In this guide I explain how to recover files from a laptop (or desktop PC) with crashed, failed, damaged operating system.

WHEN CAN YOU USE THIS RECOVERY GUIDE?

1. The guide will work if the OS is damaged but the computer hardware still works fine.
2. The guide might work if the hard drive has some minor damage, like a few bad sectors.

PREPARING FOR RECOVERY

For this recovery I’ll be using a Ubuntu CD (Linux OS). Also, you can create a bootable Ubuntu USB flash drive. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Linux guru for that. The Linux interface will be very similar to Windows OS.

You need another working computer to download and create a bootable CD or USB drive.

1. Download the latest version of Ubuntu OS here. When you click on the download button you’ll start downloading an ISO image.

2. Burn this ISO image on a CD or create a bootable USB stick. It’s explained on the same download page, just scroll a little bit down.

3. Find the target drive where you going to save recovered files. You can use an external hard drive or USB flash drive. The target drive can be formatted with any common Windows file system: FAT, FAT32, NTFS.

DATA RECOVERY PROCESS

STEP 1.
Boot your laptop from the Ubuntu CD or USB.
If the computer keeps trying to boot from the internal hard drive, you’ll have to enter the BIOS setup menu and change the boot order. Set your CD/DVD drive or USB stick as first device in the boot order. Safe changes and restart the computer.

From my experience, Ubuntu OS works fine with most laptop and desktop PC hardware and you shouldn’t have any problem booting it to the desktop. It may not work if your computer hardware is too new.

STEP 2.
The computer will start booting from the CD or USB stick.
Now read carefully!
After some time a welcome screen will pop up. On this screen you can choose your language and choose between two options: Try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu.
Select Try Ubuntu. The Linux OS will run directly from the CD or USB stick without changing any files on the hard drive.

STEP 3.
Ubuntu OS will continue loading and after a while you’ll boot to the desktop, as it shown on the following picture.

STEP 4.
In order to access the internal hard drive, you click on Places in the top toolbar. You should see your internal hard drive in the drop down menu under the Computer.

STEP 5.
When you click on the internal hard drive a new window will open up. In this window you’ll see all files located on the hard drive.

Files on hard drive

STEP 6.
Now plug in your target drive into the computer.
Another window will pop up. In this window you’ll see files located on the external drive. In my case I have no files on the external drive, that’s why the window is empty.
You can move windows same way you do it in Windows OS. Arrange both windows as you like.

STEP 7.
Finally, drag and drop needed files from the internal hard drive to the external drive.
After the transfer is done, you can unplug the external drive and use it on any other computer.

IF YOU HAVE FAILED HARDWARE

In case if your computer hardware failed, you should try recovery with external USB enclosure.

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37 Comments

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  1. 17
    Steve Says:

    I tried to boot with Ububtu CD but the window XP locked up at the 1st screen with MS logo in the middle. The screen is dimmed or shaded. Anybody know what’s wrong?

  2. 16
    mak Says:

    Thanks for this tutorial.
    I went through all above but it does not show my internal hard disk from Ubuntu there ,either the bios can’t detect the HD.
    the bios shows only CD drive and flopy disk drive.
    I tried also some of the Hiren’s tools to get access my HD but no lock.
    what is the clean room recovery as you have mentioned on the above?
    please help since I really need my data back.
    Thank you

  3. 15
    cj2600 Says:

    @ Great,

    After the install i restarted my system. To my greatest surprise, it not show anything in the screen.

    Can you see the Acer welcome screen on startup or there is NO image at all?
    Test your laptop with an external monitor. Can you get image on the external screen?

  4. 14
    Great Says:

    I have an Acer laptop, 5710. I use window 7,2 days ago, i tried to install Pro Evolution soccer 2011 game. After the install i restarted my system. To my greatest surprise, it not show anything in the screen. What might be the problem sir.

  5. 13
    Erin Says:

    I have a macbook and the other day it just basically stopped working. Whenever I try to turn it on it’ll have a bright screen for a while and then a flashing folder with a question mark, and there will be three small clicking sounds and one high pitched sound. I tried to do what I read on other sites(try repair in a certain program, try this button and that button) but nothing works, I even called some number I found and they said that it sounds really bad and has something to do with my hard drive?
    I have no idea what to do, or who to call to see if someone could recover my data (pics, music, documents etc). Can you please help, do you have any ideas?
    Thank-you!

  6. 12
    NyDataPC Says:

    Recovering data from falling HDD can be done also by downloading the Hiren’s Boot CD, and using Mini Windows XP boot option from the CD.
    http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd

  7. 11
    LaptopRepairBrooklyn Says:

    These post is for Elsa Maritza Mosquea. Check the ligh on the right side of your HP laptop. Make sure that you have a blue light when pluging the AC Adapter. YOu might have a low battery also with a dead AC adapter and that’s why the laptop keeps restarting by itself.

  8. 10
    cj2600 Says:

    @ John,

    My laptop is HP Compaq nc6320. When I turn it on, laptop doesn’t recognize HDD. The problem is that it worked a week ago so i don’t know whats the problem. I tried this guide but it didn’t worked. Furthermore when I started laptop from Windows 7 installation dvd it showed that my HDD is EMPTY.

    It’s not very clear. In the first part or your description you said the hard drive wasn’t recognizes. In the second part you said the hard drive appeared to be empty.
    If the hard drive is recognized in the BIOS but Windows says it’s not formatted, apparently the file structure has been damaged badly but you still have a chance to recover data.
    You can scan the hard drive with data recovery software (I’m using GetDataBack from Runtime Software). Again, it will work if the hard drive still spins and recognized in the BIOS.
    If the hard drive is NOT recognized in the BIOS and the computer doesn’t see it at all, your only chance to get the data back will be clean room recovery.

  9. 9
    Computer Repair Says:

    Great and very helpful tips of recover files from computer with crushed operating system. It is very helpful to me because i also using Linux OS.

  10. 8
    John Says:

    My laptop is HP Compaq nc6320. When I turn it on, laptop doesn’t recognize HDD. The problem is that it worked a week ago so i don’t know whats the problem. I tried this guide but it didn’t worked. Furthermore when I started laptop from Windows 7 installation dvd it showed that my HDD is EMPTY. Please, Help!!!

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