Why would a computer squeal?
January 26, 2008 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Why would a computer squeal?

My desktop is making a high-pitched noise. It's constant, and it's definitely the computer itself and not any of the peripherals. Opening the CD drives doesn't get rid of the noise. What's making the sound and how do I get it to stop? It's driving me nuts.
posted by be11e to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Does it sound like your fan going into overdrive?
posted by Phire at 8:12 PM on January 26, 2008

It might be a fan. A quick way to check is to stop each fan for a few seconds (either with your finger on the centre, or with a bit of paper in the blades) and see if the noise stops. You have one fan in the power supply, and one fan on the CPU (you'll need to open the computer to check this one), and you may or may not have fans on the graphics card and on the case itself. Another possibility is the hard drive, which you can probably figure out by sticky your ear near it.
posted by ssg at 8:12 PM on January 26, 2008

This happened to me and it was the fan. You might be able to press "Fn-Z" to stop the fan and see if that stops the squeal, although this will obviously not fix the underlying problem.
posted by null terminated at 8:15 PM on January 26, 2008

If it is the fan, it'd be good to figure out why it's working so hard. I'm assuming the noise started recently and wasn't present initially. Check CPU temperature (Intel Thermal Analysis Tool/TAT will do the trick) and maybe monitor your processes to see if something's sucking up processing power.
posted by Phire at 8:16 PM on January 26, 2008

You don't give a lot to go on, but I'd imagine it's one of two things:

- It could conceivably be the hard drive... It normally spins at 5,400rpm (or 7,200 in higher-end home-use drives), although it's usually more of a hum when it's going.

- Most likely, it's one of the fans. There are probably case fans, as well as some inner ones (one on the CPU, and sometimes one on the video card and Northbridge chip.) You might power it down and see if dust has built up anywhere? (The external case fans are 99-cent parts, but the ones on components inside probably shouldn't be fiddled with.)

ssg gives similar, and good advice, but one warning: for an exterior case fan, sticking a pen cap in it to jam it for a fraction of a second is fine. It may be okay on the power supply, though do not stick metal inside that. I would discourage jamming any fans inside the machine... Not only do they have more important jobs, but some of them are intense: I lost a chunk of skin to my CPU fan one time...
posted by fogster at 8:16 PM on January 26, 2008

Is it a squeal as if it was part of a motor or is it a high pitch and consistant tone?

For squeals (usually oscillating) it could be your powersupply's or cpu's fan (or case chassis fans).

For high pitch tones it could be a transformer located in your powersupply. Transformers are known to do this and are usually very high pitched like a dog whistle...best course of action is to replace it. (hold your ear near the exhaust fan for the powersupply to confirm)
posted by samsara at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2008

Oh I've also had this problem with other motorized peripherals too...try powering off your system and unplugging the molex connectors (four wire with red yellow and two black) interchangably to isolate it first.
posted by samsara at 8:24 PM on January 26, 2008

Ok, I know you said you think it was not any peripherals but do you by chance have a large power supply unit/surge protector, perhaps with battery backup? Sometimes when those get too much load on them they have a squeal like alarm sound they emit.

I know I had one that did and for the life of me I thought it was coming from the computer itself. Especially if the psu is sitting behind or next to the actual computer case under a desk or in an enclosed space, it is almost impossible to tell that the sound is coming from the psu due to the echo.

In my case the psu started making this noise when I got a new system and played graphically intensive games. It keep going until the game was turned off or sometimes until the whole computer was powered down. If you just upgraded your system or got a new one, or just have an old psu, that could be your problem. Easy to test, just plug into another surge protector, but unfortunately you will likely have to replace the old unit.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 9:25 PM on January 26, 2008

I would just like to point out that my Web site contains the world's most popular page about small DC fan bearing maintenance.

(I don't know what you intend to have engraved on your tombstone, but this pretty much wraps it up for mine.)
posted by dansdata at 9:41 PM on January 26, 2008

Like others have stated, probably a fan, though it could be a hard drive. Finger on the fan trick is easiest. I've always found it's the video card fan which dies first. (Assuming of course there is one).
posted by defcom1 at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2008

You'll have to narrow it down to what part it is before you can fix it. Take the cover off and just listen around to find what's making the noise.
posted by gjc at 9:46 AM on January 27, 2008

Hopefully it's just a fan but a "scream" is usually the hard drive. Sounds like one of the spinning platters is grating against the casing. Unfortunately, it is more common than you think and it means your drive is about to go.

To be on the safe side, backup everything important right now. A simple test would be to go into your power management options and lower the hard drive spin down time to a minute and let the computer idle. If the sound goes away after that minute then you've found the culprit.

Hopefully it is just a fan. In order to test that, just open the case up and stop each of the fans while the machine is running. I normally just use my finger, but you might not want to do that. If you opt out of the finger approach, use something softer than a screwdriver or pen.
posted by purephase at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2008

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