Q: I have a Windows 7 laptop (that) makes random noises. Any thoughts or is the laptop possessed? - Beth
A: Much like with your car, when a computer starts to make random or weird noises, you should not ignore them.
Imagine how expensive your car repair bills would be if you ignored signs of problems and just drove it until it broke down!
Unfortunately, most computer users do just that; run it until it crashes or dies!
This detrimental habit is why most computer repair bills can become very expensive, especially if critical data needs to be retrieved. So never ignore strange noises coming from your computer.
The cause of the noise can be something as minor as interference from a cell phone or other wireless devices that are too close to the computer (strange buzzing coming from the speakers) to a major sign of an impending meltdown.
If the noise is coming from your speakers it's likely a lot less serious, so start by muting the audio or turning the volume all the way down on our speakers. If the noise goes away, it's probably interference or possibly a problem with your sound card or drivers, but nothing disastrous.
If the noise doesn't go away when you mute the sound, you need to pay close attention to where the sound is coming from and what type of sound it is.
Ticking, clicking or knocking sounds are the most disconcerting because these types of noises generally signal a problem with the physical hard disk drive inside your computer (where all the data that you've been meaning to backup lives!)
If you hear this type of sound and you don't have a current backup, do everything you can to get your critical files copied off first (USB drive, external HD, burn CDs or DVDs, etc.)
If you are hearing clicking or ticking sounds and the computer won't startup, turn it off immediately as you could cause more damage to a malfunctioning hard drive every time you try to start it up. Consult a professional if critical files that aren't backed up are on the computer so you can properly assess your options.
If you hear a grinding sound that tends to be a constant vibrating tone, you most likely have a problem with one of the various cooling fans inside the computer. Often times, if you let the computer run long enough, the grinding sound goes away, which is why many users often just continue using the computer.
The problem with this approach is that if a cooling fan is starting to go and you assume that since the noise went away that ‘it fixed itself' you could be headed for an actual meltdown. When a grinding cooling fan stops making noise, it means that either it's warmed up the lubricants in the bearings or that it has seized up completely.
If a cooling fan stops spinning, it means that it's no longer cooling the circuitry or component that it was designed to keep cool, which means that component will eventually overheat and fail.
Cooling fans for critical components like your CPU (Central Processing Unit or processor) that stop spinning can be get real expensive if the processor overheats and needs to be replaced.
A non-spinning CPU cooling fan goes from a cooling device to an insulating device which will hold heat closer to the CPU increasing the odds of damaging the processor.
The bottom line is that when you hear a new or strange noise coming from your computer, don't ignore it. The quicker you address it (or have someone that knows some basic troubleshooting steps track it down) the less expensive it will likely be to rectify.
For more signs of an impending computer meltdown, visit http://goo.gl/2sA8v.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.