Is my Ikea desk killing my MacBook Pro hard drive?
April 5, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Bizarre Hard Drive Failure Filter: Is it possible that my desk from Ikea is helping to send my hard drive to an early grave?

Okay, I know this is going to sound insane but here goes. When I use my MacBook Pro on my desk the hard drive will soon start whining and screaming and sounding like it is about to explode. When I use the same exact computer on my table in the kitchen, it is almost perfectly silent. I can use it on the table in the kitchen for hours without even a slight whine. But within minutes of placing it on the desk from Ikea, its like there's a helicopter in my office.

The noise gets so loud I can't hear my television. And right now, on the kitchen table, it is almost silent.

Can anyone make heads or tails of this?

The sound does occur far less frequently when I use the computer while laying in bed and it sits on a pillow (these suckers run HOT!) but it appears that the issue is exacerbated by the desk.

Anyone have any insights? Yes, it is under warranty and I have the box ready to send it back to Apple but I'm pretty they don't use Ikea desks and they may not be able to replicate the problem.

Disk Utility says the disk is totally fine but I found I cannot upgrade to Leopard because of some failure (can't remember now) and I did try it several times.
posted by fenriq to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
Hard drives shouldn't make sounds oher than the occasional click. Are you sure it's the drive, not a fan or anything?

It sure sounds like it's a fan kicking in due to overheating. What's the material of the desk? Is there a hot direct light shining on it when it's on the desk? What if you put something underneath it to elevate it a few cm off the desk surface, like a couple rulers or coasters?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:00 PM on April 5, 2008

Is the desk magnetic somehow?
posted by sergent at 4:00 PM on April 5, 2008

The resonance frequency of your desk might be the same as the vibration frequency caused by your MacBook. Your MacBook might not be making any extra noise when it's on the desk, it's just that the desk is acting as a giant desk-sized speaker. Pick up a $2 rubber shock mount (or use something foamy) to stick between the laptop and the desk to see if that changes anything.
posted by Jairus at 4:02 PM on April 5, 2008

I am willing to bet it is the fan you're hearing. Which is weird... because nominally desks are better places to run laptops. Laptops have little nubs on the four corners that raise it a few millimeters off the ground which lets air circulate.

Try getting four little blocks and placing them under the corners, so that the laptop is raised about an inch off the desk. This will help the air circulation. Any difference?
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:03 PM on April 5, 2008

try putting a mouse pad under the computer

it sounds like the desk is hitting a resonance with the spinning of the drive

could be one of the fans too but hard drive is likelier

also try putting it on a book. anything to change the mass/resonant frequency of the desktop
posted by KenManiac at 4:03 PM on April 5, 2008

I think it sounds like an overheating issue as well. A laptop cooler might possibly help you.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:04 PM on April 5, 2008

1) don't use a pillow or set the computer on the bed. The pillow is blocking the vents and absorbing more heat than a surface that can conduct the heat better. If you use it in bed, use a wood lap book/computer surface thingy like an iLap.

2) Are you sure it isn't the fans that are making the noise? When your computer is just sitting there, the hard drive shouldn't be making any noise regardless of surface.

3) I have my old MacBook Pro on a Ikea desk and it works fine.

I'm guessing you're hearing the fans and the Ikea desk is doing a poor job conducting the heat away from the CPU. Go get the iStat widget from It will show the CPU, GPU, HDD and other temps and I'm guessing it will be higher when you're on the Ikea desk or the pillow. The widget also shows your fan speeds.

My old MacBook Pro (one of the first out with the Core Duo processor) runs really hot and it seems the fans never did kick in unless the damn thing was approaching meltdown temps. I actually had to send it back to have the fans replaced. It was still quite hot. I ended up getting an iLap from Rain Design to set it on so air could transfer under it and keep it cooler.
posted by birdherder at 4:07 PM on April 5, 2008

Warning, wild conjecture ahead:

The IKEA desk has a warped surface which causes your MBPro's case to flex, thus putting pressure on something inside your laptop and causing it to shriek. This sound only occasionally occurs in bed, as the surface of the pillow is yielding, or

The conditions inside your office differ significantly than your kitchen: hotter temps (causing the fan to spin up more), less soundproofing or more hard surfaces, which magnify the sounds your MBPro makes, or

Someone has secretly embedded a giant rare earth magnet into the surface of your IKEA desk.

