1. TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users. Ask a question and give support. Join the community here.
    TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users.
    Ask a question and give support.
    Join the community here, it only takes a minute.
    Dismiss Notice

How to recover your folders/files when Windows won’t boot

By LookinAround · 46 replies
Jun 22, 2009
Post New Reply
  1. How to recover your folders/files when Windows won’t boot
    Updated: October, 2010
    When Windows won't boot into normal or safe mode, it may be due to:
    • The filesystem on your hard drive (your "HD") is corrupt / damaged
    • One or more Windows boot files on your HD are, themselves, missing or corrupt
    • Hardware problems (including but not limited to the disk drive, itself)
    When all’s said and done, you want a machine with all problems fixed. But before you do any repairs, you may find comfort in first knowing all your personal files are safely backed up. Once your data’s backed up, you can then (comfortably!) fix any computer problems (which may include reformating the drive or repairing Windows)

    Approaches to the problem
    When your computer won’t boot (and assuming you haven’t been backing your stuff up in the first place – which is a no! no!) you basically have two approaches to try and get to your personal data still on your hard drive​
    1. Remove your HD and connect it to a working computer. You can
      > Use a USB to PCI or SATA cable to connect the drive directly OR
      > Put the drive in an external USB enclosure and connect it using a USB cable OR
    2. Boot your computer from CD or flash drive (since you can’t boot from HD). By using the right bootable CD or flash drive, you should be able to boot up your own machine and then often (but, of course, not always) be able to recover your files from your hard drive while it's still inside your own computer!
    The steps below show how to try and recover your files by creating "rescue media" that boots into Knoppix - an alternate (and free!) operating system
    • Knoppix is a variant of the Linux operating system
    • Knoppix runs on MOST hardware (let's hope your computer is included in the set!)
    • Once you boot into Knoppix you should (hopefully) be able to just connect a USB flash or external hard drive and then simply copy/paste your files to recover them!
    Even if you plan to remove your HD to fix it, I'd advise it's still worthwhile and helpful to download/burn and simply have these "emergency rescue CDs" at hand and available whenever needed)

    Step 1: Verify the filesystem on your hard drive
    When you boot Knoppix, you want it to mount the filesystem on your hard drive. But Knoppix can’t mount a drive if its filesystem is corrupt. (Corruption can occur due to a system crash or after virus infection). You may need to fix the filesystem on your disk before you can mount the disk in Step 2 below

    ==> Run the Windows command chkdsk /r from the Recovery Console to scan and fix filesystem errors
    The Windows Recovery Console allows you to run chkdsk. Chdsk is a Windows tool that verifies and fixes your HD’s filesystem​

    Boot into the Windows Recovery Console
    • If you have your Windows Installation CDs see this post to boot into the recovery console
    • If you don’t have your Windows Installation CDsdon’t despair!
      • You can download the XP Windows Recovery Console here.
      • For Vista, you can download a Vista Recovery Console here
      • For Windows 7, you can download a Windows 7 Recovery Console here
    Important Notes
    • If you downloaded an ISO file see Knoppix Hints below about how to burn it
      >> ISO files are image files and must be burned as an "image", not as data, to create a bootable CD
    • Chkdsk can take a looonnng time to run (sometimes hours). Especially if you have a large hard drive.
      ===>> Do not interrupt chkdsk
      ===>> Don’t assume chkdsk is hanging unless you wait at least 30+ minutes for the screen to change! (e.g. waiting for it to change %complete)
    Step 2: Boot into Knoppix (an alternate and free Operating System)

    1. Go to the Knoppix home page
    2. Click on Downloads. Select a download site near you
    3. You want Knoppix v6.0 or later. At moment (as of October 2010)
      • As of October, 2010 Knoppix v6.2.1 is the latest version
      • The download link for the English version of Knoppix v6.2.1 is named: KNOPPIX_V6.2.1CD-2010-01-31-EN.iso
      • Select a Knoppix mirror (server)
      • Search the list of download links
        > Note!: You don't want an "ADRIANE" version of Knoppix. Don't choose links with the word ADRIANE in the name
        > Look for the ISO download named
    4. Download KNOPPIX_V6.2.1CD-2010-01-31-EN.iso and save it (this is a big download)
    5. Once the ISO download completes, you need to verify you received the entire ISO file and it wasn’t corrupted during the download. You’ll use the “HashTabs” tool to calculate the MD5 check sum of your ISO download file and compare it to the published correct MD5 value for the ISO file. If the MD5 value calculated for your downloaded file equals the correct result, then you have a good ISO download file you can burn!

