so that I can tell the sound doesn't originate there.
posted by raddevon at 8:09 PM on April 8, 2006

Best answer: Ready for a long-shot guess? It might be the inductor in the switching supply starting to go bad. That high-pitched whine could be the switching frequency. (Audible clicks at times when there's a significant change in current flow are also plausible in this scenario.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:16 PM on April 8, 2006

If it's clicking specifically when the computer's trying to process things, it's likely the hard drive. It wouldn't be the processor, as it has no moving parts (outside of the fan on it if you have one, which would be clicking constantly). Hard drives can do this if there's any metal touching certain places - try removing it from the case, plugging it back in while it's outside and not touching any conductors and see if it keeps happening. If this solves it, put a piece of paper or something else that doesn't conduct electricity on it (but make sure it won't overheat).

Past that, you're probably going to have to get a new hard drive or take it to someone who knows what they're doing so they can open it up and take a look at it. It'd probably be smart to back up everything important on it first as well.
posted by borkingchikapa at 8:17 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: Pardon my ignorance, but how would I test this? I'm afraid I'm not even sure what the "switching supply" is. Sorry.
posted by raddevon at 8:18 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: borkingchikapa:
I've tried disconnecting each of the hard drives (from the power supply) in turn before booting and the sounds persist. That was my first hunch also.
posted by raddevon at 8:20 PM on April 8, 2006

Best answer: "Switching supply" is just tech-detail-freak-speak for "power supply".

The power supply's switching frequency is high enough that the (faint) sound that usually comes out of its main inductor is supersonic (too high-pitched for us to hear). But sometimes, when power supplies get old and tired, the regulator circuitry gets hiccups (technically knows as squegging) and the inductor emits an audible squeal.

Sounds to me like it's time for a new power supply.
posted by flabdablet at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2006

posted by flabdablet at 8:52 PM on April 8, 2006

The high piched sound - does it sound like a whine?

Without hearing it, it reminds me of a (fairly big) capacitor about to blow (or just fail... not necessarily catastrophically).

The clicking sound - sounds like either a horrible fragmented harddrive (try O&O Defrag - I'm very happy with this defragmentation program) or a HD that's about to fail. That you've unplugged each an every one of your HDs suggests that HDs aren't the source.

It could be a capacitor(s).... I've heard electronics people talk about it but I've never encountered it myself.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:01 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: Nice job! I hooked up a new power supply, and now it runs like a champ! Thank you so much.
posted by raddevon at 9:35 PM on April 8, 2006

Welcome to the number one replaced part in computers. Thankfully they're mostly standardized, cheap, and widely available.
posted by intermod at 9:46 PM on April 8, 2006

Sorry about the jargon; I didn't even notice that I'd used it. (Doesn't everyone know what a "switching supply" is?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:00 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: Lucky for me I had an extra lying around.
posted by raddevon at 6:43 AM on April 9, 2006

If the new power supply hadn't helped, a second possibility would have been the secondary power supply (called a DC-DC converter) on the mother board. The first power supply turns wall (mains) power into low DC voltages--12V, 5V, and a few others. The power supply on the motherboard turns 12V into an even lower voltage used by the CPU. Because both power supplies are "switching" supplies, the same auditory cues would exist in both of them.

Here s a cnet article about bad motherboard capacitors.
posted by jepler at 8:37 AM on April 9, 2006

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