Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (2023)

Troubleshooting a computer that won’t start is frustrating, but the panic of losing your data is far worse. If you can’t get your computer to boot and you don’t have a backup, don’t freak out just yet; you have a few options.

There’s always a possibility your hard drive is corrupted or dead, in which case data recovery is going to be costly or impossible. But in many cases, your computer may not boot for other reasons: a failing power supply, a corrupted boot sector, or any other number of quirks that leave your photos, documents, and other files intact.

If that data is still salvageable, there are two primary ways I recommend retrieving that data. One requires a little software know-how, while the other requires a little hardware finesse. Both methods will require an external drive to copy the data on to, which you can use to store your files while you repair or replace your computer. Don’t fret if you aren’t super experienced; you can handle this as long as you follow the instructions closely.

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Boot From a USB Drive

Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (7)

It's possible your computer's hardware is still in good working order, but can’t boot into Windows. Maybe the bootloader is corrupted, or maybe driver issues are giving you a black screen rather than the familiar Windows desktop. If the computer still works, though, you can use it to boot into a different environment that can (hopefully) access your data.

If you’re using a Windows PC, you can create a bootable USB drive with Windows on it to browse your hard drive. Grab another PC and a USB drive with at least 16GB of space. Go to Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool and download the installation media. Windows 10 users should go here(Opens in a new window), while Windows 11 users can go here(Opens in a new window). Run the downloaded .exe file and select Create installation media, then choose ISO file when prompted and save the file onto the drive.

Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (8)

Now, download Rufus(Opens in a new window) and start it up. Select your USB drive under Device, your Windows ISO under Boot Selection, and Windows To Go under Image Option. Click Start, and wait for the process to finish.You can see more details in the "Create Drive With Rufus" section of this guide. If you’re using a Mac, here's how to make a recovery drive for it.

When it’s done, reboot your computer. At the startup screen, press a key on your keyboard to enter the boot menu—usually it’ll tell you which key on-screen. For example, on my computer, I have to press F11 at the startup screen to access the boot menu, from which I can choose my USB drive to boot into its Windows environment.

Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (9)

If that doesn’t work, you can also enter the BIOS setup—usually by pressing Delete or F2. Look for the “Boot Order” section, where you can move your USB drive to the top of the list. If all goes well, your computer will boot you into a fresh Windows environment from that USB drive.

Open File Explorer and your hard drive should appear there, with all your data intact (provided your drive isn’t corrupted). Note that if your hard drive is encrypted with BitLocker(Opens in a new window), you’ll need the recovery key in order to access your data—without it, your files are likely gone forever.

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Once you see your data, just plug in a different external drive and drag all your important files to it. From there, you can safely reset Windows or troubleshoot boot problems without worrying about your precious data.

Remove the Hard Drive and Try It In Another PC

Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (10)

StarTech.com SATA to USB Cable

If your computer won’t turn on at all, you won’t be able to boot from a USB drive as described above. You can, however, remove the hard drive from the computer and plug it into another working machine to access your data. To do this, you’ll need a SATA-to-USB cable(Opens in a new window), docking station(Opens in a new window), or external hard drive enclosure(Opens in a new window)—plus a screwdriver and whatever other tools are necessary to open your PC.

For laptops that use an M.2 drive instead of a standard 2.5-inch drive, you’ll need a SATA M.2-to--USB adapter(Opens in a new window), or an NVMe M.2-to-USB adapter(Opens in a new window). You may need to look up the specs of your laptop to see what drive it uses. (The pictures on Amazon will often show which types of drives it’s compatible with, and you can look up a disassembly video for your computer to see if the hard drive matches the shape of the enclosure you’re buying.)

Finding the right adapter is, honestly, the most difficult part of this process. Opening your PC seems scary, but it’s actually much easier.We can’t guide you through the process on every machine, but you can usually search your laptop’s model number to find disassembly instructions. It almost always involves unscrewing a few screws on the bottom of the laptop and removing the bottom case, which should give you direct access to the hard drive or SSD.