      Install the HashTabs tool
      • Rt click the ISO download file. Select Properties->File Hashes. Select the MD5 value displayed by HashTabs
      • Next, you need the MD5 value of the original download file. (Look for the link with MD5 appended to the ISO filename)
        > Example: To get the MD5 value for English Knoppix v6.2.1 ISO file, look for link
        > Click and save to your desktop
      • Now open the file: click Start->Programs->Accessories->Notepad, click File->Open
      • Then copy/paste the MD5 value into HashTabs' Hash Comparison field (click thumbnail for full image)
      • If the values match you'll see a green check mark followed by MD5 meaning your download is good!
        => If the download keeps failing during this long download time, see the "Knoppix Hints" below
      • Now burn the Knoppix .iso file to CD and then use it to boot up your own computer (for more help, see Knoppix Hints below)
      • Alternately, you can also easily create a bootable USB flash drive for Knoppix! (see below)
    When you boot Knoppix, hit Enter (or let it timeout) at the boot: or any other prompt to select default options as it starts
    • Once Knoppix starts up, you'll see a different (but similar and largely intuitive) user interface
    • The first icon along the bottom left is like the Windows Start button to list all the programs now available to you under Knoppix
    • To its right is the Knoppix file/folder explorer icon. Click it. Can you navigate through all your folders and see all your files?? (we hope!)
    • Close file Explorer. Plug in a USB device directly into a USB port on the computer. Click to re-open the Knoppix File Explorer and copy your folders and files to the USB device!
    Knoppix even makes it easy to create a bootable Knoppix flash drive! (see Knoppix Hints below)

    Knoppix Hints
    Hint 1: How to burn an ISO file to CD
    An ISO file is a special type of file. It's an "image" of the disc surface to be burned. (An ISO is not a simple data file). ISO’s must be burned as an image file to create a bootable CD. Most burning software can burn image files. Click here for a list of popular burning software and their “How To” instruction​

    Hint 2: Having a problem downloading the large ISO file?
    ==> Check Power Management​
    ==> Use a wired connection​

    If the connection keeps dropping while your computer is downloading the large ISO file​
    • Download over a wired (not a wireless) connection
    • Check Power Managementsettings
      • To open Device Manager: Click Start->Run, enter: devmgmt.msc
      • Look for your network adapter device listed under Network Adapters category
      • Rt click Properties. Is there a Power Management tab?
        > If yes, click it. Then uncheck the box so you don't "Allow the computer to turn off the device to save power"
      • Also check Control Panel->Power Options to make sure your power setting is set to Never for everything (so they don't go to sleep)
    Hint 3: Does your computer not recognize the Koppix boot CD?
    => Did you burn the ISO file as an image file and NOT as a data file?? (see Hints above)​
    => Try the boot CD on a different computer. Does a different computer recognize it as bootable?​
    => Have you changed the computer’s boot order in BIOS to try booting from CD/DVD first?​

    Hint 4: Do you see Knoppix starting to boot (its start commands appear on your display) but the boot seems to hang at some point?
    This usually means you downloaded an incomplete or corrupt ISO file. Knoppix won’t complete bootup unless you burned the complete and correct ISO file.​
    ==> Download the Knoppix ISO again​
    ==>The MD5 check sum for your downloaded ISO file MUST be correct or your Knoppix CD will never work right​

    Hint 5: Does Knoppix CD start and complete bootup OK on one machine but not another?
    ==> If Knoppix boots correctly on one machine, use the Knoppix menu to create a bootable USB flash drive (assuming your machine can boot from USB)​

    On occasion I've seen some computers that won't boot from a Knoppix CD but will boot from a Knoppix USB flash drive. If your computer supports booting from USB​
    • Use the CD to boot into Knoppix on a working computer
    • Wait till the Knoppix desktop appears then plug-in a USB flash drive (make sure there are no files you still need on this device)
    • Click the Knoppix "Start" button (the icon in the lower left corner of your screen - just like Windows)
    • Look for Install KNOPPIX to flash drive under either Preferences or System Tools then click it
      ==> The location varies depending on which version of Knoppix v6 you're running
    • Select your flash drive in the pop-up window. Click OK. Click Yes to erase, reformat and create a bootable USB flash drive
    Hint 6: Knoppix boots but won't mount your internal hard drive?
    • Did chkdsk run and say it was able to fix your hard drive? If the filesystem on the drive is corrupt, Knoppix may have problems mounting it
    • Try booting from a USB flash drive if your computer supports it (see instructions above)
  2. B00kWyrm

    B00kWyrm TechSpot Paladin Posts: 991   +37

    Thanks LookingAround! Great Tutorial! (again!)

