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


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.


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.


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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.


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

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  1. 37
    ananthu santhosh Says:

    i have actually got a similar problem as the one mentioned above , and iam able to hear my hard drive spinning . so what exactly does it mean ,when you hear these sounds ??

  2. 36
    cj2600 Says:

    @ Tapan,

    am getting the below error while trying to boot ubuntu..

    kernel panic – not syncing: Attempt to kill init! exitcode = 0×00000600

    drm_kms_helper: panic occured, switching back to text console.

    Could you please help me out why i am not able to boot ubuntu.

    Maybe your hardware not supported by Ubuntu Linux. You can try Knoppix.

    I need to take the backup of my very important data

    Also, you can use external USB enclosure to back up data. Check this out:

  3. 35
    Tapan Says:


    I am getting the below error while trying to boot ubuntu..

    kernel panic – not syncing: Attempt to kill init! exitcode = 0×00000600

    drm_kms_helper: panic occured, switching back to text console.

    Could you please help me out why i am not able to boot ubuntu. I need to take the backup of my very important data

  4. 34
    Mohammed Tayyab Says:


    I completed the process as you told, but when i connected my external HDD to my other laptop, the folder is shown where i copied my files from a infected laptop on my external drive, but i am unable to open and view the contents.

    Kindly provide me a alternate at the earliest, as it is very urgent.


    Mohammed Tayyab

  5. 33
    Albert Wai Says:

    This works great! The whole process was painless. Thank you. I was so close to despair.

  6. 32
    Mirella Says:

    My Windows Vista system crashed. I reinstalled Ubuntu as per the steps you mentioned. But now when it comes to retrieving data I’m completely stuck. When I select File System, I can see folders that say – bin, boot,dev, etc…. but I cant see my files?

    Please help i have some very important college documents that I need to retrieve by the end of this week.

  7. 31
    Uriah Says:

    Hi, I’ve been trying to retrieve data from my laptop’s hard drive after my Win 7 seemed to stop working for a few weeks now, and decided to try Ubuntu. While I have to thank you for writing this article that explains what to do better than any other site I’ve found so far, I have run into a bit of a problem. When I go to “Computer”, my hard drive isn’t listed at all. Instead, the only thing listed is the 0 byte file system. While at first I was worried that my hard drive had actually crashed, I checked BIOS to find that my computer still registers the hard drive. If you, or anyone, can help at all, I would really appreciate it.

  8. 30
    Charles Says:

    Hello, i went to the Ubuntu and downloaded the ISO image ,used the universal usb installer to burn to a formatted usb disk.
    i changed the bios to boot first from usb-FDD THEN I TRIED USB-ZIP.
    nothing happens.
    i also tried cd rom drive and harddrive as first boot.
    the computer just keeps goin throught the act of trying to startup.
    i can not enter safe mode or restore.
    i have a xp home setup disk, but want to backup my system drivers before i formatt the system.
    i would be happy to make a donation if u can help me save my system setup before i formatt it on the cheap.
    i don’t have the money to take it to a computer shop.
    the computer is a hp pavilion 753n about 10 years old.
    i think i pushed the off button one to many times and maybe have a virus
    but could never detect any.
    thanks for any suggestions, Charles

  9. 29
    wade Says:

    THANK YOU!!!! My wife dropped her laptop before she backed up 6 monthes worth of pictures of our kids. Following your steps, I was able to recover everything. Thank you.

  10. 28
    clarencejackson Says:

    I want to thankyou for the information requested to save info from labtop, when all others companys called want you to give them money, not acknowledgeing you have bought their product duh? again thankyou

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