How to Get Files Off a Hard Drive that Won’t Boot Windows

manuviraj
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recover data from hard drive that won't bootYour Windows computer could stop booting unexpectedly. In this case, how do you access your personal files and get them off your hard drive? Well, you have plenty of options at your disposal. In the following sections, we’ll take a look at some ways to fix, and recover data from a hard drive that won’t boot.

How to Test a Hard Drive That Won’t Boot

Before proceeding to fix and get files off a hard drive when Windows won’t boot, you need to determine where the problem lies. There are numerous reasons why Windows is not booting, and many of them don’t have anything to do with the health of your hard drive.

When Windows is unable to boot, you’ll typically get a black screen with only the cursor visible, or one of the following error messages:

  1. The Boot Configuration Data (BCD) for your PC is missing or contains errors.
  2. Master Boot Record (MBR) corrupted.
  3. Missing Operating System.
  4. Bootmgr is missing. Press CTRL + ALT + Delete to restart your computer.
  5. Missing boot sector.
  6. Corrupted or missing system hive.

To effectively diagnose what’s causing Windows not to boot, here are some things you can do:

Check Description
Press Num lock or Caps lock when your PC is booting. If the corresponding indicator lights don’t turn on, the issue likely lies with other hardware on your computer.
If you’re using a laptop with a removable battery, unseat the battery, connect the charger and switch on the laptop. If Windows boots normally, it may be time to replace your laptop’s battery.
Reconnect the hard drive to the motherboard. Ensure that the cable is firmly slotted in. Boot up your PC and check if Windows boots up normally.
Disconnect all external peripherals from your PC and boot it up. See if the hard drive light turns on. If it doesn’t, your PC hasn’t passed the BIOS phase while booting. This indicates a hardware issue.
Disconnect your drive and connect it to another PC. Boot up that computer, download CrystalDiskInfo, and check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your drive. Use this guide to know what S.M.A.R.T. values of your drive and determine its health.
Change the boot order in the BIOS. Ensure that the drive containing Windows is placed first.
Create a bootable USB drive and use that to boot your PC. You may need to change the boot order in this case.
Reset the BIOS settings. There are multiple ways to do this, and one of them involves tampering with your computer’s hardware. Only do this if you’re comfortable handling PC hardware.
Switch from UEFI to legacy BIOS and reboot your PC. The exact way to do this differs across manufacturers. Refer to your motherboard’s manual for more details.

How to Recover Data From a Hard Drive that Won’t Boot

We’ll take a look at three main ways to retrieve data from a hard drive that won’t boot. Provided your hard drive isn’t corrupt, all your data should be intact, and you won’t need to perform additional data recovery.

Method 1:Use a Bootable USB Drive

The easiest way to access your files without booting the Windows OS installed on your hard drive, is to create a bootable USB drive. To do this, you’ll need a USB drive with at least 16 GB of storage space and a working Windows computer.

After this, creating the bootable USB drive is a two-part process–download the ISO file for Windows 10 or Windows 11 (depending on your OS) and use the ISO file to create the bootable USB drive.

Download Windows 10 ISO

  1. Go to the Windows 10 download page.
  2. Under Create Windows 10 installation media, click Download tool now.
  3. After downloading, run the tool and accept the license terms.
  4. Select the Create installation media option and click Next.Create installation media Windows.
  5. Choose the language, architecture, and edition according to your needs. Click Next.Select architecture and edition.
  6. Pick ISO File and click Next.ISO file option.
  7. Choose where you want to save the ISO file.
  8. Wait for the tool to download the ISO file and click Finish.

Download Windows 11 ISO

  1. Visit the Windows 11 download page.
  2. Click Download under Download Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO).Windows 11 ISO download page.
  3. Wait for the ISO file to download.

Create a Bootable USB Drive Using RUFUS

  1. Connect the USB drive you want to use as a bootable device to your computer.
  2. Download RUFUS and run it.
  3. Select your USB drive in the Device drop-down menu.
  4. Click Select next to the Boot selection field. Browse for the Windows 10/11 ISO file and double-click on it.Select ISO file and USB.
  5. Select Windows To Go in the Image options drop-down menu.
  6. Select GPT in the Partition scheme menu.
  7. Click on the Start option. Choose the version of Windows you’d like to run, and click OK.RUFUS home screen.
  8. Uncheck the Prevent Windows To Go from accessing internal disks option and click OK.Prevent access to internal disks option.
  9. RUFUS will create the bootable drive.

Once you’ve created the bootable USB drive, connect it to the PC containing the non-booting operating system. Start up the computer and enter the BIOS menu by pressing the relevant key. Go to the boot menu and choose the option to boot up from the USB drive. That’s it! You should be able to access your hard drive and copy files from it to another external storage device.

Method 2:Connect the Drive to Another PC as an External Hard Drive

If you have another PC at hand, you can disconnect the internal hard drive that’s not booting and use a hard drive enclosure to connect it to the other PC. It’ll show up as an external hard drive, and you’ll regain access to your files.

However, the process is complicated, so only do this if you’re comfortable working with computer hardware.

