{ 10 Intelligent Comments }

3 Ways To Save Your Files When Windows Won’t Load

Backup Files When Windows Won't LoadIn recent weeks and months here on Proposed Solution there’s been a lot of emphasis on Windows boot problems (NTLDR is missing, Invalid Boot.ini, etc) and online backup including the release of the new ebook.

That give’s me a good opportunity to merge the two subjects and talk about how you can get at your files in the event that your Windows computer simply won’t boot.

Some of the subjects have already been dealt with in more detail and I’ve linked to those articles within the text below where relevant.

I’m going to assume your Windows PC is un-bootable right now and that you simply must get your files off the hard disk before you hit the ‘wipe clean and restore’ button.

3 Ways To Save Your Files When Windows Won’t Load

The following 3 techniques are ways I have used in the past to get files copied off my PC when things went belly up with Windows.  I’d love to hear your experiences too of ways you’ve managed to save files when Windows refused to boot.

1.  Connect The Hard Disk To Another Computer

Here’s something I’ve had to do many times in the past when I can’t access my files anymore.  It’s safe and the file transfer is super quick.

Assuming the hard disk isn’t encrypted (which it probably isn’t if you’re a home user) then you should be able to open up the case of your computer, take out your hard disk and insert into  either a free bay on another computer or into an external hard disk enclosure.

Enclosures are usually fairly cheap.  Just make sure you get the correct size for your hard disk.  A 2.5″ enclosure is for a laptop hard disk and a 3.5″ is for a PC hard disk.  You can get them here.

2.  Linux Live CD/USB Thumb Drive + External Storage

This is perhaps a newer method of accessing a Windows PC when it’s bust!

You don’t need to know anything much really about Linux for this.  The vendors make it so simple to create your CD and boot into a Live Linux session that just about anyone can do it.

A Live Linux CD is basically a CD, DVD or USB thumb drive that contains the entire Linux operating system.

It’s possible to boot from this CD/DVD/USB drive and run Linux without installing or changing your Windows hard disk, which is what makes it such an attractive way of retrieving your files.

Here’s the steps:

  1. Download Ubuntu by clicking here and clicking the big orange Start Download button.
  2. Create either a bootable CD/DVD or bootable USB thumb drive from the Ubuntu ISO file.
    You can see steps how to do this in some of my previous articles: Create Bootable Disc from ISO Image or Create Bootable USB Thumbdrive From ISO Image
  3. Insert either CD/DVD/USB that you created in the last step and boot up your Windows PC ensuring that you boot from the CD/DVD/USB.
  4. When you get to the Ubuntu Welcome Screen make sure you choose TRY UBUNTU or TRY UBUNTU WITHOUT INSTALLING.  (If you choose the optiion to Install Ubuntu you risk deleting your Windows hard disk in the process!)
  5. When you’ve gone through the Ubuntu boot process, you will land at the Ubuntu Linux desktop!
  6. Now connect an external hard disk or a USB thumb drive and copy your files from your Windows hard disk.  You’ll find it located in the Places menu.

3.  Install A Second Hard Disk

Perhaps this method would suit your needs if you don’t mind buying a new internal hard disk (they’re quite cheap) and maybe you need the extra space anyway!

Depending on your setup this will either be tricky or fairly simple.

If you have the new SATA style of connectors inside your PC then you can just install a new hard disk, configure your BIOS to ensure you have the correct boot order and then boot your PC from your Windows CD/DVD and install Windows on the new hard disk.  Once installed you will be able to boot into the new Windows install and access your old files stored on the old hard disk through Windows Explorer.

If you happen to have the older IDE style connectors on your hard disk then you will have a little more trouble installing the drive.  The trick is to make sure the jumper connectors on the hard disks and any CD/DVD drives are correct.

Typically you’ll have two IDE controllers (connectors) on the the main system board and each of these can have two devices connected.

One device must be nominated as Master and the other as Slave and this is achieved through the jumpers on the hard disk and CD/DVD drives.

The ideal configuration in my opinion is to have two hard disks on one controller, the main hard disk with your active version of Windows on it as master and a second hard disk with you older files as slave.


Wow, 10 Comments! We've got a conversation going now. Join the discussion below!

  1. Zahra says:

    I tried following the steps for method 2. Linux Live CD/USB Thumb Drive + External Storage.

    I got through step 5. My computer is running Ubuntu, but I can’t access my old Windows 7 files. I see “134 MB Filesystem” in the Places sidebar, and I’m assuming that’s where my Windows files are hiding. When I click on it nothing happens.

    Do you have any suggestions on how I can access my files?

    1. Rosco says:

      Hi Zahra,

      It’s possible that you need to mount the partition.

      See this page on Ubuntu’s website and locate the section on the page titled: Mount/Unmount Windows Partitions


      Let me know how you get on.


  2. Zahra says:

    I’m running Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition from the USB drive. The netbook was previously running on Windows 7 Starter. I noticed the directions were for Ubuntu version 6.06. Are they still valid for my case?

    1. Rosco says:

      Hi Zahra,
      Yes, Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition should also allow you to access your files.

      As I mentioned before, you will probably have to try to mount the Windows partition.

      Please try the directions and let me know how you get on so that I can update the solution for everyone’s benefit.



  3. Zahra says:

    Hi Rosco,

    I left my netbook alone for a few days. (I was studying for a couple of exams, and I didn’t have time to sit and troubleshoot with the netbook.)

    I finally did get back to it, and when I tried to follow the instructions, nothing happened. I was able to create a directory, but I was not able to load any files into it.

    So, I had the netbook run Windows Startup Repair overnight. That seemed to work, because in the morning I was able to turn on my netbook without any error messages.

    I’m sorry that my case can’t be more help to others with this problem.

  4. racso says:

    mmmm….hey Srs,,here ara 3 way to do it , that acces at files when windows dont boot….the 3 ways is working i tested,,,and let me told you surprised for me “IS WORKING” obviusly the

    First option.-requires (somo level of open screwdrive) open your laptop quit hd and put it on in another case and connect in another computer laptop with any OS and you can watch your external HD and at least your files….

    the second .- requires download a open source ISO into a CD or DVD depend wht you decide, insert into media , turn on pc/laptop and wait boot since CD/DVD (obviosly the pc/laptop must to be configured to boot since this media before reach at hd (when we supouse our OS doesnt boot ) and the rest you know open your hd search your files and voila … copy to another media usb or partition into the same CD (note not is possible wear where te OS damage is used at least this are resized)

    third.- (need to much ) buy a new hard disk same to you , open laptop quit the old/damage OS, insert the new , get another case , or if you use a desktop pc insert the old damge into another bay7cable…..whit the new one inside you must to install a new OS , obvusly you must to

    1. Mehmet says:

      That’s really sherdw! Good to see the logic set out so well.

      1. RACSO says:

        sherdw ????

        whats mean….
        could you explain me that Word ?

  5. racso says:

    have a cd or dvd with the same OS your have (im refer for cuestion to lecenses) ,then drivers. and blablablaaa you know 2 or 3 resets,,and when the pc boot in your new user creat it you insert your usb hd case(or goes to your hd letter) and read your intersting files….and then copy to another media CD DVD USB or abother partition into same or diff HD

    PD ensure to have your licences COa stick and all needit to reinstall in the same HD after you backup your files…

    ……..is working that you decide……..oegomez2 hotmail com …

  6. Emilie says:

    WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for business

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