HDD on laptop has failed, will not load Windows

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Hi everyone! This is my first time at TechSpot but it looks like it is a very knowledgable community so I'm hoping you can suggest a possible solution.

The HDD on my wife's laptop has stopped working with no warning, leaving business critical data stranded. I would be grateful for any advice on how to fix this if possible. Here is exactly what happened as far as we can remember (please excuse any silly terminology - we are not too technical):

-laptop was running on the battery, my wife left it on too long and the battery ran out

-she plugged it into the mains to recharge and it started again, she continued working until she had to take a long telephone call

-on returning to computer she found it was frozen and she could not start programmes, switch off, reboot, etc in normal way. In the end she turned it off by removing the battery and replacing it (an old trick from an IT guy in a company she used to work for)

-when she tried to restart she got an error before the OS started to load saying (something like) there was a problem starting Windows (or stopping an earlier session) and giving her the options to start again normally or in Safe Mode, go to the command prompt, etc.

-she tried normal start but it did not work – it brought up the dotted progress bar which took forever to complete but then just came back to the original error screen

-when I got home I tried the Safe Mode option and it looked like it was doing something – it came up with a long list of drivers, etc that seemed to be loading (very slowly) but then went back to the same original error screen

-then I tried command prompt and eventually ended up with C:\ but when I typed “dir” (one of the few old DOS commands I remember) it sat for quite a while and then returned a message something like “no directory structure”

-I then thought of trying to boot from the Windows XP CD, it booted to the Welcome screen which gave the option of installing XP or running recovery console. I chose recovery console (of course I didn’t want to reinstall in case of data loss) and it brought up the header saying something like “Windows XP Recovery Console” plus version info etc, then “type EXIT to cancel”. I thought it was going to load but it sat for a little while and then just brought up the C:\ prompt which, I assume, is not what is supposed to happen.

-I also went into the BIOS setup at the start and clicked on the hard disk test option, and it returned the message “failed”

-the HDD isn’t dead as in doing nothing - it seems to be trying to load the OS but taking forever and eventually failing. There are no peculiar noises (various websites warn about clicking sounds etc) and there was no warning in terms of erratic behaviour before it went wrong, except that it liked to freeze when coming out of hibernation which was a very long standing problem with this laptop.

The bottom line is this laptop has some business critical data on it, plus a lot of personal stuff that we would be sad to lose. It has been ages since the last back up (yes we have learned our lesson) so we need to recover the data somehow. Obviously it would be best to get the HDD going somehow just to pull the data off and then I could install a new disk. The cheapest “data recovery lab” option that I have found so far is over UK£300 (some want up to UK£1,000) which is very difficult, and I don’t know whether these guys actually do work that deserves that level of fee or if they are just gouging people/companies who are desperate to get their data back.

PS – a colleague suggested I check out software called Spin Rite and looking at their website it seems like it could be promising. Does anyone know anything about this, or is the HDD is too far gone for any software-based solution?

Thanks for reading.


Posts: 5,451   +7
Instead of ripping out the battery, you shoult turn off the laptop using the power button. Hold it for 10 seconds.

Let's go step by step here.
First, you should make sure it is the hard drive that is bad and nothing else like the laptop or the filesystem or whatever. Ideally you would take it out of the laptop and attach it to another computer (desktop (with an adapter) or laptop). Then test the hard drive with the diagnostics utility from the drive manufacturer.

How much and what kind of data do you need to restore? If the drive is in a very bad shape, then you are not going to get everything back and it is likely that you will be able to recover only individual files or files of certain type.
Thanks for your quick reply. I understand your comment about taking out the battery!

I don't have another laptop to test on so I guess I can find an adaptor cable but as noted in my first post everything seems to point to a failed HDD. As far as data restore - we need database files from a business scheduling and accounting programme. Also, MS Word and Publisher docs, photos and sound files are on there.


Posts: 5,746   +14
1. reseat the drive and hope it is just loose.
2. if it is still failed, try it as an external drive on another computer to retrieve the data. You might need some data recovery software. This is no guarantee you will be able to retrieve all or any data
3. replace the drive

ALWAYS backup.
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