How to Recover Crashed Hard Drive Data

It used to cost hundreds of dollars to recover crashed hard drive data, but there are some very simple and affordable options available to consumers these days. The two methods covered here will involve a hard drive enclosure (retails for $40 to $120) and new freeware program that's creating a lot of buzz, called Puppy Linux.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Hard drive enclosure
  • Screwdriver
  • A second computer (one that still works)
  • Puppy Linux installed to a CD
  • USB flash drive or external hard drive

Step 1: Remove Hard Drive from Crashed PC

Remove the side panel from the "dead" computer after disconnecting it from the power source. Lay the tower on its side and locate the hard drive. Pull the connections loose from the hard drive and then unscrew it using the screwdriver. Remove the hard drive from the tower.

Step 2: Install Hard Drive into Enclosure

Unscrew the faceplate from the drive enclosure. Place the hard drive in the enclosure and connect any necessary cables. Screw the faceplate back onto the enclosure. Plug the USB connection on the enclosure into a second computer, and connect the enclosure to a power source. Turn on the enclosure and boot up the working PC. When you turn the enclosure on, you should hear the "dead" hard drive suddenly come to life.

Step 3: Access the Crashed Hard Drive

Click on My Computer if you're running Windows. This will pull up a list of available drives. Locate the USB connected enclosure and double click the icon. This will open all of the files on the formerly deceased hard drive. You can now transfer your data from this drive to the second computer. Note that this will work for data files such as pictures, MP3 songs, Word documents and others, but installed software programs from this drive will not work on the second computer.

This method will also work for a crashed laptop hard drive. Make sure you purchase an enclosure for a laptop hard drive, and the steps are basically the same to recover your data. The next method will involve recovering your data with Puppy Linux.

Step 1: Turn on Crashed PC

If the computer will turn on but won't boot up, Puppy Linux can save the day. Download Puppy Linux (it's about 100 MB) to a working computer and burn the ISO image to a blank CD. Turn on the crashed computer and start tapping the DEL key. Search for an option that says "Boot from CD." Tap the arrow keys to select this option, and press Enter. Insert the disk with Puppy Linux installed on it. This will boot your PC using the Puppy Linux operating system.

Step 2: Configuring Puppy Linux

The first time you run Puppy Linux, you'll have to go through a number of configuration screens. Use the arrow keys to select language, keyboard type and other options. Once you go through this list, you'll be able to access all of the drives on the PC and recover the crashed hard drive data.

Step 3: Recover Crashed Hard Drive Files

Now that the computer is running on the Puppy Linux operating system, you can attach an external hard drive or a USB flash drive to it. Simply click and drag your data files to this drive, and you've recovered the crashed hard drive files.