Your computer suddenly died and it is full of important files; what do you do now? How can you retrieve your files? Here’s the scenario: You press the power button to turn your laptop computer on and discover it is dead, nothing is coming up on the screen, not even the brand’s logo. You look at your computer’s lights and none seem to change color or flicker; your laptop computer is officially dead. Don’t panic, you are actually in better situation than most; your data is most likely intact; you just have to get your files out. As you’ll soon discover, getting your files out is easier than it looks.
How to Tell if Your Computer is Dead and Not The Hard Drive Itself?
For those who are not familiar with a computer’s booting process, the computer goes through a series of tests before it starts loading whatever is on the hard drive. If one of the its components is bad, the computer can freeze right away after pushing the power button. It is sometimes impossible to determine which component is bad and sometimes even a bad hard drive can freeze a computer right from the start without giving any error messages, however, if this happens, you will end-up having to open computer anyways since this is the only way you can assess the true condition of the hard drive.
You are a candidate for this procedure if:
1) Your computer won’t turn on at all
2) If your computer turns on but you do not see absolutely anything on the screen.
3) If your computer turns on but stops booting before the it (the BIOS) finishes doing all initial tests.
4) If your computer turns on but the operating system freezes before it finishes booting (in this particular case you can also use a LiveCD to retrieve your files without having to remove the hard drive).
If your situation does not apply yo any of these categories, read my article on how to retrieve data from a broken hard drive.
1) Phillips Screw Driver
2) IDE / SATA to USB connector cable (This last item is fairly inexpensive since you can find it for $20 in any local computer store)
The procedure is very simple. Basically what you need to do is to take the hard drive out of the computer, and use an IDE/SATA to USB cable, or an external enclosure. I prefer the cable since you do not have to install the hard drive in the enclosure, you just plug it in by the back of the hard drive and you are done.
Once inside the drive look for your documents. If the hard drive has Windows installed, then your documents should be under “\Documents and setting\profile name” for Windows XP. For Windows 7 and Vista they should be under “\Users\profile name“. If you are having trouble finding them, specially with Windows 7 and Vista, there is a program you can use which is free and will do a better job. Once you find your files, transfer them from your hard drive to your computer using copy and paste and you are done!
A Word of Caution: Handle the hard drive with care!, hard drives are very delicate. Try not to touch the circuit board underneath the hard drive, since if you are charged with static electricity you can zap it and destroy its electronic components. You need to “ground” yourself before touching any components. A good way to do this is by wearing a grounding wristband or by having the computer turned off but with the power cord plugged in, this way you can ground yourself by touching the exposed metal of the case before touching the hard drive.
Removing the Hard Drive on a Desktop Computer
Removing a hard drive from a desktop computer is very simple. Just open the the case, disconnect the data and power cables, unscrew it and pull it out, they are usually located some where in front of the computer and are hold in place by two or four screws, newer computer don’t have any screws and instead they have plastic contraptions that you need to slide in order to remove the hard drive, they are usually green colored. If you encounter one of these, don’t get frustrated if you can’t figure out how to slide the hard drive out, just pause and take a look at it, sometimes it has arrows or instructions somewhere inside the case indicating what to do.
Removing the Hard Drive on a Laptop Computer
Removing a drive from a laptop computer could be a little more involved or even easier than in a desktop computer, depending on the laptop. Flip the laptop and look for a mark on the plastic that looks like a barrel; that is the universal sign for hard drive. It indicates the hard drive is located right underneath. Remove the plastic cover and take the hard drive out. It it worth mentioning that not all hard drives are removed the same way, some have to be pulled by the side.
Once plastic cover is off, carefully remove the hard drive, the drive in the picture below has a black plastic puller which is used to slide the hard drive to one side and then up. However, as I previously mentioned the procedure to remove yours might be different.
Once the hard drive is out, plug the hard drive to the computer using the IDE/SATA to USB connector cable and boot to Windows (or your favorite operating system). If the hard drive is in good condition it should appear as a new drive, just like when you insert a USB stick.
Once you have access to your drive, retrieve your files using “copy” and “paste” and transfer them to your host computer.
Retrieving files a dead computer can be a very simple and trivial procedure, provided that the hard drive is in good condition. Just remember that hard drives are delicate and they should be handled with care.