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In some laptops, the storage is soldered onto the motherboard, in which case you’re out of luck and will have to try the boot-from-USB method above or send it in for repairs. If you’re opening a desktop, it’s even easier, since you can just slide off the side panel and remove the drive from its cage—you may not even need a screwdriver.

With the drive removed, plug it into your USB adapter and plug that into the USB port of a working computer. (Ideally, you’d use a computer of the same platform—so if the drive is coming from a Mac, you’ll want to plug it into another Mac.) With any luck, your drive should pop up in File Explorer or Finder.

You can then select the files you need (or all the files, just to be safe) and drag them onto an external drive. Once they’re safely backed up, you can go about repairing or replacing your computer, and drag those files back when it’s up and running again.

Hopefully, this experience has demonstrated the importance of backups. You’ve heard it time and time again, and I know it’s easy to put off, but don’t. You can clone your hard drive, create an image file, set up a recovery drive, or create a backup using Time Machine.

Don't forget to check up on your hard drive's health. Set up a backup program today and forget about it—the peace of mind is priceless, and you’ll never have to experience that moment of panic ever again.

Don't Freak Out: How to Save Data From a PC That Won't Boot (14) The Best Budget Laptops for 2022

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FAQs

Can you transfer data from a computer that won't turn on? ›

Yes, unless you've had some catastrophic accident that physically damaged the hard drive in your computer, you can still access that data. You just need a USB universal drive adapter and a different, functioning computer to plug your hard drive into.

How do I copy files without Windows booting? ›

Way 2. Transfer files without operating system via CMD
  1. Go to “Repair your computer” or “Advanced Options” to open "Command Prompt".
  2. Type "notepad.exe" in the Command Prompt and press Enter.
  3. In Notepad, click “File” and then “Open" or "Save as” to get into the mini File Explorer where you could access the files you need.

How do I access my hard drive that won't boot? ›

How do I get files off a hard drive that won't boot? Try to boot into the hard drive by connecting it to a different computer or checking the cables and port. If you cannot boot into it, try to disconnect your internal hard drive. Then, place it in an enclosure and use it as an external drive.

How do I transfer data from a dead computer to a hard drive? ›

If you're just interested in recovering the files, you can connect a USB stick or external hard drive and copy the files to the removable media device. Your files will then be saved from your dying computer.

Is it possible to retrieve data from a dead laptop? ›

EaseUS bootable data recovery software - Data Recovery Wizard with Bootable Media can get your data out of the dead laptop or computer hard drive with ease.

How do I transfer files from a broken computer? ›

How to Recover Data from the Broken Computer
  1. Take out the disk from the old PC. Disconnect the power supply. ...
  2. Connect the hard disk to the new PC. Multiple connection methods: ...
  3. Recover/Migrate the applications, files, accounts from the old disk. Download and launch EaseUS Todo PCTrans.
22 Sept 2022

How do I get files off my old computer? ›

Here are the five most common methods you can try for yourself.
  1. Cloud storage or web data transfers. ...
  2. SSD and HDD drives via SATA cables. ...
  3. Basic cable transfer. ...
  4. Use software to speed up your data transfer. ...
  5. Transfer your data over WiFi or LAN. ...
  6. Using an external storage device or flash drives.
21 Feb 2019

How do I copy everything on my computer to a flash drive? ›

Using Windows 10:
  1. Plug the USB flash drive directly into an available USB port. ...
  2. Navigate to the files on your computer that you want to transfer to the USB drive.
  3. Right-click on the file you want to copy, then select Copy.
  4. Go to the mounted USB drive, right click and select Paste.
13 Sept 2022

Can you copy boot files? ›

The bootable clone is an exact copy of the bootable hard drive on the computer, including the operating system and other files. To clone a hard drive for Windows 10, you can choose to clone the entire disk or clone the partition(s) which contain the operating system and related boot files.

How can I boot my computer without CD or USB? ›

There are a few programs out there that can help you do this by creating a “virtual drive” from which you can mount an “ISO image”. An ISO image is an archive file that contains the same information found on an optical disc, such as a Windows installation CD. One free program you could use is Virtual CloneDrive.

