PC is whining: is it fans or hard drives?
pcnovice
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 16 Apr 2008
Posts: 4
Reply Quote
I've talked to a number of people about this problem and am getting different answers, but not really any positive fixes...so I'll try here.

I bought a cheap used system. An HP Pavilion with a Pentium III, 20GB hard drive, cd writer, and Ubuntu installed. The ram is only 128MB.

I was not able to see the computer running before buying it, but it was only $20, with monitor, keyboard, mouse and HP printer (which is probably defunct). I got it home and plugged it in and it had a loud whine. I assumed it was a fan or power supply going out, but didn't know how to isolate the sound. I found a guy in town who builds new systems and he said to bring it down and he'd look at it. He started it up and took the side panel off...and then he unplugged the connector from the back of the hard drive. The sound stopped. He plugged it back in and the sound was back again. So he said it had to be the hard drive going out.

I tried to find a new hard drive but it's hard to find 20GB drives today, so a friend who works in IT (across the country) said he could send me a used one that had been pulled from an upgraded machine. I believe he checked it out before shipping it. He also sent me Win xp and office xp pro, because all I have on my current is win 98se and office 97. So I took the computer to the guy in town to install and partition and format the hard drive (I don't know how to do that). He did it yesterday and said it installed without any errors, but the drive he put in is also making the same noise.

This is not a mechanical clinking sound like current machine makes with the hard drive is running. It's a high pitched whine. Again he uplugged drive (after it was done formatting and installing xp) and the noise went away...so again he's saying this is a bad hard drive.

I'm not so sure it is. Is it possible that this system is set up so a fan shuts off when the hard drive is shut off?

It's a 40GB maxtor drive. HP Pavilion with intel PIII 500 MHz, 128MB sdram.

I found out today I need to upgrade the memory to run xp, which is doable, if I can find memory, but I cannot live with the noise.

I would like advice if you have any. I have already invested $135 in this old system, and don't know if I should take it any further, or just consider it a loss.

Thanks
Back to top
techAdmin
Status: Site Admin
Joined: 26 Sep 2003
Posts: 3982
Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
Reply Quote
First, the people who were looking at your system don't know much about how to do simple diagnostics.

To isolate a whine, which can be very difficult to pinpoint acoustically, there's a very simple trick, which I learned by watching doctors use stethoscopes:

Take a rolled up paper tube, that's about 18 inches long, and put it to your ear while the system is running. Move the tube around the inside of the case until you pinpoint the actual source of the sound. That's fairly reliable.

There are only two places a whine occurs: hard drives or fans.

As you suspect, the odds of two hard disks whining in the same way are very low.

Further, you don't just replace a hard disk without testing it. You run true diagnostics on it, using something like The Ultimate Boot CD. Download latest iso image, and burn that, if you have a cd burner.

That test cd has a bunch of hard disk test utilities in it.

It's very hard to know where a whine comes from without hearing the whine, it is of course possible, though very unlikely, that both hard disks died in exactly the same way, but I kind of doubt it.

Computers have several places they can have fans, but for your HP, it's only going to be in one of a few, the power supply itself, which in those older HPs is often used to fan both the psu and the cpu itself, and sometimes on a video card, but again, that old unit I doubt had a separate video card.

Either Ubuntu or XP need about 256 mB ram to work reasonably well, but both will work, although slowly, with 128 mB.

You're right to be annoyed that your $20 computer morphed into a $135 box, because for $135, you can quite easily get a quite decent later model used system, with more ram, faster cpu, etc.

I'm fond of those old HPs though, I like them, they are especially good with something like Debian Stable, Etch currently, though I guess Ubuntu is ok too, though Ubuntu tends to be kind of slow compared to other distros.

I recommend you confirm that the hard disk is actually the problem before you do anything else. You will be surprised how easy it is to pinpoint the sound with a tube like I said, then you will know for certain.
Back to top
pcnovice
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 16 Apr 2008
Posts: 4
Reply Quote
Thank you for your reply. I don't have the system at home yet. When I pick it up, I'll bring it home and see if I can tell where it's coming from. I don't want to waste any more of Ben's time trying to find the problem, if it's the drive.

I don't think Ben is set up to do diagnostics in his shop, nor is he a repair guy. His business is building new custom systems, including the boxes (out of day-glo plex). Anyway, I don't blame him for this...When I heard that whine, I should have dumped the system rather than spending more money on it.

The only reason I'm still researching this is because I find it so hard to believe that both drives would be making the exact same noise...same intensity, and yet both drives were functional. This bigger one formatted without any errors. The other one was running Ubuntu. So neither was dead yet, but possibly making the same noise.