    If I might add...
    another technique to recover files from a damaged hard-drive is to use a tool like...
    Apricorn' Drive Wire ... http://www.apricorn.com/product_detail.php?type=family&id=39

    Western Digital also has a clone/"ghost" utility in their drive utilities...
    Whether this utility would work with all drives is another question.
    My new drive was a Scorpio Blue, so I accessed the Data Lifeguard tools, here...

    I started to use the first on a recent drive upgrade, upon the recommendation of Route44.
    I ended up using the second, as it seemed a little more direct / straight forward for my new WD drive.
    It seems to me that the first is a great product... no regrets... I just have another tool in my toolbox!
    Since Apricorn's product is useful for 3.5" eide, or sata, as well as laptop drives, it seemed to me to be a great little investment.
  3. NC10992

    NC10992 TS Rookie


    Thanks LookinAround and B00kWyrm for taking the time to compose and post this great info!

    And B00kWyrm - love your avatar.:D (I've been a Honda auto owner since 1975.)
  4. superty12

    superty12 TS Enthusiast Posts: 401


    If the following conditions are true (Windows New Technolgy and drive formatted as NTFS), install Windows NT in a different directory to get your files. I got this from Microsoft, not sure if it works on 2000 or XP.
  5. ronaldo9_r9

    ronaldo9_r9 TS Enthusiast Posts: 29

    or you can have two different operating system on two different hard drives but on same pc that always worked for me.
  6. cocoXie

    cocoXie TS Rookie

    Or you can try to use software to recover it. It is easy to operate.
    If the OS cannot boot, bootable CD based on WinPE is great choice. Run the programme from a bootable CD which protect your data you you want to recover.
    I know EASEUS Data Recovery Wizard is a good software for recovering. Maybe it could help you.
  7. mulligan01

    mulligan01 TS Rookie

    Thanks everyone
    I took an old copy of XP w/ service pack 1 and did a repair install and it seemed to work. All I have to do now is get all my updates and change all my settings back.There are still a few glitches ( windows media player won't work for one) but I can atleast back up my important data and do a clean install.
    Thanks again for all of your suggestions.
  8. sshedlock

    sshedlock TS Rookie

    good info here
  9. WinXPert

    WinXPert TS Guru Posts: 397

    What if your NTFS volume won't mount? You did not address that. That problem arises when Windows is not properly shut down or USB drive is not safely removed.
  10. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    Who is this question directed to? As the original post does address this situation as the very first step of the instructions.
  11. WinXPert

    WinXPert TS Guru Posts: 397


    Can you provide a link to your original post so I can read it in full. TIA.
  12. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    You need a link??? Just scroll to the start of the thread! ;)
  13. WinXPert

    WinXPert TS Guru Posts: 397

    I have this problem once with a WD 200 Gig MyPassport USB drive. Using Knoppix (a magazine freebie CD) I can't do a force mount. I don't have another PC ready to safely eject the USB drive at that time. How do you do this (force mount) in Knoppix.

    Actually its a LXF multiboot DVD and I tried Knoppix first, I think its 5.1.1.
  14. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,487   +1,428

    see https://www.techspot.com/vb/topic76094.html

    I used Knoppix 5.1 to first recover precious files and then fix the corrupted Registry

    Knoppix 5.1 will mount a USB Thumb drive R/W and access your HD in R/O.
    edit the FSTAB using VI (commands shown) to get the HD into R/W for the repair.
  15. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    Knoppix 5.1?? Yikes! That was back in 2007. Using Knoppix 5.1 is downright painful and alot of unnecessary work compared to Knoppix 6.0. Please see original post in this thread, then download and try it yourself.

