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Fixing a Thumping Laptop

Susan from Texas asks:

My Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop started a very loud “thumping” noise. I shut it down and restarted it, again thumping noise, so I shut it down again, asked a few questions made a few calls, no one knows… I was afraid of the battery exploding so my son said to take it out. I keep it plugged in all the time and run it all day anyway. I shut it down each night. So I removed the battery and with great caution turned it back on, no problem, no noise, …. what is wrong? Do I need to buy a new battery perhaps?

Susan, this is a true “good news/bad news” situation.

The good news is that it’s probably not your battery, although your battery overheating may be contributing to the problem. A battery has no moving parts, so there’s really nothing to “thump” in it. When the exploding battery epidemic hit a couple of years ago, the explosions were preceded by extreme heat, not thumping.

The bad news part one is that it could be your laptop’s fan. If the thumping is constant when your battery is installed, this is probably the case.
The upside is that if you’ve got some experience with changing computer components, then changing a fan isn’t all that difficult. You simply open the laptop’s case, find the fan, unscrew and unplug it and then put the new fan in. Like with all other computer repair, however, I would recommend not attempting it unless you are 100% sure that you can do it.

There are a few things that could cause your fan to “thump”, but the most common is simply that your fan blade has come loose and is wobbling in the frame. If this is the case, then the reason that removing your battery may have helped is because if your battery was overheating, that would cause the fan to spin faster to try to cool the laptop, which would cause it to wobble worse.

The bad news part two is that it may be your computer’s hard drive. If the thumping is intermittent, it’s probably your hard drive.


The upside is that replacing a laptop’s hard drive is considerably easier than replacing the fan. It’s usually a matter of removing two screws, replacing the hard drive in the housing, and replacing the screws. You do have to be VERY CAREFUL, though, that you don’t bend any of the hard drive’s pins when you do, or you’ve probably ruined your hard drive. These pins are very difficult to straighten without breaking them off.

Although these are not the only two possibilities, they are the most common causes of the noise that you describe. Unless you can pinpoint it and repair it yourself, however, the best advice is to either have a computer-savvy friend take a look at it or pay a professional to diagnose it. Most computer repair centers will charge you anywhere from $30 to $70 for a diagnostic, and then the cost of parts and labor if you decide to have them repair it for you.

Hope this helps.

~Randal Schaffer