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How to Recover Data from A Hard Drive - Retrieve it all

Updated on July 18, 2011

How To Get Your Data Off a Hard Drive

 We all know that we should back-up. We unfortunately don't usually get around to doing it very often. Now that just about everything is in digital format, having a computer die today is often like having your house burned down in days gone by.

 Everything is gone. Music, photos, work, tax, addresses.


This article assumes a few things.

1) Your hard drive is intact but inaccessible.

2) You have gone through the basic recovery methods and failed. e.g Attempts to restart in safe mode failed, System restore has not worked. If you have not tried these things do a google search on them and have a go.

3) You would like to avoid paying expensive data recovery fees if at all possible.

To follow this method you will require the following:

1) Another computer with internet access and a CD / DVD burner

2) An internet access account with the ability to download a very large file (approx 700MB).

3) One blank CD / DVD (or maybe 2 if you are prone to mistakes).

Recover Hard Drive

Data Recovery - The Method

 The main reason you would have an intact but inaccessible hard drive would be due to catastrophic operating system failure. In other words, Windows itself dies.

This can be due to many reasons and viruses are up there on the list. If a computer gets into a loop, it follows the same path around in circles and can be very resistant to breaking the cycle.

This can see a computer start up, then instantly shutdown, repeating the pattern on future attempts. Being unable to access System Restore or Restore not fixing the problem also limit recovery options.

NOTE: This solution will not fix your computer - It is merely a way of getting your precious data off the dying beast. A professional may be able to revive your computer but with the cost of hardware falling so quickly it is often more sensible to salvage your data and buy a new machine.

This method works by loading an alternate operating system to windows, without changing anything on the computer, then retrieving all required data.

Data Recovery Step One - Create a Boot Disk

 Your first step is to use your non-affected computer to download the alternate operating system. There are many but I use Ubuntu. You need to create a LiveCD for your computer to boot directly off.

This is a large file but will fit ( just ) onto a regular 700MB CD that is completely blank or any blank DVD. You can download Ubuntu here.

Depending on download speed this can take hours.

Next you need to get this file onto your CD / DVD. The downloaded file is a zip file. Do not extract the file. Copy it directly to your CD DVD. You will need specific software to do this.

I use ImgBurn. It is easy to use and you can get it here.

On your good computer...

Open Imgburn and select the "Write Image File to Disk" option. Alternatively you may see the autoprompt appear when you place a blank CD / DVD in the disk drive - select "Create an Image" with the Imgburn logo.

Where it says "Source" browse until you find the location of the Ubuntu zip file you downloaded.

Then click the bottom left Data to CD Icon to begin writing to disk.

Once this process is complete you have a Ubuntu Live CD



Retrieving Your Data

 Now it is time to use the disk on your deceased computer.

Place it in the CD drive and start up the computer.

If the Gods are smiling on you the computer will start up running Ubuntu. This is good. Please move to the next Capsule.

If it does not, your computer will do the same thing as always and not work.

This is the usual response. You can fix this. You need to tell your computer to start up using the disk, rather than itself.

To do this you need to take notice of what happens when you first start up your computer. The very first thing that flashes up is usually a screen with the computer manufacturers logo. Down the bottom of this screen it has some fine print and this is what you need.

You are looking for a statement that is similar to (depending on brand) "Press F2 for SetUp"

Some computers will give you 2 options like F2 and F12. If so, choose the one that has any reference to "Boot".

From here, you need to make you computer boot from the CD / DVD drive first. Play around until you find out how. Start looking for 'Boot' and if you can't find it there go to anything with 'CD /DVD'. Once this is done, look to "Exit - Saving changes" or something similar.

Once this is done, shut down your computer (holding down the on / off switch for 3 seconds if you have to) leaving the CD in the disk drive.

Start it again and you should see Ubuntu load up.

Ubuntu to the Rescue!

Once loaded you should see a screen similar to this one. Look for the option "Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer". It is often the top option.

DO NOT CHOOSE INSTALL UBUNTU. This can lead to file loss.

Once Ubuntu loads you will have a similar desktop to the Windows you are familiar with.

Locate the files you are wishing to salvage under the "Places" tab in the top left corner.

Use a USB memory stick or external hard drive to copy all files. The process is the same as on Windows.

You have now successfully salvaged your data!

Warning - Data Recovery Mistakes

Data Rescue WARNING!

If there is the slightest possibility your original problem was caused by a virus you should take full precautions.

This means scanning whatever USB memory or disk you downloaded your data onto before giving it access to another computer. Ensure the Anti-Virus protection you have is up to date and if you want to be extra safe, scan the data with a different Anti-virus software on another computer (You should avoid having multiple anti-virus programs on the one computer as they can interfere with each other).

If all comes up clean, your work is done. Congratulations, you salvaged your data!

Your computer is still not working, but the machine is insignificant compared to the memories.

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    • profile image

      khmohsin 6 years ago

      I am looking for the same information that you explain in this hub, thank you for sharing this useful informative article, its really big problem to recover files from hard disk which we recently format :)

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 7 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      Recovery of the data is possible, even though you have formatted your hard drive through data recovery software. In addition, hard disks are mechanical devices that are subjected to breakdown that results in the corruption of data.Use data recovery software's for easy and simple recovery.

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 7 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      Hey, this is a great hub. Data recovery is not much worried thing now.With the help of you can readily retrieve lost data, no matter of its size and format.