How do I force a hard drive to boot? ›

BIOS Setup
  1. Turn on or restart the computer. ...
  2. Select "Boot" or "Advanced BIOS Features" using the arrow keys. ...
  3. Select "Hard Disk Boot Priority," "Hard Drive Order," "HDD Boot Priority" or similar option, if available. ...
  4. Select the secondary hard drive and press "Enter," or press "+" to move the device to the top of the list.

How much does it cost to recover data from a hard drive? ›

How much does data recovery from a hard drive cost? Depending on the severity of the issue, recovering a hard drive can cost anywhere from $99 to $2000. This is a common range for most data recovery companies.

What happens when boot drive fails? ›

If you receive the 'disk boot failure' error message, it's because your machine can't find the operating system and, therefore, is unable to boot. The error occurs because the BIOS is unable to find a bootable drive in order to start up your machine.

Can data be recovered from a dead hard drive? ›

It's definitely possible to get data from a dead hard drive. However, the drive must be recognized by the operating system and displaying the correct size. If these two conditions are met, you can attempt recovery using data recovery software.

Can you boot a new computer from an old hard drive? ›

Yes you can plug an old harddrive into a new computer as long as there is a common interface such as SATA. However if the drive is incripted, you may not be able to access the data.

How do I transfer files from PC to PC directly? ›

Here is the step-by-step guide to transferring files from PC to PC using the transfer cable.
  1. Step 1: Connect PCs Using USB Cable. ...
  2. Step 2: Choose Installation Type. ...
  3. Step 3: Run 'Devmgmt.msc” ...
  4. Step 4: Install Transfer Software. ...
  5. Step 5: Launch Program On Both PCs. ...
  6. Step 6: Move Files From One PC to Second PC.
26 Aug 2022

What is the fastest way to transfer files from PC to PC? ›

The easiest way to do PC to PC data transfer is by using an external hard drive. That is, you can first connect your external hard drive to your source PC and copy your data on it. Later, you can connect the hard drive to your new computer and import data from it to your Windows PC.

Where is all the PC data stored? ›

Data is copied from the computer's main memory (random-access memory or RAM), and then written to the hard disk. The drive is the mechanical device that writes the data to the disk.

Can I use a flash drive to transfer data between computers? ›

Transferring files from the flash drive to Windows 10 PC is a straightforward job. All you need to is connect the USB drive, select files, and copy-paste it to the destination folder.

Can I use a USB stick as a boot drive? ›

Click or tap on Use a device. Next, you should see a list of devices your computer can boot from, including the USB flash drive that you plugged in. Click or tap on it. Your computer then restarts and boots from the USB flash drive you chose.

Where are boot files stored? ›

It's located at the root of the system partition, typically c:\Boot.

Does booting delete files? ›

No, booting from a USB or DVD is only temporary. If you change the boot order back to the hard drive everything will be there.

How do I repair Windows 10 without booting? ›

Launch the Windows 10 Advanced Startup Options menu by pressing F11. Go to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Repair. Wait for a few minutes, and Windows 10 will fix the startup problem.

How do I boot into BIOS without startup? ›

Follow the below instructions.
  1. Step 1: Open Settings or press 'Win Key + I'.
  2. Step 2: Go to System and click on Recovery.
  3. Note: This step will restart your computer.
  4. Step 4: Now, go to Troubleshoot and click on Advanced options.
  5. Step 5: Click on 'UEFI Firmware Settings' and click on Restart.
28 Sept 2022

Can a faulty hard drive cause no boot? ›

Bad sectors or other hard drive issues

Problems on a hard drive, like bad sectors, can cause Windows not to boot up successfully. Hard drive issues can occur without warning, but they can also be fixed in many cases.

