Hi, Leo. My very dear aunt passed away this summer and I’ve been asked by
her family to try and retrieve her photos and any other important docs off of
her computer. However, when I start it up, I get to the Windows start up screen
and the PC immediately reboots. It’s an older Compaq machine running Windows
2000 Pro. I tried to start it in safe mode and got the same result. Granted, I
plugged in all of my user interface tools: keyboard, mouse, etc., which had
never been on this machine before. Any suggestions as to what to do would be
greatly appreciated. I understand that there are several years worth of
grandchildren photos on this PC and we’d really like to retrieve them. I’m
thinking my only option might be to crack open the case and pull out the hard
drive and put it into a docking station, but I don’t have one and I hate to buy
one if there’s a way around that.
In this excerpt from
Answercast #59, I look at two simple ways to access old pictures from a
computer that won’t boot.
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Data from an old machine
Well, actually, in your situation, it’s unclear what you mean specifically
by “docking station,” but what I’m going to recommend sounds very similar to
If I were in your shoes, I would open the box, take out the hard drive, and
put it in external USB enclosure. They’re not that terribly expensive and
after you’re done (after you’ve gotten everything copied and appropriately
backed up), you’ve got a nice little external hard drive you can use for other
Point being here that obviously, your aunt hadn’t been backing up. If the
pictures are only on that hard drive, then they haven’t been getting backed
So the thing to do is like I said, put it in an external drive. Make a USB
drive out of it. Connect it up to another computer and immediately start
copying all those files off.
Then, immediately start backing up. Those sound like pretty important
pictures. The scenario you’ve descried is actually incredibly common – where
people have someone who has passed away or who have left a computer behind
that has a problem or a computer on which is the only copy of something
Most often, it is in fact photographs. That’s why I so frequently stress
the importance of backing up or making copies of things.
But a USB enclosure… it’s not going to be terribly expensive and it really
does sound like the quickest and most expeditious way to solve this
Boot from a Live CD
Now, if you really, really, really, really don’t want to do that, the other
approach that I would take would be to boot the machine from a Linux Live
Grabbing something like Ubuntu Linux (or any of the other Linux
distributions that supply what’s called a “Live CD”) will allow you to do two
- It will allow you to boot the machine from the CD. That means
that nothing on the hard disk is required. The boot process will happen
entirely from the CD; it will load an operating system from the CD.
- There you’ll be able to run Linux’s file manager, explore the
hard drive, and presumably be able to see and copy off those precious
You can install or insert a new external USB drive or some other device
(probably USB based) and then copy those pictures to that other device using
the Linux Live CD.
You’ll need that external drive, so it sounds like you’re gonna end up with
something like that anyway unless you’re willing to go through a lot of
copies with a flash drive that you already have.
But that’s the other approach. Basically, it’s to boot from something else
that allows you access to the hard drive, at which point you can copy
Next from Answercast #59 – Why is all my email
downloading again after reinstalling Outlook?