FWIW, I'm typing this on a laptop on an IKEA desk right now. So far so go
posted by jamaro at 4:07 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: I really don't think that this isn't the fan kicking in. The sound varies when information is being written to the disk and it sounds like the drive's bearing is going bad.

Once the drive starts screaming, almost nothing will stop it except shutting or setting the computer to sleep. I've lifted it off the desk with no change, I tilt the computer with slight changes to tempo and volume but not intensity of the noise.

Also, I have an iLap that I used on the desk and it seemed to make the problem worse, as in the computer started shaking from the violent spinning craziness inside.

Maybe I'll placing a board on the desk with some rubber bumpers to prop it up a bit and see what that does. I'll report back with any new info later.

Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions so far!
posted by fenriq at 4:16 PM on April 5, 2008

Are you plugging it in? Maybe it's not the desk, but the different outlet voltages. Get a multi-meter and compare the two.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2008

put it on a coolpad.

Seriously, I carry the same one i've had since 2000 with me, for use on the road and on the desks I setup my macbook pro on for any longer period. Being able to pivot the laptop alone is worth it.

It also automagically lifts your laptop off of whatever surface you have put it on, and will help keep airflow going around it (and the tilt makes it a little easier to use on a desk), for $20 its a good deal.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:16 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem with noise on my desk that I didn't get on other surfaces. The solution for me? Two door stoppers at the rear of the laptop. It lifts the laptop for better air low, easier typing and the rubber stays solid on the desk. No more noise on the desk. I got mine for all of a buck at The Dollar Tree.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:54 PM on April 5, 2008

You can download the widget iStat Pro, stick it in your dashboard and see for yourself if the computer is running hotter on the desk compared to other areas.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:02 PM on April 5, 2008

FWIW, wood conducts sound amazingly well. It amplifies it even. It could be just that simple...even shitty particleboardpress crap.
posted by TomMelee at 10:21 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I've had the computer up on my desk for the last couple of hours (since I posted about) and the temp has climbed back up from just under 70 to over 100 now. But the noise hasn't come back at all, yet.

I started this note an hour ago (got distracted by kids) and have come back, the machine is still hot but still no noises.

Odd because its been doing the noise thing for several weeks. I expect its still coming back and I'll drop it in the box off to Apple repair.

And not just because of the noise, my Windows partition disappears on restarts occasionally and I can't upgrade to Leopard
posted by fenriq at 10:41 PM on April 5, 2008

Whatever it is, I'd recommend a call to tech support during which you let them hear the sound over the phone, to establish proof that it is actually making noise. You also might be able to record the noise with the computer's microphone so that the people repairing your computer can at least play it back and hear what it sounds like.

I know this is tangential, but for your heat problems, try smcFanControl. It'll let you turn up the minimum speed of the computer's fans.
posted by Asymptote at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2008

It also occurs to me, the important thing to look for in Disk Utility is your disk's S.M.A.R.T status (It should say something like "Verified". Select the disk itself (not any of the partitions on the disk) and you'll see it on the bottom of Disk Utility's window.
posted by Asymptote at 1:13 PM on April 6, 2008

Gah, one more thing. Make a backup! Backups are good all the time, but you especially want one because
  • You don't trust your hard drive's hardware (loud noises are usually BAD in hard drives)
  • You may have to take the laptop in for repair. You have no guarantee (even if Apple guarantees it) that your laptop will come back from the shop with the contents of its hard drive intact. A friend of mine had his laptop come back from Apple with a fresh install of the OS on his hard drive, and the HD had nothing to do with problem he wanted them to fix!
Let us know what ends up happening. Good luck.
posted by Asymptote at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: SMART status is verified.

Data is backed up (to two different places).

And I'm ready (emotionally) to send it back to Apple. The only thing is that the hard drive has been perfect since I posted this. Absolutely perfect. And it had been getting worse and worse over the previous two or three weeks before I posted to AskMe.

Call it the magical AskMe effect or something. I expect its just stopped temporarily but it certainly is nice when its all quiet like this!
posted by fenriq at 1:19 PM on April 9, 2008

Response by poster: Final update: Apple repaired both sides of the fan assembly and replaced the hard drive (with a larger one for the bonus). It took two weeks but its back and is perfectly silent on the same desk. Ikea is off the hook this time.
posted by fenriq at 8:36 PM on May 14, 2008

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