How to Recover Data from a Hard Drive that Won't Boot

At some point or another, technology can and will fail us. Therefore we should regularly implement backup strategies to protect our data. We store a lot of important information on our computers and devices; documents, photos and videos. Windows includes a host of solutions to make backing up your information easy. Whether it’s Backup and Restore, System Imaging, File History, or OneDrive. But what should you do if your computer is not booting?

Recover Data Non-booting Hard Drive


If you can't get Windows to successfully boot you could try doing a custom install and salvage your data from Windows.old. But if you don't have a working optical drive or USB stick, you could put the hard disk in an external hard disk enclosure, connect it to a working computer and copy over your data.

Obtain an External Hard Disk Enclosure


This is the first thing you will need to have. They are cheap and you can use it with an existing hard disk as an external storage device. An enclosure is basically a housing that protects the drive and allows you to connect it to a USB, FireWire, or eSATA port. You can pick up an enclosure for between $20 to $50 on Amazon. They are available in 3.5-inch (standard desktop) or 2.5-inch (notebook) sizes. Make sure you pick the proper internal interface—IDE/ATA or SATA, based on the type of drive you are using.

Uninstall Non-booting Hard Drive


You will need to remove the hard disk from the system unit in order to install it in the external enclosure. The process will vary depending on the build, model and form factor. Consult the manufacturers documentation that came with your computer or check the manufacturers website. Some are easy and simply require pressing a latch mechanism to release the hard disk from its drive bay.

Other configurations might require removing a mounting mechanism, especially if it is a 2.5 inch drive. Be prepared to have essential tools such as a Torx 5 point screw driver and a flat head screw driver. If you plan on building your own computers or doing these type of repairs often get yourself a decent set of tools in a computer repair kit.

This particular configuration uses a 2.5 inch drive on a 3.5 inch mount. You will also notice the green latch mechanism for releasing the drive from its basy.

Install Hard Drive in External Enclosure


Installing in the enclosure should be easy. Depending on the enclosure you buy, you might need to make some manual adjustments. Some might require you to insert the drive and that’s it. In the following picture the external enclosure requires the SATA cables be connected to the drive manually. As you can see in the above picture, this external enclosure also supports PATA drives. Once you have installed the drive and ensured its connected securely, you can insert it into the protective casing.

Connect USB and Power Cables


The next step is to connect the drive to your computer, which is just like connecting a regular external hard drive. Once the drive is turned on, Windows will automatically detect the drive and install it. You’ll either be prompted to browse for it or you can access it from File Explorer.

Recovering the Data


Because the installation on the drive is still protecting the folders with your data, you’ll get an error message if you try open and browse the folder. Click Continue and (if necessary) enter your administrator password. [If you have difficulty with this step, this article may be helpful]

Now you can browse the User folder and proceed to copy over your data.

When you are sure you have recovered your data from the hard drive, you can format and repartition the drive if you wish. Remember to browse the common locations where data is stored such as your User folder C:\Users and C:\Users\Public. Also, if you have unstructured information such as Sticky Notes, you can find those in: C:\Users\YourAccountName\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Sticky Notes, copy the file StickyNotes.snt into its respective directory.

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