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Logger: jake
Date: December 2nd, 2010
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Recovering files from a Crashed Hard Drive using an Ubuntu Live CD

The Problem

I think my computer has a virus and it wont start up.  How do I get my files back?

How to Troubleshoot Windows Boot Problems using BootMed
The Hard Drive Recovery Guide for Non-Geeks - Get your Files Back from a Crashed Drive!
Tags: hard drive, Windows 7, boot, recover, documents, my documents, Windows XP, live cd, Ubuntu, InfraRecorder, hard disk, file recovery, Vista

The Fix

Summary: New to Ubuntu?  Try the BootMed Live CD - an Ubuntu Remix that boots up to easy to follow recovery tutorials for Windows. 

This fix is part of a Data Recovery Guide, click here to see the entire guide.

One of the easier ways to recovery data from a computer that will not boot is to use a Live CD.  A live CD is a CD with an operating system on it completely independent of your hard drive.  Since Live CD's do not depend on your computer's operating system they are a good way to rescue data when the OS stops working. Don't worry, its not as complicated as it sounds.

Step 1 - Downloading Ubuntu

Ubuntu is free, all you need to do is download it. To download it go to  This tutorial uses Ubuntu version 10.10. If that version is not available do not worry, it will not make a big difference.  You will need to select whether your computer is 32 bit or 64 bit. The best way to tell this is by look at the stickers on the outside of your computer. Most likely you will see 32 or 64 on one of them. If you cannot find either number download the 32 bit version.

Using the wrong version will not harm your computer, but it may cause the CD to not work - meaning only you may have to download the other version and burn another CD.

Step 2 - Burning the Ubuntu Live CD

If you downloaded Ubuntu to a computer with Windows 7 this step will be simple.Simply put a blank CD in your computer and right click on the Ubuntu file, selecting "Burn Disk Image". Click "Burn".

Windows XP and Vista users will need to download a seperate program to do this.  If you are not sure how to burn an ISO, just follow this tutorial to see how to do it using free software: How to burn an ISO to a CD

Step 3 - Starting Ubuntu

Image 2

Image 1

With a pen drive in your computer and your Ubuntu Live CD in your cd-rom restart your computer

If your computer prompts you, you DO want to boot from a cd. Your computer will now begin to start Ubuntu. A screen will appear asking if you would like to "Try Ubuntu" or install it. Click "Try Ubuntu". (Image 1) Wait for Ubuntu to load.  From the bar at the top of the screen click "Places". Inside the drop down menu that appears click "Computer". A window will open with a list of your hard drives and other storage devices (pen drives, backup drives, CD drives etc) (Image 2)

Double click on your Hard Drive.

Hopefully you had no errors up to this point and can move on to the next step.  If you cannot see your hard drive or get an error when you click on it you will need to return to the Data Recovery Guide and try the next step.

Step 4 - Finding your Data

Image 2

Image 1

Now that you can see your hard drive you need to navigate to where your files are stored. This will depend on the version of Windows you have.

For XP users: Double click "Documents and Settings" (Image 1). The next folder that you need to double click will be the same as your Windows username, in my case it was "Jake". (Image 2) You should now be able to see the folders that contain the majority of your data - "My Documents" and "Desktop". For Vista/Windows 7 users:

Double click "Users"

You should now be able to see the folders that contain the majority of your data - "Documents", "Pictures", "Videos" and "Music"

Step 5 - Recovering your Data!

If you have not already inserted a USB drive, do so now.

Click "Places" from the bar at the top of the screen and inside the drop down menu that appears click "Computer". This will open a new window with all of your storage devices. Double click on your pen drive, probably called flash drive. Now you can drag and drop your files and/or folders to your USB drive (from one window to the other). The easiest way is the drag the entire "My Documents" (XP) or "Documents" (Vista/7) to your pen drive.

If you run out room on your pen drive you can remove it, transfer the contents to a different computer, delete the files, plug it back in and refill it.

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