How do I recover data from a hard drive in a dead computer?

Updated: 06/30/2020 by Computer Hope

If you have a computer that is no longer functioning, and there's data you need retrieved, follow the steps on this page. Retrieval may not be possible, but the troubleshooting tips listed here help you determine if retrieval is possible.

Warning

Retrieving data from a hard drive that is installed in a non-working or dead computer can be accomplished a few ways. You can either attempt to retrieve the data yourself or take the computer to a computer shop for help.

Computer hard drive

Fix the dead computer

If you have not yet determined what's causing the computer failure, there are a few troubleshooting steps to take. In many cases, it may be possible to fix the dead computer which would allow you to recover its data easier.

Note

If you've already tried to troubleshoot the computer, and you've determined it can't be fixed (or repair would be too expensive), this section can be skipped.

Below is a list of pages to help troubleshoot a dead computer. If the computer is giving you an error message, you can also search our site for the error message to find recommendations and solutions to common error messages.

Connect hard drive to another computer

You can attempt to retrieve the data yourself by connecting the hard drive from the dead computer to another functional computer. Assuming the hard drive is still functional, you can then access that hard drive through My Computer or File Explorer to view and copy files from the hard drive. The following steps guide you through this process.

Note

If your computer is a laptop, the hard drive/SSD may be accessible from the bottom of the case. Consult your laptop's documentation for details and instructions. If you don't feel comfortable opening your laptop case, or your laptop's warranty stipulates that it's void if you open the case, we suggest taking it to a repair shop.

  1. Open the computer case of the dead computer and disconnect the hard drive from inside the computer.
  1. Turn off the functional computer.
  2. Open the case of the functional computer and connect the hard drive to the computer. You need to connect the IDE or SATA cable, depending on the type of hard drive, and the power cable.
Tip

You can also use an external hard drive enclosure kit to connect the hard drive to the computer externally, through a USB port.

  1. Turn on the functional computer.
  2. Once loaded into Windows, open My Computer or File Explorer and find the drive letter (e.g., D: or E:). Click or double-click that drive to view the contents of the hard drive.

Once the hard drive is connected to another computer, copy the files to the hard drive/SSD of the functional computer. Then, burn the files to a CD or DVD, or copy them to a USB thumb drive.

If, after connecting the hard drive to the functional computer, you cannot view the contents of that hard drive, the drive may be bad or inaccessible. It may be necessary to take the hard drive to a computer shop for help in retrieving files from it.

Take the hard drive to a computer shop

If the hard drive is bad and unreadable by another computer, we recommend you take the hard drive to a computer shop for help. A computer shop can extract data from the hard drive by means not available to you.

However, if they cannot extract data from the hard drive, you'll need to send the hard drive to a company that specializes in retrieving data from failed hard drives. See our page on how to recover missing, lost, or deleted files for a list of some companies that specialize in data retrieval.

Additional information