I have a hard drive that is on its way out and won't boot to Windows 7. The Windows partition takes up the whole disk. I thought I would try to recover some recent files that hadn't been backed up.

Assuming the files are recoverable, how can I explore the drive that has the corrupt sector and transfer files to a USB hard drive?

If it helps, the laptop is able to see the USB drive when choosing a boot order.

Some searching lead me to WinPE 3.0, part of the Windows Automated Install Kit. Is that a method?

4 Answers 4


Corey, You have a few options here. The simplest way would probably be to boot from a Live Linux CD. You can get many from the LiveCD List. I recommend Ubuntu for new users. After you get loaded up go to Places and select (Disk Size)GB Media. If you can see files in there you should be able to copy them over, and if your lucky, they will be good.

Another solution is to get an external drive cradle and attach it to another computer and see if you can read the files.

If none of the above work there are disk recovery tools which can often pull files from RAW disks. @ me for more details.

And of no other recovery options work, you will need a professional to retrieve the data. This can be very expensive.

I can't overstate the need for good and up to date backups, it's the most important fix!

  • Thanks! Yes, I take frequent backups. That advice is key. I am only looking to recover my newest files, luckily.
    – Corey
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:29
  • Quick question: Does it matter which Ubuntu installation I choose? Should I get the 64-bit if my Windows 7 installation is 64-bit? Stupid question, I know, but I want to be sure.
    – Corey
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:38
  • @Corey Doesn't matter too much, I'd go with x86 though.
    – Jeff F.
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:39

The first order of business is to not recover files from the actual disk itself. If it's already showing broken sectors, things might get worse during the process of recovering the files. I would make an image out of the drive, which would be easiest to do if you've got a Linux Live CD laying around, as well as a USB hard drive at least the size of the laptop harddrive. If you're comfortable with Unix, you can quite easily an image of the laptop drive to the USB drive, using the 'dd'-tool.

Information on how to do that is available here: https://serverfault.com/questions/4906/using-dd-for-disk-cloning

You can then try to recover your files from that image. Some information on how to do that: https://serverfault.com/questions/191597/ntfs-hard-disk-repair-utility-in-linux

My experience in doing this with NTFS is somewhat limited, but this will hopefully start you off at least.

  • This is great additional advice for anyone else with my problem. These files aren't important enough to go through the hassle, as I've taken frequent backups, but thank you for the information.
    – Corey
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:30

If you plug the dying drive in as a secondary can you browse the folders? If so just pull them off that way, otherwise try running checkdsk or right click the drive go to tools and open error checking. That may be able to repair it to the point that you can recover your files. Also how do you know that there are bad sectors and its not just failing mechanically? You should run checkdsk or error checking either way just so you know whats up with it.


It might be A method, but I prefer using dd, ddrescue, or something else of that ilk. Then you can import into sleuthkit or mount to recover what you need. I have also had some success with norton ghost, acronis, and paragon skipping bad sectors. Easier to use the latter toolsets and restore the partition to a new drive and go about repairing/repair installing windows or browsing it as a secondary drive as noted in the other answers.

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