How To Get Data Off A Dead Hard Drive

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inaccessible_boot_deviceIt happens to us all, sooner or later. We boot up our computer and *BAM* that’s it. Blue screen of death (BSOD). The hard drive has failed. But the baby shower pictures are on there! But my doctoral thesis is on there! But my fan fiction of Harry Potter Meets Captain Kirk is on there! But you’ve been making regular backups, right?

Fear not. You may be able to learn how to get data off a dead hard drive, all by yourself. Now a word of warning, if the hard drive has already physically failed and the disks in it won’t spin, then there isn’t much you can do but contact a data recovery specialist. I suppose you could order an identical hard drive via eBay and carefully take the platters out and put them into the new hard drive. However, if you are that technically inclined, this article is way beneath you!

If you get a BSOD  then something may have happened to make your hard drive not boot, or start the operating system. This could be because of a faulty hard drive driver (the software that tells the computer how to use the hard drive) or it could be because of a loose connection. If you feel adventurous, you could check to make sure the connection is good inside the computer.


With some luck, that won’t be the case. If your computer continues on to give you some start up options in white text on a black screen, try choosing Last Known Good Configuration. That will start the computer into a backed-up version of Windows when life was good. It may be missing some recently added files and settings, but at least you’ll get the majority of your work back. At this point, it would be a good idea to perform a ScanDisk or CheckDisk task.

windows_advanced_options_menu

Your computer doesn’t take you to the start-up options page? Hmmm. Well, what you can do is try booting your computer from the Windows disk that came with your computer. Hopefully you have that still.

You may need to go into your BIOS settings and change the start-up disk setting to CD-ROM Drive.

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Once your computer boots into the Windows disk,you’ll have some options. One of them will be the Recovery Console. Choose that by pressing the R key.

repair_console_screen

Chances are you only have one installation of Windows on your computer, so that’s the installation you’ll choose to work with.

When asked for your Administrator’s password, enter it and continue. If you didn’t set up an Administrator’s password, just hit enter to continue.

Now, you’ll be presented with a black screen with white text. At the prompt, type chkdsk /r. What this does is run the Check Disk utility on the hard drive and repairs any problems it might find. If this does the trick, your computer will reboot and work fine. Note, however, that now would be a VERY good time to make a back up of your hard drive and look into buying a new one. If this happens again, you’ll be very lucky to recover it once more.

If that doesn’t work, boot into the Recovery console again. There are two other commands you may want to try: Fixboot,which rewrites the startup sector on your hard drive, and Fixmbr, which repairs the Master Boot Record.

Those are pretty advanced commands to use, so you may not want to run them. Run at your own risk, is all I can say.

There is also a device you can buy, which is pretty inexpensive, that allows you take your hard drive, connect it to this device, and then plug it into the USB port of another computer.This does require you to remove your hard drive from its current computer.

SCSI_to_USB_adapter

What happens is that the computer you plugged it into, treats it as a slave drive. That means that it doesn’t need to access the operating system, so you should be able to transfer over your files from the failing hard drive. The defunct hard drive shows up as an external USB drive in Window’s Explorer so you can simply drag and drop from it.

I have used one of these many times. What I have found is that as long as the platters spin, I’m able to recover the data.

Do you know of any other simple ways how to get data off a dead hard drive? Know of any good freeware? Has this article helped you? Help your Internet friends out and let us know about it in the comments.

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Comments (59)
  • rich

    All of the above suggestions are not dealing with a dead hard drive at all.

  • amy

    i have a bad habit of just shuting my laptop at the end of the day. the other day i went to get on it and it had the blue power light on but nothing happened.I figured it overpowerd so like i have done a few times before i unplugged battery and power cord, plugged back in. now i don’t have any lights or anything, blank screen etc.

    • amy

      i am ready to buy i knew laptop anyway because i bought mine in 2006 and have outgrown it, but its been about a year since i backed up info onto a usb flash drive (mainly pics and word files). my ? is do you thank if i bought a SATA/IDE to USB adapter, or an external hardrive enclosure i could get the rest of my info.

      thank you

    • Guy McDowell

      For the sake of about $20, it would be worth a try, wouldn’t it?

  • Peter

    Which reminds me; when solving mechanical, electro-mechanical, electronic or software problem, start off with the least radical problem checking routines (thus also the least radical solutions), and work up to the hardest ones.

    Even so, now is the time to make yourself a Windows PE USB stick, so that you can retrieve your files when under fire. :-)

  • Eve

    Thanks Peter. Your response gave me food for thought. I was inspired to try Google to see if I could troubleshoot my problem and sure enough turns out it was my battery. Once I removed it, my laptop powered up and all is well. You guys are awesome. Thanks for your time.

  • Peter

    If the machine is dead and you want data, I suggest you extract the drive from it, and plug it (slave it) into a desktop unit. You’ll need a laptop -> deskotp converter. I’m in the UK, hence the link:

    http://www.aria.co.uk/Products/Peripherals/Cabling/ATA100%2F133/+Laptop+HD+to+3.5%27%27+HD+IDE+Converter?productId=8349

    Google has this answer:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=Laptop+HD+to+3.5%27%27+HD+IDE+Converter

    Once you have set it up – it might be difficult if you are not geekily minded so a friend with knowledge might be useful rather than discourse by web forum – you might want to use something like this to recover your data if the drive is not easily read through a file manager:

    http://www.roadkil.net/program.php?ProgramID=29

    Handy recovery is my favourite free undelete package. Home page here:

    http://www.handyrecovery.com/

    The download page has a link to the free item near the bottom of the page:

    http://www.handyrecovery.com/download.shtml

    Always undelete files to drive other than the one you are rescuing, as you may overwrite something you later wish to recover.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.