The hard drive has the shortest life expectancy of all components, but when it inevitably fails it's always when you least expect it.
It's an inevitability, and it always happens when you're least prepared - the hard drive crash. Sure, you might notice it's taking a bit longer to boot, or there's an occasional click that just doesn't sound right, but it's still a surprise the day your computer fails to boot.
How do you get your data off that hard drive once it's no longer able to boot? Is it still possible? This depends on what exactly went wrong with your drive. It is safe to assume, however, that will the proper method, you will be able to retrieve at least part of your lost data.
Below are five different methods for getting documents, pictures, and other important files off a crashed hard drive.
1. Use an External Case
This method is the most simple available, and for many people it is also the solution they need. Simply purchase an external hard drive case that allows you to plug your hard drive into a computer with a standard USB cable. Remove the crashed hard drive from your computer and carefully insert it into the external case (make sure you ground yourself before touching it), then plug it into a different system and try to open the drive. There's a good chance you'll be able to navigate into your documents and other folders and copy them onto a different hard drive.
2. Use a LiveCD
Don't have access to a second computer for doing as you please? This method will be ideal, then. You'll need to get temporary access to a computer with Internet and a DVD burner. Download a Linux LiveCD - Damn Small Linux is the smallest, but also has issues mounting hard drives. The most simple for an average computer user would be Puppy Linux. It has a larger file size, but should recognize your drive.
Burn the Live CD ISO to a CD and insert it into your computer (the one with the crashed hard drive). Restart the computer and when it the computer logo appears, press F2 (or whatever key for your system) to enter BIOS. Change the boot sequence to CD first, Save and then Exit.
The Live CD will start, simply follow the directions on the screen--don't worry, nothing is being done to your hard drive. The OS will start, and you should see your hard drive mounted on the desktop--something like "60GB", etc. Plug in a second drive and copy and paste the folders over.
3. Data Recovery Software
Do the above solutions have your head spinning? If you want something a little less complicated, you may want to give recovery software a go. There are a number of different free recovery tools available, and you may be one of the lucky users who have success with the programs.
There are a large number of programs available, but the quality of each varies. A good place to start would be Data Disc Recovery--it's free, easy to use, and works on crashed drives (it can also retrieve deleted files and others). If one doesn't work, try a different one.
4. Freeze It
This method surprises many, but it actually does work (depending on what happened to the drive). The idea is that freezing it will constrict loose parts long enough for the drive to work properly. Make sure you have a computer ready to plug the drive into and an external case. Place the hard drive into a baggy, seal it tightly, and put it in the freezer overnight. The next day, remove it from the baggy and put it in the external drive case. Transfer the data from the drive before it warms too much and crashes again.
5. Get a Pro
If all else fails, you either have to accept that the data is gone or, if the data is really important, take the hard drive to a professional. It will be expensive, but there's a good chance a pro will be able to retrieve some of the data for you.
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