How to Recover Your Data from a Computer which Won’t Start

If your computer refuses to boot, it could be due to a number of reasons. Perhaps there is a severe problem with Windows, or worse, your hardware is damaged. While having to replace your computer or send it in for repair is troublesome enough, people often have the fear that they will lose everything stored on the computer as well. Fortunately, all of the data on your computer is stored on a single component called the hard drive, and unless the hard drive itself is severely damaged, you should be able to recover your files from it yourself without having to rely on a professional data recovery service to do it for you. The following will guide you through the process of getting your data safely off the disk and onto another computer or storage device.

Booting from the Windows Installation Disk

The most common reasons for a computer refusing to boot up are software-related. Whether it was a driver installation, changing an important system setting or Windows update which went wrong, your computer may not start up as a result. Alternatively, the hard disk itself may be failing. However, if the rest of the computer’s hardware is intact, you should be able to start it up from a bootable disk. Using your Windows installation disk provides you with a self-contained boot environment which does not rely on the hard disk itself. At the same time, it should allow you to access the data on the disk.

Booting up from your Windows installation disk also allows you to access various system recovery options as well as regain access to the data on your hard disk. To boot from the installation disk, you may need to reconfigure the boot device priority in your computer’s BIOS setup utility. Every system BIOS is different, so you will need to refer to your computer or motherboard’s documentation for more information.

Once you have started your computer from the installation CD, you will be able to access the command prompt. This allows you to carry out basic tasks, such as file copying and moving operations. If you are using a Windows 8 installation DVD, you can find the Command Prompt by navigating to Troubleshoot > Advance Options > Command Prompt. If your files are still intact, you should be able to browse through them by typing “C:” and pressing Enter. Navigate through the folders by typing “cd” followed by a space and the folder name. To see a list of available commands in the Command Prompt, type “help” without quotes.

Connect the Hard Drive to another Computer

If your computer won’t even turn on at all, or for any other reason the Windows installation disk won’t work, you will need to remove the hard drive from your computer and connect it to another. Even if you can use the Windows installation disk, this method is much easier, since it allows you to copy and move files around as normal.

To remove the hard drive from a desktop computer, ensure that the power supply is disconnected before beginning. Remove the case cover and locate the hard drive. In most desktops, this will be installed in the front of the computer beneath the DVD drive. It will be connected to your computer’s mainboard and to the power supply. Remove these cables and remove the four screws holding the disk in place.

Simply plug the hard disk into another computer, or if you do not have another desktop computer available, you can try using a USB adaptor to connect the hard disk externally to any laptop and tablet computers with standard USB ports.

If you are trying to remove the hard disk from a laptop computer, the process can be a little more complicated. Some laptop manufacturers deliberately make it difficult for users to service or upgrade their systems, and attempting to do so may void your warranty. However, removing the hard disk from most laptops is usually a matter of locating the drive bay on the bottom of the computer. It will usually be covered by a single rectangular panel held in place by one or more screws. With this removed, you should be able to simply slide the hard disk out of the bay. Just ensure that the laptop is powered down and disconnected from the power supply before doing this.

Although laptop hard drives are of a different size to those found in desktop computers, all modern hard drives still use the same connectors. Because of this, you should be able to connect your laptop hard drive to your desktop computer, provided that you have a spare SATA and power cable handy.

With the hard disk installed in another computer, you should be able to access it from File Explorer and copy its contents safely over to the functioning computer.