How to Fix a Computer That Makes a High-Pitched Noise

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Clicking or grinding noises

Let’s start with the most worrisome sound. If your computer starts to click, grind, or make any sort of low-pitched buzzing noise, you should stop what you’re doing and check the hard drive. This sound could indicate a dying disk. Do not ignore this sound.

To check your drive’s health, I recommend a third-party tool like CrystalDiskInfo (Windows) or DriveDx (macOS). Fire up the program, click on each of your drives in the menu, and make sure they’re all listed as “Good.” If it indicates your drive is anything less than that, you should back up all your data as soon as possible. You may still have some time to do so—occasionally a drive marked “Caution” can still run for years, but if it’s making noises, the drive’s death might be close. Once all your files are safe, consider replacing your drive with an SSD—not only will it likely last longer, but it’ll make your computer feel much faster. If your hard drives are healthy, take the incident as a warning and avoid any unpleasant surprises by backing up your data regularly, because as it happens to any living creature, all hard drives will die one day.

One you’ve ruled out your hard drive as the culprit, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to find the source of that clicking sound. If your computer still has a DVD drive, then it could be in the process of failing, and needs repair or replacement.

Finally, in a lot of desktop PCs, a clicking noise could just mean a cable has gotten too close to a fan, and is getting hit repeatedly by the blades. If you’re comfortable with a screwdriver, open up your PC and make sure the fans are clear of obstructions.

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The problem is highly specific to operating system, model and even individual machines. There is no universal solution, but on most machines one of the following will reduce or eliminate the noise (possibly at some cost in power consumption).

What Causes the High-Pitched Sound?

Nearly any device can experience coil whine but it’s common for video cards to make a high-pitched sound since they’re often used for high-intensity tasks—like video games, graphics editing, and video playback — and are usually being used for those tasks for hours at a time.

One way to verify what’s producing the noise so that you can better determine how to fix it is to pay very close attention to when the noise happens. If the noise is much louder than usual when you’re playing video games, you might blame your video card (that's probably what's causing the high-pitched sound anyway).

Another way is to use a benchmark tool to test specific hardware and then, again, listen for when the noise is actually produced. If you’re having troubles, you might need to hold a straw from your ear next to various components in your computer to help isolate the sound. Just please be careful when you do this!

However, be careful to not confuse other noises — like pops, rattles, or clicks — for high-pitched sounds and just assume it’s coil whine and walk away without addressing it. For example, a squealing noise might at first seem like coil whine but it could actually be noise from the hard drive pointing to a failing HDD, and another sound might more accurately be a sign of a rapidly overheating power supply.

Even if the noise isn’t coil whine, it doesn’t mean that whatever it is is causing a problem. For example, if your computer makes a noise each time you’re doing something like burning a movie to a disc or ripping music from a CD, that’s just the optical disc drive—it’s normal to hear the disc spin.

In other words, it's important to listen for the distinct hissing that most likely means the problem is with a vibrating coil, in which case it can be called coil whine and you can address it as such.

You might even experience a high-pitched noise when the computer is off! This is most likely an issue with the power supply. Something you can try in that situation is replacing the power cord with one that features a ferrite bead.

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