In 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:
- Download Ubuntu by clicking here and clicking the big orange Start Download button.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!)
- When you’ve gone through the Ubuntu boot process, you will land at the Ubuntu Linux desktop!
- 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.