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Sometimes a PC will fail without warning. One day it boots up, the next day it doesn’t. Troubleshooting and diagnosing why in such circumstances can be a challenge.

In other cases, a PC will make a sound (or sounds) or otherwise give some kind of hint or warning of a problem. Those can be on purpose, such as the beeps a PC will make when a component is failing, or it can be caused by the problem itself. Having an idea of what these warning signs look and sound like can be quite helpful in determining what’s causing a PC to fail. This article will cover several things to look and listen for when your PC starts acting up.

What do computer clicking sounds mean?

Most PCs have components with moving parts that can give off sounds when they’re failing. The exceptions to this rule are completely fanless laptops that have no moving parts and are unlikely to give off any sounds due to component failure.

One of the most common problem sounds you’ll hear is from a failing hard disk drive (HDD). These drives have spinning platters and moving heads that give off noise even when operating normally. When they wear out or are defective, they’ll tend to give off telltale sounds that let you know if they’re failing or — worst-case scenario — already failed. You’ll hear clicking, grinding, and scratching noises that you’ve never heard before, and if you listen carefully, you can isolate the sounds to the HDD.

View Infographic: The 3-2-1 Backup Strategy

If you hear these sounds and your HDD is still functioning, first back up your data immediately. Then, run the diagnostic utility that came with the drive (if one exists) and see if it reports any errors. If your drive is still under warranty, then contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Once the data is backed up, you’ll want to replace the drive as soon as possible.

Another component that can cause various noises when failing is the fan, which might be a standalone case fan or a fan built into a PC power supply, discrete graphics card, or a CPU cooling fan. You might hear vibration, clicking, or grinding noises as a fan fails, or you might hear complete silence from the area if a fan fails and stops working completely. Because fans are used to keep a PC and its components cool, a fan failing might not shut your PC down completely but it can cause other components to fail as they overheat.

Whether you can simply replace a fan depends on which kind of fan we’re talking about. If it’s a case fan, then replacing it is simple. The same thing applies to the fan on a CPU cooler, although that sometimes means replacing the cooler itself. If it’s the fan built into a GPU, then you might need to replace the GPU itself if the fan can’t be separately repaired.

What do BIOS beep codes tell you?

One of the more helpful sources of troubleshooting sounds can be produced by a PC’s Basic Input/Output System, or BIOS. This is the software that handles the PC’s components at the most basic level, and that allows the PC to boot and load the operating system. A PC’s BIOS can give off beeps prior to the Power On Self Test (POST) part of the boot process that can indicate a failing (or failed) component and help in diagnosing a problem. Note that these beeps will come from within the PC itself and not from its speakers.

Unfortunately, there’s no standard system of beeps, and so you’ll need to know the BIOS maker to look up what a given beep, or series of beeps, means. If you hear these beeps, pay close attention to them. There can be long and short beeps, certain numbers of beeps, and particular patterns of beeps (e.g., long, short, long), each of which can indicate a problem with a particular component. Some examples include bad memory, a defective CPU, insufficient or improper power, and a host of other possibilities.

Again, you’ll want to determine the BIOS maker, either by loading the BIOS at bootup (which typically requires a particular key or key combination), by running a utility in Windows that will identify the BIOS, or by looking on the BIOS chip itself. Once you’ve identified the BIOS maker, then you can visit its website and look up troubleshooting information that should include the beep codes and what they mean. Of course, if your PC came with a user’s manual, then that information might be available in the troubleshooting section.

What do different motherboard LED lights mean?

Some motherboards have lights that can indicate the PC’s — or at least the motherboard’s — status. In some cases, there just a single light indicating the overall status of the motherboard, such as “green means everything is fine and red means there’s a problem.” In other cases, there might be individual status lights near particular components, such as memory and the CPU, that indicate if a component is having issues.

Whether or not such lights exist varies by the motherboard. Check your motherboard’s user manual for information on which status lights exist and how to interpret them.

How do you open Windows 10 Event Manager?

Of course, a PC is capable of communicating more directly to a user. Certain BIOS versions can post diagnostic information during boot up that can help troubleshoot an issue or directly identify a failing component. And the operating system also provides a host of messages that can pinpoint a component problem, such as failing hard drive.

Search “events” using Windows 10 search function to pull up the Event Manager

You can look at tools like Windows 10’s Event Manager to find more information about what causes system failure, although that information can be obscure and require a higher level of technical knowledge to interpret. Also, look for messages about missing or corrupt files to help identify a failing hard drive — or a solid-state drive (SSD), since those have no moving parts and will give off no sounds indicating failure. Finally, if your PC blue screens, you can often see a hint as to the problem, such as a memory or CPU error.

Conclusion

This has been just an overview of some of the ways to perform computer troubleshooting and diagnose PC issues. Much of it may be beyond the typical user’s technical acumen, but it’s important to have a grasp of what to look for to best inform a technician who can fix a problem. In many cases, all you need to do is look and listen to get some insight into why your PC is misbehaving.

Mark Coppock

Author Mark Coppock

A technology and aspiring science fiction writer from just outside Los Angeles, CA.

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