I am still not sure why unplugging the hard drive would make a fan shut off though (if the noise is really a fan).
Back to top
techAdmin
Status: Site Admin
Joined: 26 Sep 2003
Posts: 3982
Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
Reply Quote
The most common cause for these whines is fans, which are totally cheap parts, and the whine doesn't even matter because it's just the sleeve bearing or regular bearings whining, which has no real negative effect except for being annoying.

Since fans cost only a few dollars to replace in most cases, that's obviously the first place to eliminate as a cause.

Hard disk whines do occur, but I'm suspecting some other cause, such as a vibration in the weird HP hard disk mounting system, or something else.

I'm quite familiar with that case, it's a pain to move around in, everything is scrunched together really tight, if it's the small consumer one I'm thinking of, with the hard disk crammed up against the front cooling holes.

There is no point in speculating when it comes to hardware matters, you have to test and know, not guess. And your guess, by the way, that both drives whining at the same intensity being highly unlikely, is probably right.

On the bright side, you may now have two perfectly fine small hard disks. Or two dead ones, who knows.

It's also just barely possible that the power supply is whining, and when the hard disk is unplugged, the current drops a bit that the psu has to supply, and the whine stops.

Again, hard to know though.
Back to top
pcnovice
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 16 Apr 2008
Posts: 4
Reply Quote
Thank you tech admin.

Yes, this is the small case you are thinking of. It's because it's so tight, and I don't know what's in there without a manual, I'm afraid to work on it myself. I've taken my gateway apart numerous times to install or replace boards and drives, but I have a manual for it, plus free support to help me through it.

I did print the product specs off of HT's site. I was looking for a maintenance manual but didn't find one..do you think they would have a repair manual I could download for this particular model? I mean like the book I got with my Gateway called "Maintaining and Troubleshooting Your Gateway PC"...with illustrations of where everything is located? That would help me a lot as I'm not very familiar with the internals of a computer system.

Ben did wonder if it could be resonance from the hard drive causing the sound, but if that were the case, wouldn't this particular HP case be known for sometimes having this problem?

I'm not sure where I'll end up with this, but I really do appreciate your help. This stuff scares me a bit...I don't like feeling lost and helpless.
Back to top
techAdmin
Status: Site Admin
Joined: 26 Sep 2003
Posts: 3982
Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
Reply Quote
That one is easy though, the hard disk is dead front, flat against the front panel, if I remember right.

The power supply is directly over the cpu, and the power supply fan is the same fan that cools the cpu heat sink.

So the only parts you need to access there are on top psu when the side of the case is opened, and the box laid on its side, and the front hard disk.

You can quite easily, using a tube, determine for certain where the whine comes from when it's running. The psu over the cpu is not the same location as the hard disk.

If the psu is whining, it's not the hard disk. If you pull the hard disk out, which is quite easy if I remember right, and just prop it against something without shorting out any circuits of course by contacting to metal, and start the machine, you'll really be able to hear if it's whining or not. Just put it on a table top.

Once you have the case open, it's quite obvious.

It could be resonance, sure, you never know, if it is, you can fix that by just shoving in some padding to dampen it.
Back to top
pcnovice
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 16 Apr 2008
Posts: 4
Reply Quote
I got a reply from the friend who sent me this drive this morning. He said he tested it before shipping and it tested fine. No whine. It was packaged very well (in a printed circuit board pkg...small cardboard box lined with dense foam). I recieved it in good condition (no damage to package), I have had it stored in a drawer in the original packaging until I could afford to install it. I believe this is not the hard drive.

I will be picking up the system in a couple of days and will get back to you with more detailed questions on isolating this noise, if I need to.

Otherwise, I'll let you know I found the problem, and update you when it's fixed, so you know you helped me solve the problem. Oh, and you are in my favorites now too. Thanks so much! Julie
Back to top
techAdmin
Status: Site Admin
Joined: 26 Sep 2003
Posts: 3982
Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
Reply Quote
Please do post further information or the solution once you get it, these threads form a knowledge base for many other users in the future. Rest assured, you will not be the only person in the world to encounter a strange whine from the machine.
Back to top
Whine (HD or Fan)
dusty
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 29 Jun 2011
Posts: 1
Reply Quote
I have lived with that noise until I could no more. For the cost of an inexpensive fan and 5 minutes - I cannot hear my computer run.

Good luck in your quest.
Back to top
Display posts from previous:   

All times are GMT - 8 Hours