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Here is the current situation:

My cousin deleted Windows from his hard drive (yeah, don't ask...). His hard drive still has about 200 GB of files on it that he may want to recover before we format the hard drive and reinstall Windows 7 to it. Is there a way I can create a bootable CD from some utility that will allow me to access the files on the hard drive, and copy it to a flash drive? What's the best utility for that?

UPDATE:

In my case, all I had to do was reinstall Windows from the installation CD, and it actually moved all the old files to a directory called Windows.old. In other words, formatting the hard drive wasn't necessary to reinstall Windows 7. I realized this only after creating a Linux Live USB (I decided to go with Peppermint) and copying the files to an external hard drive (a process which was overly complicated and involved a painful process of trying to get all the drives to mount properly).

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Sorry, but I'm asking—it was just deletion, not formatting, right? –  bb010g Dec 16 '12 at 23:49
    
Yeah, the Windows OS was just deleted; the disk wasn't formatted. –  Intredasting Dec 17 '12 at 1:22
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Download UNetbootin, use it to download the latest version of Ubuntu and create a LiveUSB from it. Boot using that and copy the files to a USB drive.

Note: If you want to go with a smaller distro, get Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux instead.

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I considered that as an option, but is there anything more... lightweight? Something specifically dedicated to this sort of thing? –  Intredasting Dec 16 '12 at 23:50
    
See my edit above. DSL should be just around 50 MB or so. –  Karan Dec 16 '12 at 23:50
    
Does it have a graphical interface that makes it easy to transfer files? –  Intredasting Dec 16 '12 at 23:51
    
See the list of apps here. emelFM file manager screenshots here and here. Not much graphical pizazz, but I'd take even an interface like good ol' NC from DOS when it comes to getting the job done and just recovering my important files. –  Karan Dec 16 '12 at 23:55
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Also, Puppy is around 150 MB or so, has more (and better looking) apps, and you can use this handy tutorial as well: Recover files from Windows hard disk using Puppy Linux. –  Karan Dec 16 '12 at 23:58
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If you have another machine available simply pull the drive out and mount it in an external case of some kind to use from another machine.

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It needn't be an external case, most desktop machines have space for a second hard drive. And even if the machine doesn't have a spare slot, you can always leave the case open and sit the drive on the desk next to the computer for the short period necessary to retrieve the data. (The power cables are usually long enough to reach, although you might have to cut a cable tie first.) –  Harry Johnston Dec 17 '12 at 19:55
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I couldn't recommend Trinity Recovery Kit enough. It is essentially Karan's answer (LiveCD of a linux distro) but it is built for this purpose. It has a dead simple interface and within a minute or two you can mount his old HDD, expose it as a windows or NFS network share, and browse through the files at your leisure from another computer to find what needs to be copied. If you don't have another computer you can use the included file browser, midnight commander, to move the files to a USB or similar.

get it here -> http://trinityhome.org/

Some other stuff you probably won't use in this case but nevertheless makes it a very cool utility: You can image the whole disk, run antivirus software to make sure you aren't moving a problem to the new machine, recover your windows admin password (Assuming you don't delete windows first :p), it has data recovery tools (for when the data itself has been damaged) and can be loaded in a myriad of different ways (Broken optical drive? chuck it on a USB. USB carked it? Boot from TRK on another computer over the network) Anyway, I promise I'm not a salesman for this thing or anything, I just think it's awesome on account of it saving my job last week when an SSD fell over.

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