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How Do I Recover My Data from a Crashed Computer?

Question: My screen displays a blue screen error message and won’t allow Windows to start. How do I retrieve my files and save them before I reinstall Windows?

Reinstalling Windows is going to overwrite everything that’s already on that hard drive and you would lose it all. There are some alternatives.

Before I begin, I first have to wag my finger at you. Regular readers of Ask Leo! probably already know what I’m going to say.

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The importance of backing up

If you backed up regularly, this wouldn’t be an issue. In fact, if it’s your hard drive that has failed, all of your data may still be lost.

Nothing can help you handle a failure or other computer problem quite like a backup. A daily backup, a weekly or monthly backup could really save your bacon. So, I hope you implement a back-up system from here on out.

Now, there are a couple of different approaches to getting the data off of that hard drive.

Retrieving your data with Linux live disc

The traditional approach is to grab a copy of a Linux live CD or DVD (I typically point people at the Ubuntu or Mint distributions) and use those to copy your data, if it’s accessible.

All you really need to do is download an image (an ISO) for either of those operating systems, burn it to the appropriate media (CD or DVD), and then boot the machine that you’re having trouble with from that CD or DVD. That will actually fire up a fully functional version of Linux that you can then use to explore your hard drive and copy its contents off to USB drives or potentially even network drives, depending on how you’re set up.

External Backup DriveUsing backup software

On the other hand, my new approach is to actually use backup software – the very same backup software that I was just admonishing you for not using in the first place.

On another computer, make a recovery disc. Normally, you use a recovery disc to restore a backup image to a repaired or replaced computer. As it turns out, many of the recovery discs that come with backup software (like Macrium Reflect) actually allow you to back up the hard drive.

You’ll do what I just described with the Linux disc: download the software and create a CD or a DVD that contains the backup software. Boot your problematic machine from that recovery disc, and then run a backup. From there, you can backup your internal hard drive to an external drive.

By using image backup software, you get everything that’s on that hard drive. You don’t have to think about what you do or don’t need. You simply say, “Give me a full image of the C drive.” After you complete the backup and safely place it on that external hard drive, you can then rebuild the machine, reinstall Windows, or whatever. After doing that, reinstall or install the backup software. You can then extract the files that you need from the backup image that you took while the machine wasn’t functional.

In this case, you don’t have to guess what you do or don’t need to save; it’s all in the backup image.

And you’ll install backup software, which you need anyway. It’s a great time then to start configuring that software to do regular backups, so you don’t find yourself in this position again.

Do this

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12 comments on “How Do I Recover My Data from a Crashed Computer?”

  1. I’ve heard that Microsoft is putting pressure on manufacturers of Windows 8 computers to configure the BIOS in such a way as to prevent the use of non-approved boot CDs: another reason to avoid Windows 8, I guess.
    Sometimes it is possible to recover a non-booting operating system through accessing System Restore through either the system DVD (I have succeeded in this with Windows 7) or through Microsoft’s Emergency Recovery Disk for the system in question (this has worked for me with XP), apart from the less sophisticated boot repair options potentially available through the recovery console, command prompt, etc.

  2. And, of course, when you reload your backup software on a new PC you can open up your last backup as a disk image and copy your data from it. I also know that this option exists on some backup software recovery CDs so you don’t even have to reload the backup software first if you are in a hurry. So it doesn’t matter if your hard drive is dead and as long as the data you are after wasn’t created between your last backup and the PC failing.

  3. 1. Stop write anything to your harddrive,otherwise you will re-write the files and permanently loose your important data.
    2. Use some data recovery software like this one. My friends recommend it to me, it works pretty well. And then scan your hard drive with the program, set a destination folder (folder where recovered files will be saved) somewhere on your computer. When the scan was finished, it will return a file list, you can choose the files you want to recover.
    Hope this help!

  4. My hard drive has been crashed and I have lost my data. After reading your post it seems I can get back my lost data. Can your software save the recovered data in CD/DVD? I came to know about Remo recover tool which can save the recovered data in CD/DVD.

  5. Are you providing demo version of your utility for the user? My friend suggested me about tool named as Remo Recover, which provides demo version.

  6. When my computer crashed it had me back up my files to the DVD player. Now that I have re-installed the operating system it won’t recognize the DVD. Is there a way to get back all my backed up pictures and other media? It was stored as a UDF file and I can’t seem to get anything out of it. Is there a way to restore those files back onto the restored computer? By the way you need to mention that backups should not be in the same house. I had a lightning strike that blew out my surge protector and caused both my drives to fail. So my back up was gone as well and the only back up left was the one accessed from the blue screen of death.

  7. Please help my computer crashed everytime i try to restart it , recover it thru F12 key it goes to sign in, i sing in and it says memory failed code 2000-0123. I did a backup a month ago, i cant make this dell inspiration1545 come and stay back on to get anymore files off my computer .my child is very very ill all her medical info is on there!i need to access it! Please what do I do ?how can i get it off their, and how can i get whats on my backup dvd to go to another computer? Please! I need these files desparatly! Thanks

    • If you can’t boot your computer, it might be one of a few things that may be causing it.

      If the problem is due to corrupted files on the system drive, starting the computer with the rescue disk and running the restore utility from your backup program should fix it.

      In the case of a physically damaged hard drive, replacing the hard drive and restoring from the backup should get it up and running again.

      If it’s a a problem with your computer other than a failed hard drive, then you should be able to run the backup program on another computer and access your data files by mounting your backup as a virtual drive. Another option if the computer is damaged, but the disk is OK would be to take the disk drive out of the damaged computer and placing it in a USB housing and accessing it with another computer.

  8. Hello, a few days ago my desktop’s monitor crashed. I am by far computer savvy. Can you explain in layman’s words as to I can retrieve my data?

    Thank you,

    Shelly Leekins.

  9. The traditional approach is to grab a copy of a Linux live CD or DVD (I typically point people at the Ubuntu or Mint distributions) and use those to copy your data, if it’s accessible.
    All you really need to do is download an image (an ISO) for either of those operating systems, burn it to the appropriate media (CD or DVD), and then boot the machine that you’re having trouble with from that CD or DVD.

    *This is all well and good, but what is an “image (ISO). And where do i find a linux Live CD/DVD download. Neither Unbutu or Mint have any info regarding this situation on their site? Both offer various downloads of what i assume are operating systems, but which one do i need to just get into my crashed pc to get my files???


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