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So I have a broken computer. The computer has 2 partitions. One was for the operation system (Windows XP) and the other is for files. One is completely screwed and the other seems to work okay.

I desperately need the files on the 2nd Partition. There is no way to boot into Windows XP, as it is completely broken. A reformatting+new install of the partition does not work either.

So how do I access a computers harddrive that has no OS?

Will an ubuntu live-cd have access to partition nr. 2?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

If it's an NTFS partition with NT security applied you need to have another Windows machine with an Administrator account and claim ownership of the directories to browse them.

If it's FAT32 or NTFS without security settings on the folders you want to restore, you should be able to browse them from any Linux distro (with NTFS support) as well.

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Does the Ubuntu live-cd have NTFS support? – CasperT Nov 19 '09 at 13:50
yes, Ubuntu comes with ntfs-3g. – John T Nov 19 '09 at 13:54
Thanks. I do not think the partition has any security applied. Now I just need to download and burn a live-cd. – CasperT Nov 19 '09 at 13:57

Yes, you can use a LiveCD to access the partitions (assuming the drive isn't dead), but if you formatted the partition like you say you did there is little chance you'll be able to recover the files with ease.

If it was a quick format, you still have a chance. If it was a full format, not really.

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Oh Sorry. I meant that I had formatted partition 1. I never have touched partition 2 – CasperT Nov 19 '09 at 13:51
then you should be able to mount it and browse the files no problem – John T Nov 19 '09 at 13:54

First thing first: BACKUP your data to separate, independent, hard disk.

As stated above, using a Live CD distribution of Linux is perhaps the best way to salvage your data. I did this in the past to rescue data for my Brother-in-law, using Knoppix, back then. But Ubuntu can also do the job. The key thing here is to first understand the disks that you currently have in your computer, and their partition.

Firs thing to do is to boot form a live CD distro, and look at what is currently mounted. Under Ubuntu, the other internal hard disks partition may not be automounted, but will remain available, being mounted after confirmation.

Then, and only then, plug in an external, portable hard disk that you would have first prepared using another computer/laptop. Although Linux can now handle NTFS partitions, I would recommend to use FAT32 ones for now. I also found that FAT32 partitions made by Ubuntu may be unreadable by Windows itself, so be careful on how you make this.

Under Linux, partitions are seen as names such as /dev/sdb1, for example. Ant they are mounted to sub-directories from the main one, not drive letters.

If you are not familiar with Linux, try to find someone who is, in your area. Better safe than sorry, even if you have to pay few bucks.

THEN, re-install your Windows on your first partition. again, be sure you select the right partition when re-installing it. It is recommended to manually specify the partition. The automatic way could re-allocate the entire hard disk and destroy all partitions.

Once your base Windows is re-installed, check that you can access the secondary partition, which should come up as drive D:, usually. Then, re-install the other software, drivers, etc.....

IF anything goes wrong, you have your backup on the external disk.

NOW, the secondary disk may be fragmented, and re-formatting and restoring the data will give you back a speedy hard disk which can improve your performance, but this is a bonus, not needed to get back in business. Most of the defragmenting software out there will only do a partial job.


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One additional option: forget the Linux live CD. Migrate the drive with the data on it to the working computer, at least temporarily, to get the data backed up.

Take the broken computer apart and remove the non-booting hard drive. Shut down the working computer and open the case, connect the broken computer's drive to the motherboard. Boot the working computer, backup the data to the working computer's drive. Verify the backup.

Finally, shut down the working computer, disconnect the broken computer's drive, replace it in the broken computer, sew both computers up (close the cases).

Now you've got the important data backed up on the working computer and can access it whenever necessary, and you can concentrate on reinstalling the OS on the broken computer (or whatever other steps are necessary to get it back to a working state).

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Both computers are laptops :) – CasperT Nov 20 '09 at 11:23
well, that just makes it a little harder.. you'd need a screwdriver, a service manual, and maybe a USB-to-SATA/IDE adapter (and forget cracking the working computer). – quack quixote Nov 20 '09 at 13:17

First, you could simply mount the old disk in your new computer (assuming a desktop) as the second drive, and copy files over.

Second, I like use an IDE/SATA/PATA adapter like this to hook up the broken hard disk to a working computer. Then, just copy the data over.

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