How Can You Recover Data from a PC That Won't Boot?

“Help! I’ve lost a week’s work! My boss is going to fire me.”

That is often the reaction of folks who turn on their computers only to find themselves facing the blue screen of death on their desktop.

Now for those of you who are certified geeks and have repaired, fixed, or upgraded a variety of machines, recovering from a system failure may seem like a minor problem. But remember that the vast majority of users only know how to use the programs installed on their computers. That means that these users don’t have a clue of where to go when their systems won’t start and may freak out when asked if they wish to boot into normal or safe mode.

So when I received an email from an associate stating that their Windows 7 system was DOA with only a BSOD (blue screen of death) no matter how they tried to boot it, I thought the fix should be simple. Due to previous experience in dealing with problems such as this, I was aware that, barring some type of major hardware failure (e.g., a failed hard disk), the problem could be repaired via any number of easily applied fixes. I am also aware that there are a multitude of opinions on what to do first, so know that what I am about to share with you is not carved in gold and there are other options one can try.

Your Primary Goal Should Be to Recover Your Data

If you have the luxury of having a spare computer available take the hard disk from that system and place it into the non-functioning system. By using your known good hard disk to boot the non-functioning computer, you can then access the drive from the non-booting system to recover your files. We must also recognize that what you and what someone else considers ‘important files’ may not be the same. For example, I recall one incident where a client insisted that I attempt to recover their irreplaceable email addresses only to later discover that their address book contained only 12 names.

If you don’t have another computer laying around, another option is to use a boot CD, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘live CD’. Some of the boot CD options you can try are:

All of the above software programs can help you retrieve your files and data from a non-booting system and are available, for free, from their respective authors.

(I know that, right about here, someone who is reading this is thinking to themselves, “why didn’t this person have a backup?” I must say I agree, but it is an unfortunate part of computing life that some folks don’t back up until after their stuff is lost.)

I Retrieved My Files and Data. Now What?

Okay, so now you have found your data. What now? Now it is time to pull out your Windows installation DVD and place it in your DVD drive. The DVD will list several of the tools available for you to use. The screen shot below shows the options that are available for you:

How Can You Recover Data from a PC That Won't Boot?

  • Startup Repair is included to fix any problems that are preventing Windows from starting normally or in safe mode.
  • System Restore can be used to reinstall data and files from an earlier restore. This option could fix any issues you are experiencing since it will take you back to a date prior to the time that the problem started.
  • System Image Recovery requires the user to act prior to the disaster. It counts on the user, at some earlier point, having made an image of the system.
  • Windows Memory Diagnostics can do a quick check of the memory on your system and determine if the memory is good or bad.
  • Command Prompt should only be used by experienced users.

Note: Some screens may differ as different computer companies can change the above screen and add their own options and repair tools in addition to the tools that Microsoft sees fit to use.

What Other Options Are There?

Despite the fact that I believe disk imaging, before disaster strikes, is the best policy, there are many fine programs available (some for free, some not). However, whichever program you choose beats finding yourself in a position where a computer won’t start and there is no backup available.

From this article I am sure that you are aware that I believe imaging is a must for serious computer users since it provides a reliable means to restore not only your Windows operating system, but also all of your files and data. By using it you can rest assured that all of your important programs, their current updates, and your required drivers will be saved thus sparing you a lot of headaches. If you are not technically savvy, this small feature could also save you quite a bit of your hard-earned wages.

If you are more technically inclined, compare this easy-to-use option to having to do a reinstall of Windows or the time-consuming task of installing a clean version of Windows. To me, it sure makes imaging look pretty good and, because of that, I highly recommend it for PC users.

Comments welcome.

Source: Microsoft

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by LisaAuch