How do I fix an unresponsive hard drive? ›

You can follow these steps to fix the problem with your hard drive.
  1. Inspect Hard Drive. Carefully inspect your hard disk for any physical damage. ...
  2. Run CHKDSK. ...
  3. Use an Antivirus & Anti-Malware Tool. ...
  4. Re-Install the Drivers. ...
  5. Format the Disk.
19 Oct 2022

How long does it take to recover 1TB of data? ›

A TB is 1048576 megabytes, so, 1048576/90 = 11781 seconds. 111781/60/60= 3.2. Therefore, to successfully recover an entire 1TB HDD averaging at around 90mbs it would take 3.2 hours. This doesn't take into account parsing through data, copying to an external drive, or other people who may be in front of you.

How can I recover my hard drive data for free? ›

Here is a list of the best free hard drive recovery software in 2022:
  1. Disk Drill Data Recovery (Windows/Mac)
  2. Recuva (Windows)
  3. R-Studio (Windows/Mac)
  4. TestDisk (Windows/Mac)
  5. PhotoRec (Windows/Mac)
  6. Recoverit Free Data Recovery (Windows/Mac)
  7. Stellar Data Recovery (Windows/Mac)
  8. Wise Data Recovery (Windows)
1 Nov 2022

Is data recovery worth the money? ›

It really costs to lose data and it costs even more to recover them. Data recovery cost is the sad repercussion of data loss. One thing is definite though, the cost of not getting back data is lot higher than the cost of data recovery. Lost data can cost a business to close down.

What causes boot problem? ›

The Windows boot loop problem is often the result of a device driver, a bad system component or hardware such as the hard disk that causes a Windows system to spontaneously reboot in the middle of the boot process. The result is a machine that can never boot completely and is stuck in a reboot loop.

What are the reasons for no boot? ›

There are many potential causes for this problem, incorrect boot settings in the BIOS, corrupt system files, corrupt boot loader, or a faulty hard drive. The computer turns on but shows an error message such as no bootable device found, operating system not found, and other errors during startup.

How do I fix a corrupted boot? ›

Fixing Error using Bootrec
  1. Boot the system using recovery disc or system repair disc.
  2. Once the system is booted, navigate to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Command Prompt > and then execute this command – bootrec.exe /fixmbr.
  3. Run the command exe as required. ...
  4. Restart the system as the boot gets complete.
17 Nov 2022

How do I recover files from an unbootable hard drive? ›

b. Recover data using the bootable media
  1. Set computer BIOS. After creating the bootable media, you will need to set your unbootable system BIOS. ...
  2. Restart the unbootable computer. Now, having set the BIOS, plug in the bootable media and power on the system. ...
  3. Select the right hard drive. ...
  4. All-around recovery. ...
  5. Recover your data.

How do I recover data after motherboard dies? ›

There is no long process of recovering the data from a dead motherboard if you have enabled the Google Backup. This is because you only need to sign in to the Google account on another device, and you will access the backed up data. You can select the files that you want to recover, and it's done!

Can you recover data from a hard drive that won't spin? ›

When your hard drive is not spinning, your computer won't recognize it and you won't be able to recover the data from the hard drive using data recovery software until you fix it. When your hard drive is not spinning, you are recommended to send your device to a professional for manual repair.

How much does it cost to recover data from a crashed hard drive? ›

The recovery of data from logically damaged storage devices costs between $300 and $1,000, and you will probably have to spend anywhere from $500 to $3,000 to professionally recover data from a hard drive that has experienced a mechanical failure.

How do I manually recover data? ›

How to recover data from a dead hard drive?
  1. Connect your dead hard drive to a PC.
  2. Make your hard drive accessible.
  3. Download & Install Disk Drill on your computer.
  4. Select your hard drive & click the 'Recover' button.
  5. Preview the found files.
  6. Select & save your files.
11 Oct 2022

Does the motherboard hold any information? ›

The motherboard also holds your computer's memory, which is really just a special type of data storage -- a particularly fast type of data storage. Your computer's memory is usually made up of few different types of data storage.

Does replacing motherboard erase computer data? ›

In the event your computer requires a motherboard replacement, all data stored locally on your computer will be lost and will no longer be recoverable.

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