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What is the best way to access a laptop's hard drive to recover data (assuming there is still intact data) when the OS (Windows XP) won't boot?

EDIT: I've tried booting from a disc, but that failed as well.

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If you can't boot from disks either then it sounds like you may have more problems than just your OS not booting. Perhaps it's time to consider taking it to someone to have it examined in person? – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Oct 17 '11 at 21:28
@techie007 That's exactly what I was hoping to avoid, both to avoid having to pay someone to do it, and to hopefully learn something while doing it myself. – yoozer8 Oct 17 '11 at 21:31
Understood. You've been given the usual ways (boot from a 3rd party OS, or pull the drive and hook it up to another computer), time to go give them a try. If you can't (no disk boot, no other computer to attach it to) then you may be out of luck. The advantage to taking it to someone is that they have all the know-how and tools to get it done. If you want to do it yourself, then bust out the screwdriver and start hacking. ;) – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Oct 17 '11 at 21:35
up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are two main methods:

  1. Pull the drive out and install in another location (USB enclosure, etc).
  2. boot your system using a Live CD, e.g. Knoppix.

If you want to go the pull drive route this is a very good adapter - I use one at my bench at work.

If you want to go the Live CD / USB route I generally prefer Knoppix for my usage. Another good alternative (if you are using Windows 7) is the installation disk for Windows. There is a repair mode available which can be used to copy files to another drive.

If you are unavailable with WIndows DVD or Lice CD or afraid of using Repair CMD you can follow the "Launch Start Up repair trick" where you can copy files to USB / external HDD as well.

Steps: 1) Get "launch start up repair by force shutdown 3 or 4 times" 2) Select start up repair then after some time you will get restore option cancel it. 3) After a couple of minitues of advance repait you will get a pop-up "Send the information" or "dont send". 4) Dont close it check the details below you will find a .txt link click it. 5) Go to file->open then start copying the files Thats it..

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My preferred method is the former. – Shinrai Oct 17 '11 at 21:13

How about just booting with a Windows DVD itself, and copying files that way? (No need to install!)

You can just run the command prompt, open Notepad, and use the File->Open dialog to copy/paste files anywhere. :) If you want to copy an external, just have your external plugged in before booting, and it should appear there as well.

Oh, and if you don't have a Windows Vista or Windows 7 DVD: just download the Windows 7 Enterprise trial and burn it.

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The last few times I've tried that, it failed to boot from the disc as well. – yoozer8 Oct 17 '11 at 21:22
@Jim: Oh dang, what was the error? – Mehrdad Oct 17 '11 at 22:14

Make a live USB drive of Puppy Linux Slacko (115 MB). It will boot even if your screen is not working and your harddisks are corrupt or missing, and requires only 30 MB of RAM. Just boot from the USB drive and that's it - it'll install in 30 seconds and you can access your internal HDDs.

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Boot up from a USB flash drive, then try and access the internal HDD. Another thing you could do is take out the internal and use a USB SATA Adapter with it on a different machine.

As a last resort trying freezing it; it has worked for me several times.

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Freezing works great if the drive itself is having mechanical failures, but you need to make sure you know what you're doing and how. – Shinrai Oct 17 '11 at 21:14
@Shinrai Freezing it? Really? Why? What does that fix? Curious :O – BloodPhilia Oct 17 '11 at 21:14
@Mehrdad - no joke. it has seriously worked for me; i was able to boot a HDD that I thought for certain was dead. It's still running to this day ( +2 years later, i'm too afraid to turn it off ) – CORE Oct 17 '11 at 21:19
@CORE - "Remove swiftly" is a big one. Also "Make sure it's moisture proofed". Also "Don't try to boot from it!" and "You probably only get one shot at this so make it count!" Your drive that's still running is the exception - I've never seen a drive that this worked on live through the day. – Shinrai Oct 17 '11 at 21:47
@Shinrai ➞ I definitely agree with your suggestions; (side note: freezing has worked 3x, the HDD i mentioned earlier is the only one that still works - heh, with that one the entire MacBook Pro was frozen for about 48 hours; it saved me a few steps). – CORE Oct 17 '11 at 22:22

I recommend downloading Parted Magic (A live cd for data recovery). It is very handy and the download is small. Just burn to a cd and boot from it.

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