Rescuing data from a failed computer's hard drive

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Rescuing data from a failed computer's hard drive
Rescuing data from a failed computer's hard drive
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When a computer dies due to a software bug rather than a hardware problem, it will no longer be possible to open files, but they will still be intact on the hard drive. To recover data from a Windows, Mac or Linux notebook hard drive that has stopped working, follow one of the methods below.

Steps

Method 1 of 3: Turn your old hard drive into an external drive (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 1

Step 1. Buy a hard drive enclosure

This is an external system into which you can place a computer's hard drive to connect it to a USB port; What essentially happens is that the case turns your laptop's hard drive into an external hard drive. Every computer has a different hard drive model, so make sure you read the specifications of your deceased laptop carefully before purchasing. E.g. If your laptop has a 2.5 SATA drive, you'll need a 2.5 SATA USB enclosure.

  • Unless you have a SATA drive, you need to purchase an enclosure that is suitable for laptop drives; only SATA-ready enclosures can hold both desktop and laptop drives.
  • Note that housings are usually not readily available in major department stores and must usually be purchased online.
Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 2

Step 2. Borrow a working computer that is compatible with your old one

If you have Windows, use Windows again; if you have a Mac, use another Mac; etc. Make sure there is enough space on the computer for the files you want to recover from the broken laptop; you can also connect a second external hard drive to the working computer and use the computer only as a transfer system for the files.

A Linux computer will be able to read the files from your Windows computer (but not the other way around); but only if you are familiar with both systems it is better to use a Windows computer for recovering a Windows hard drive

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 3

Step 3. Mac users can insert a Windows hard drive into their computer and read (not write) its contents because they do not have a separate driver installed, such as NTFS-3G or Paragon NTFS

Be careful though, and use Disk Utility only while "mounting" the hard drive.

Any other action can cause Disk Utility to erase the contents of the hard drive.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 4

Step 4. Remove the hard drive from the broken laptop

Turn off the laptop, unplug the power cord and remove the battery. Turn the laptop over and you will see that you can unscrew different parts of the bottom and remove them separately. Look online at your laptop model to find out exactly where the hard drive is located, or just look for the most obvious candidate: While every laptop is different, the size of a hard drive on a laptop approximately equal in size and shape to that of a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Unscrew the hard drive cover and remove the hard drive. Some models come up, some slide to the side, etc.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 5

Step 5. Detach the connector plate from the drive enclosure and install it into the hard drive interface

Look for connector pins on one end of the drive to determine where to connect them.

If you have an IDE hard drive, you will see an adapter over the interface that you can detach. Simply pull this adapter off so that the drive can make a proper connection with the connector plate of the housing

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 6

Step 6. Mount the hard drive in the case

Screw it where necessary; read the manual of the housing for more information.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 7

Step 7. Connect the external hard drive to a computer with a USB cable

Make sure you have turned on the computer first. Once the drive is connected, an icon should appear on the desktop (Mac) or a notification should appear (Windows). The computer may automatically open the drive for you.

  • If Windows doesn't automatically notify you about the new external storage unit, just open it by going to My computer and find the new station.
  • If the hard drive is not recognized right away, try ejecting it and plugging it back in.
  • If the hard drive isn't readable, chances are it's the hard drive itself (and not your computer's software) that's wrong. If this is the case, you will have to seek the help of experts if you wish to proceed with the rescue of your data. Be warned that this can get very expensive.
Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 8

Step 8. Explore and rescue your old files

Move them to the working computer or to another external hard drive, using copy and paste or click and drag, etc. If there are many large files (such as music and movies), keep in mind that the transfer may take hours.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 9

Step 9. When you are done, close the hard drive window

The good news is that the broken computer is still physically intact and will likely work again when you reinstall the operating system.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 10

Step 10. Right click on the USB symbol and select Eject

You can now disconnect the old hard drive.

Method 2 of 3: Connecting your old hard drive to a desktop computer (Windows, Linux)

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 11

Step 1. Purchase an adapter kit for the laptop's hard drive

This allows you to connect the laptop's hard drive directly to a suitable desktop computer. The different computers have different hard drive models, so check the specifications of your broken laptop before making this purchase. For example, if your laptop has a 2.5 SATA drive, you will need a 2.5 SATA adapter.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 12

Step 2. Borrow a working computer that is compatible with your old one

If you had Windows, use Windows again; if you had a Mac, use another Mac; etc. Make sure there is enough space on the computer for the files you want to recover from the broken laptop; you can also connect a second external hard drive to the working computer and use the computer only as a transfer system for the files.

