Garry Conn

How to Recover Lost Data From a Hard Drive

If your computer is broken or damaged and no longer powers up or boots the operating system, follow these steps to recover your personal data from the hard drive of the broken computer and then transfer the information to another computer or device such as a second computer or external hard drive.

This might seem like a complicated process - you are right, it actually is! However, if you follow these steps carefully you will be able to successfully recover your personal data and avoid having to pay someone else a lot of money to do it for you. Plus you will finally get to learn something about Linux. The hype about Linux is that it is a complicated operating system. It is just that: hype. Truth is Windows is a much more complicated operating system than Linux.

Lastly, if you have trouble following the steps in this tutorial, feel free to drop me a comment below and I will see what I can do to help you.

Computer Powers Up But Operating System Doesn't Load

Let's assume that nothing is mechanically wrong with your computer - it powers up, nothing is broke. The only problem is your computer won't boot up because the operating system is broke.

Download and burn Debian LIVE Standard to a CD and then boot your system using live Linux. After Linux loads you will be presented with a screen that looks like this:

First thing you need to do is gain access to the root user. The root user is the administrator account that has all the power to get this job done. You need to establish a root password in order to login using root. Type this command:

sudo passwd root

You will then be presented with this command prompt:

Enter new UNIX password:

Proceed to enter a password and then you will be presented with this screen:

passwd: password updated successfully

Now that have you created a password for the root user you need to login to root. Type this command and enter the root password:


You should now be presented with this screen:

[email protected]:/home/user#

Now that you are logged in to the root account, before you can proceed with recovering your data, you will need to run a quick software update and also install the package that will allow you to access your hard drive. Type these commands:

apt-get update

This command will update the live Linux software you are using. Don't skip this step, it's important and only takes a few moments. Don't worry, this is nothing like running a Windows update!

A few minuets after a bunch of lines of code passes over your screen the Linux software will be updated. Next you will want to install the package called ntfs-3g. This package basically gives you the tools to access your hard drive and transfer the data to an external hard drive. Type this code to install ntfs-3g:

apt-get install ntfs-3g

The screen will prompt you, asking if you would like to continue. Just hit the enter key on your keyboard to accept. After a brief few moments ntfs-3g will be installed.

Next you need to mount your hard drive. Mounting basically means virtually inserting the hard drive into the Linux operating system so that you can access it. It's kind of like virtually plugging it into your computer. No worries, this is very easy to do. The hype about Linux being complicated is just that: hype.

The first step is changing to the directory where all your devices are accounted for in Linux. This is called the /dev directory. Type this command:

cd /dev/

Now you are in the device directory. Next you need to find out where your hard drive is located. If your computer has only one hard drive it will most likely be sda. Because your operating system is Windows, it will usually have more than one partition. sda1, sda2, sda3 are common. Type this command to locate your hard drive and also view how many partitions it has:


You will be presented with a screen that looks like this:

Most store bought computers such as Dell, HP and Toshiba have two or three partitions. Usually sda1 is a small boot partition, sda2 is the operating system partition that has your data one it and sda3 is the factory restore partition. It's also possible that only one partition has been created, sda1.

Before you can mount the hard drive you need to create a directory inside Linux where each partition can be mounted to. The /media directory seems like a good place and that's usually where I do it. Type this command to create the directory where you will be mounting the hard drive partitions into:

cd /media/

This changes you into the /media directory. Now type this command to create the new sub-directory where you will be mounting the partition(s) of your hard drive to:

mkdir sda1 sda2 sda3

This will automatically create three sub-dierctories called: sda1, sda2 and sda3. If sda2 and sda3 are not shown in the /dev directory then there is no need to create those sub-directories in the /media directory.

Now that you have created the appropriate sub-directories inside the /media directory it is now time to mount the partition of the hard drive into the Linux system. Type this command:

mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /media/sda1

If you are mounting sda2 or sda3 replace sda1 in the command above for those partitions.

Now type this command to view the contents on the sda1 directory:

cd sda1

If you get a screen that looks like this, then that is a boot partition and does not contain any of your data:

Boot     bootmgr     BOOTSECT.BAK     System Volume Information

Instead go back and try viewing the contents of the sda2 directory. Type this command to go back to the /media directory:

cd ../

And then type this command to change into the sda2 directory and view the contents of that directory:

cd sda2

If the contents of this directory look like this, then you found the right one:

autoexec.bat               pagefile.sys     Program Files     System Volume Information
config.sys                 Preflogs         Recovery          Users
Documents and Settings     ProgramData      Recycle.Bin       Windows