Any way to get files off a computer that will not start up?
February 26, 2005 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to access files on a hard drive from another computer?

Husband's computer has taken a huge dump, and he cannot start up in anything-- safe mode, with the startup disk, etc. He has decided that he has to reformat. The problem is there are a few files he had not had a chance to back up yet, as the dumpage was immediate and quite sudden. The files are Works files, bitmaps, (he is a teacher and some of these are diagrams, etc.) a few MP3's, and so on. Is there any way possible to get them off the computer and onto mine, say?

We are not particularly tech-y, so I looked where I could on the vastness of the Internet, and understood very little. I beseech the gentle computer-wise among you to help explain as if you were speaking to a 5 year old.
posted by oflinkey to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is a way, but unless you feel comfortable taking both computers apart to move the hard drive from his to yours, I wouldn't recommend it. Any decent computer shop should be able to recover his data for for a fee, however. If the drive itself is still readable they should be able to pull the data off of it and put it on CD. You could have a look at the illustrated guide to decide if you want to try it, however.

Another way you may want to look at is this. It should allow you to create a Windows install that boots off of a CD and lets you read his data and move it over a network. I haven't tried it, however. If you don't have your Windows CD and a CD burner, then that method is not for you.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2005

A very simple solution would be to get a USB hard drive enclosure, open the dead PC, take out the hard drive (four screws, two cables), plug it into the enclosure, and plug the enclosure into a living PC. From there it's copy and paste.
posted by airguitar at 1:49 PM on February 26, 2005

Moving the hard drive into another computer is not at all rough, and will work fine as long as the hard drive is still functional. If you can work a screwdriver, you can do it.

That guide linked by Dipsomaniac looks fine, with some additional considerations and tips:

-Look in your computer's BIOS for the configuration of your current drives. (Assuming both your computers use IDE, which is extremely likely unless they are pretty new.) Probably you'll have a hard drive and a CD-ROM set up as Primary and Secondary Master, meaning you'll need to set the jumpers on your husband's drive to Slave. Theoretically you should put your husband's hard drive on the same controller as the CD-ROM for faster file transfer, but it's not really important.

-Leave the computer plugged in, but turn off the switch on the back - this way the case will still be grounded and you won't have a risk of static as long as you are touching it.

-You don't even have to bother screwing your husband's hard drive into your computer, as long as you place it somewhere where it won't fall down, which will save you minor effort and time.

-The red part of the IDE cable is toward the power socket (4 wires) on the hard drive. It should also be keyed but might not.

The USB hard drive enclosure is a waste of money unless you'll also use it for something else.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:53 PM on February 26, 2005

Best answer: Personally, I prefer soft(ware) to hard solutions-- I would get a bootable Linux CD. (What this means is you'll get a working user environment, similar to Windows, which loads off the CD, and will let you access the hard drive and transfer files.)

Knoppix is a great choice. It has automatic hardware detection, so in most cases you'll simply have to put the CD in and turn on the computer. The interface is entirely graphic and resembles windows closely. If you have a high-speed internet connection, it should autodetect that as well, and you'll be able to send off all the files via email or whatever.

The main page for Knoppix (which is free, by the way) is

You can either download it for free and burn it onto a CD or order one (around $5 US, basically to cover duplication costs.)

Check out the FAQ for more information.
posted by ori at 3:12 PM on February 26, 2005

+1 for the Knoppix way
posted by XiBe at 3:47 PM on February 26, 2005

Knoppix thirded here. This is what I've done in this situation.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:03 PM on February 26, 2005

Best answer: I'd also reccomend knoppix, but if knoppix cannot read the data from your hard drive, you can create a Windows Bootable CD Rom and try that. As with knoppix, this will allow you to create an operating system that boots from a cd rom. The difference is that the operating system which boots is windows, and *may* be more compatible.

From there you should be able to get access to the hard drive.
posted by seanyboy at 5:35 PM on February 26, 2005

Response by poster: We appreciate all of the answers- we are going to try the Knoppix/Windows Bootable Disk solutions first, and then move onto the screwdriver-weilding should that not pan out.
I thank you all, great l337 ones.
posted by oflinkey at 7:58 PM on February 26, 2005

If you're going to go the Knoppix route, try a USB thumb drive for backing up the data, provided you think they'll all fit on one.
posted by angry modem at 11:44 PM on February 26, 2005

Agreed on the USB key - Knoppix cannot write to NTFS drives. Well, its supposed to be able to with some black magic, but I've had zero luck with it. But it will easily recognize and write to a USB key cause they are FAT formatted.
You may find this more convenient than going the Windows Live CD route, because you kind of have to "roll your own" Windows CD's due to licensing restrictions, wherease Linux based Live CD's just work.
Me personally I have Knoppix and a copy of UBCD4Win that I rolled up and between them I can do just about anything to anyones machine, as long as the RAM works.
posted by 31d1 at 2:04 PM on March 4, 2005

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