I've been using many operating systems since many years ago, and I've noticed something curious that I cannot find answers in any place on the internet. It's the different noises produced by NTFS/FAT systems, and the almost-silent sounds generated by UNIX-like systems, including Linux, All-BSD (Mac OS X, also).

I never found a technical article sufficiently clear about this issue, but I swear, I'm not crazy! I just hear Windows 98,XP,Vista,7 in my Maxtor hard drive sounding too much higher than another operating systems... I've tested many hard drive manufacturers and systems... but the conclusion looks always the same: NTFS/FAT is absolutely noisy, specially when the system is going to 'sleep', or simply staying a couple of seconds inactive. It never happens with Mac OS or another UNIX-like.

If you have something significant to contribute, please let me know.


Yes, different operating systems and different filesystems have different noise patters. What you hear is actually a head movement, so each time hard disk seeks to a new position, you hear a characteristic noise. Here's why:

  1. Workloads differ. A busy unix database server accesses files differently than a PC gaming rig, that's obvious.

  2. File allocation strategies differ in different filesystems: where the next newly created file will be created on disk. Some filesystem chose the the closest free space to other files in the same directory, some biggest free space, some next available, etc. This greatly affects hard disk seeking afterwards.

  3. Disk fragmentation. Files on FAT filesystems are getting fragmented over time if there is a considerable create-delete activity. NTFS and unix filesystems manage fragmentation better.

  4. Caching and disk syncing. How often filesystem flushes its cached data to disk? FAT filesystems are often more noisy because the assumption is that power cord can be yanked at any time, thus they try to flush as soon as possible, since FATs can be easily corrupted. Journaling filesystems (NTFS, ext3, etc.) keep data in cache longer, thus reduced disk seeking. PC OSes (Windows in particular) have to presume power can be out at any moment, thus frequent flushes to disk and increased noise.

All in all, you're not dreaming things, but there's nothing magical about it.

  • Maybe there are unicorns running around inside his computer! – surfasb Oct 15 '11 at 17:20
  • Thanks, @haimg! I assumed previously that it was a very low level issue, but I was unable to figured out this technical aspects. Regards – Ginetom Oct 15 '11 at 18:38
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    Depending on the file systems, there is journaling, memory buffering and various head seek algorithms used that create vastly different sounds. Originally, Unix and Linux used memory buffering and an elevator seek to prevent head thrashing common in other OS drive access methods. Back when I was introduced to NT4, we had three systems sitting side by side. Netware used massive memory buffers, Xenix had memory buffering and Chantel drivers, while the 250MB Priam in the NT system sounded like a jet taking off and the head thrash could be felt on the case when the system was under heavy load. – Fiasco Labs Oct 16 '11 at 0:44
  • @FiascoLabs scary NT jet =p – Ginetom Oct 19 '11 at 21:23
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    NT Jet... I work in the aviation industry. At the time we had a demo from Avidyne on one of their new avionics packages. When the sales rep fired the demo unit up, I instantly recognized NT and asked him about rebooting after a blue screen during flight. His reply was, "we're running on NT 3.5, you know, the stable version that hasn't been hacked to play video games." – Fiasco Labs Oct 22 '11 at 3:11

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