    Running chkdsk /r from the Recovery Console (per Step 1 of the instructions) will typically fix all the filesystem errors. In fact, i haven't even tried addressing a forced mount yet as it hasn't been required yet. Everyone that i've sent to the original post has been able to mount their filesystem under Knoppix after running chkdsk

    /* edit */
    btw.. notice it's also simple to create a bootable Knoppix 6.0 flash drive (only requires a couple mouse clicks to create the bootable flash)
  16. WinXPert

    WinXPert TS Guru Posts: 397

    Yes I know, I am not much of a Knoppix user so I'm not up to date. However I have experienced the mounting problem with also Tiny Core (somewhat a stripped down version of Knoppix) but not with Puppy Linux 4.3. Thanks for the input.


    I've read your tip. I'll try it sometime and bash my way to mount a volume. Thanks too.
  17. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,487   +1,428

    [flame on]who cares; Pick a fight that's meaningful. That's not the point.[/flame off]
    The issue is the HOW TO get control using Knoppix x.y, edit the fstab and to control the mounting of devices. How many here know Linux and are even aware of the fstab or mount command?

    Great; there's a better and faster version of Knoppix, good to know :)
  18. WinXPert

    WinXPert TS Guru Posts: 397

    Right on the dot.
  19. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    "Flame on? Flame off?" LOL. Get a grip!

    No! That's exactly not the issue. With Knoppix 6.0 users don't have to know squat about fstab or mount command. They simply
    > Download and burn Knoppix 6.0
    > Run chkdsk on their HD
    > Boot into Knoppix , plug in a USB drive and they're ready to start copying/recovering files and rock and roll. Period!
    An easy and simple user solution for recovering their files/folders from their Windows drive.

    So adding a post sending someone to Knoppix 5.1 (and all the extra work and linux commands it requires) only confuses if not just make the users job harder if they go the 5.1 route. Remember the merits of KISS :)
  20. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,487   +1,428

    like my wife says sometimes; you win, yes dear. :rolleyes:
  21. Grixti

    Grixti TS Rookie Posts: 23

    Hi there,

    I was just wondering if you could help me out, LookinAround (I tried to PM you but dont have enough posts to do so).

    I have followed your steps - running chkdsk /r, burning Knoppix to a cd as an image file then booting from CD Drive on my laptop (which wont get past the system recovery tool). I can get Knoppix to run but after about 30 mins of it loading various things it just goes to a new screen and shuts down.

    If you could give me some advice on how to get the files off my laptop when I can't start windows (not even in safe mode) I would really appreciate it!! I have been trying for days and still no luck.

  22. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    Hi Grixti

    Sorry to hear you're having so much trouble. I'm assuming you downloaded and burned Knoppix 6 (per the guide). Normally, Knoppix should simply boot up and allow you access to the drive without the problems you report. So i wonder if you don't have a hardware problem as well on your laptop.

    For your situation, i think you're best to remove the drive from the laptop and connect it as an external drive to a different computer
    > Should be easy to remove the drive (usually just a screw or a latch to undo and then you can just slide the drive out)

    Go to your local computer store and you can buy either a USB to IDE/SATA cable or an external USB drive enclosure. You can then use it to connect your HD to another computer and access your files/folders that way.

    /* edit */
    if you get a usb HD enclosure, suggest is best you find one that also comes with its own A/C adapter so you needn't have to rely on a USB port for its power
  23. swaintom

    swaintom TS Rookie

    Hello all
    I have downloaded Knoppix 6 burned it to cd and then tried to boot with the cd. It works fine on my working system, but the system that crashed with windows vista will not allow it to mount. it says " could not mount disk to /mnt-system. starting debugging shell." how can I get it to boot?

    Thanks in advance,

  24. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,430   +185

    So this message stops boot up? Or you saying it boots up but can't mount your hard drive?

    If boot problem, can you boot from USB on crashed machine? if so, run Knoppix on good computer, look on Knoppix menu to install boot on a USB device. Then try booting from USB.

    If hard drive mount problem, have you run chkdsk /r yet on the drive?
  25. swaintom

    swaintom TS Rookie

    yes, the message stops the bootup and also says " sh: can't access tty: job control turned off and I have already ran chkdsk /r

Similar Topics

Add your comment to this article

You need to be a member to leave a comment. Join thousands of tech enthusiasts and participate.
TechSpot Account You may also...