A Linux computer will be able to read the files from your Windows computer (but not the other way around); but only if you are familiar with both systems, it is better to use a Windows computer for recovering a Windows hard drive

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 13

Step 3. Remove the hard drive from the broken laptop

Turn off the laptop, unplug the power cord and remove the battery. Turn the laptop over and you will see that you can unscrew different parts of the bottom and remove them separately. Look online at your laptop model to find out exactly where the hard drive is located, or just look for the most obvious candidate: While every laptop is different, the size of a hard drive on a laptop approximately equal in size and shape to that of a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Unscrew the hard drive cover and remove the hard drive. Some models come up, some slide to the side, etc.

If you have an IDE hard drive, you will see an adapter over the interface that you can detach. Simply pull this adapter off, so that the interface will be accessible later

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 14

Step 4. Turn off the desktop computer, unplug the power cord and open the case

You are going to use the adapter kit to connect the old hard drive directly to the motherboard.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 15

Step 5. Connect the disk from the broken computer to the working computer using your disk adapter

How to do this exactly depends on your drive and adapter, so read the instructions that come with the kit.

If you have an IDE drive, configure it as a “slave” before connecting the drive to the IDE ribbon. This configuration should be listed on the hard drive itself, and involves sliding a plastic cover over a specific pin or number of pins (called “jumpers”) on the hard drive interface. By setting the drive as a slave, your laptop drive will not compete with the "master" hard drive of the desktop during boot

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 16

Step 6. Configure your desktop to recognize the new drive

Plug your desktop back into AC power, turn on the device, and enter the BIOS. Go to Standard CMOS Settings or IDE Config, where you will find four settings related to the master and slave settings. Change all fields to auto-detection.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 17

Step 7. Exit the BIOS and restart the computer

Your desktop should now detect the new hardware automatically.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 18

Step 8. Open the new hard drive

If you work with Windows, go to My computer and search for the new hard drive. Under Linux, the new hard drive will be in the folder the V to show up.

If the hard drive isn't readable, chances are it's the hard drive itself (and not your computer's software) that's wrong. If this is the case, you will have to seek the help of experts if you wish to proceed with the rescue of your data. Be warned that this can get very expensive

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 19

Step 9. Explore and rescue your old files

Move them to the working computer or to another external hard drive, using copy and paste or click and drag, etc. If there are many large files (such as music and movies), keep in mind that the transfer may take hours.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 20

Step 10. Turn off the desktop and unplug the power cord to remove the hard drive (if you want to)

Since the hard drive is physically fine, it will probably work fine again in the old laptop if you reinstall the operating system.

Method 3 of 3: Open your old files with another computer (Mac only)

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 21

Step 1. You will need a FireWire cable for this

You can buy such a cable anywhere for €5-€20, or borrow one from someone else.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 22

Step 2. Borrow a working Mac computer

Make sure the Mac has enough space for all the files you want to save from the broken laptop; optionally you can also connect an external hard drive to the Mac and use this machine as a transfer system for the files.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 23

Step 3. Connect the broken Mac to the working Mac using the FireWire cable

Make sure the working Mac is turned off when you do this.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 24

Step 4. Press T while booting the working Mac until the FireWire icon appears

This will boot the computer into “Target Mode,” meaning you can access the target computer's master drive through the running Mac, in addition to your own.

  • For OS X 10.4: Turn on your computer as usual, go to System Preferences > Boot Disk > Target mode. Then restart your computer so that it starts in Target Mode.
Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 25

Step 5. Locate the hard drive of the broken computer on your Mac's desktop

If the target drive does not appear on the desktop, then the damage to your old computer is likely hardware-related, which means that you need to get an expert to rescue your files. Be warned that this can get very expensive.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 26

Step 6. Explore and rescue your old files

Move them to the working Mac or to another external hard drive, using copy and paste or click and drag, etc. If there are many large files (like music and movies), keep in mind that the transfer can take hours.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 27

Step 7. When you are done, close the hard drive window

The good news is that the broken computer is still physically intact and will likely work again when you reinstall the operating system.

Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop Step 28

Step 8. Right click on target drive and select Eject

You can now disconnect the broken computer.

Tips

  • If you suspect that your old laptop is malfunctioning because of a virus, scan your old hard drive with antivirus software before moving files to a working computer.
  • If you decide not to put the laptop drive back in the old laptop, you can always use that drive as an external hard drive or a permanent slave drive for the desktop computer.

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