Here’s how you can recover data from a laptop or PC hard drive that won’t boot, by using a disk enclosure:

  1. Remove the internal HDD from your laptop or PC. You’ll have to disconnect the SATA cable and the power cable. In some laptops, the HDD is soldered onto the motherboard, in which case, you won’t be able to disconnect it.
  2. Purchase a disk enclosure. You can find these on all popular shopping sites. Double-check for compatibility and the type of connector the enclosure uses. Mount the internal hard drive into the enclosure. It may simply slot in, or you may have to use screws to fasten it. Connect the SATA cable to the provided port in the enclosure. Close the enclosure.
  3. Use the provided USB cable to connect the disk enclosure to your PC. The drive will show up as an external HDD.

Method 3:Contact a Professional Data Recovery Service

If none of the methods above helped you regain access to your files, or you’re dealing with physical damage to the HDD, it’s best to contact a professional data recovery service. These services are expensive, so you’ll need to determine whether the data is valuable enough.

Here’s what to expect when using the services of a professional data recovery company:

  1. You submit a data recovery request using the company’s website or phone. Describe your situation in detail.
  2. You’ll have to courier the affected hard disk to the data recovery service or drop it off at a drop-off point.
  3. The company will evaluate the drive, determine the amount of data that can be recovered, and get back to you with a quote.
  4. If you choose to proceed, the experts will retrieve your data and ship it back to you.

How to Fix a Hard Drive that Won’t Boot

To fix a hard drive that won’t boot, you should be aware of what caused Windows to not boot. Refer to the first section of this article for more information on this.

You won’t have access to Windows’s user interface, so you’ll have to boot up using a bootable USB drive or a live CD.

Most of these methods will require you to access Command Prompt while in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). Here’s how to do this:

  1. Create Installation media for Windows.
  2. Connect the Windows installation media you created previously to your PC and switch it on.
  3. On the Install Windows screen, click Repair your computer.
  4. Choose the operating system you want to repair and click Next.
  5. Go to System Recovery Options > Command Prompt.

Here are some ways to fix a hard drive that won’t boot:

Fix 1:Run an Antivirus Scan

Malware can corrupt Windows’s boot sector, preventing it from starting up. But how do you run an antivirus scan when Windows won’t boot? You can use one of the many bootable antivirus tools to do this.

Many third-party antivirus programs let you create a bootable USB drive that you can use to scan a Windows PC that won’t boot. Here is an excellent resource on how to perform an offline antivirus scan to fix a Windows PC that won’t boot.

Fix 2:Windows Startup Repair Tool

The Windows Startup Repair tool detects and resolves any boot-related issues on Windows. In most cases, the Startup Repair tool starts automatically when Windows is unable to boot. But, if it’s unable to do that, you can create installation media for Windows and use that to run the Startup Repair tool manually.

Here’s how you can create installation media for Windows:

  1. Depending on the version of Windows you’re using, go to the Windows 10 or Windows 11 download pages. Here, click on Download Now in the Create Windows 10/11 Installation Media.
  2. Run the downloaded tool.
  3. Choose the Create installation media option and click Next.Create installation media.
  4. Pick the Windows version, language, and edition using the respective drop-down menus and click Next.Windows language and architecture selection.
  5. Pick the USB flash drive option and click Next.
  6. USB drive option.Select your USB drive on the next screen. Click Next.Choose USB drive.
  7. Windows will download and create the installation media.

After creating the installation media, here’s how you can manually run Startup Repair:

  1. Connect the USB drive that contains Windows installation media to the PC that’s not booting.
  2. Power on the PC.
  3. Click Next > Repair your computer.
  4. Now, go to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Repair.
  5. Windows Startup Repair will detect and fix any startup-related issues on the computer.
  6. Once the process is complete, Shutdown the PC and start it again.

Fix 3:Repair Boot Codes

Windows has an in-built boot repair utility called Bootrec. You can run this using the Command Prompt within the Windows Recovery Environment. If Windows is not booting because of a corrupted Master Boot Record (MBR) or damaged boot sector, you can run this utility to repair Windows and make it bootable again.

Here is how to use the Bootrec utility’s repair boot codes:

  1. Connect the Windows installation media you created previously to your PC and switch it on.
  2. On the Install Windows screen, click Repair your computer.
  3. Choose the operating system you want to repair and click Next.
  4. Go to System Recovery Options > Command Prompt.
  5. To fix the MBR, type BOOTREC /fixmbr and press Enter.Fixmbr command.
  6. To repair the boot sector, type BOOTREC /fixboot and press Enter.Fixboot command.

Fix 4:Resolve BCD Errors

You may encounter error messages such as, “The Boot Configuration Data for your PC is missing or contains errors” during startup. Fixing BCD related errors is usually a simple affair and can be done by running a few commands.

To repair BCD related errors on Windows, follow these steps:

  1. Enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) and run Command Prompt.
  2. In the CMD console, type BOOTREC /scanOS and press Enter.Scan OS command.
  3. Restart your PC and see if Windows boots. If it doesn’t, follow the next steps.
  4. Open Command Prompt in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  5. Type bcdedit /export c:cdbackup and press Enter.Export BCD command.
  6. Type attrib c:ootcd -r -s -h and press Enter.BCD attributes command.
  7. Type ren c:ootcd bcd.old and press Enter.Rename BCD command.
  8. Finally, type bootrec /rebuildbcd and press Enter.Rebuild BCD command.
  9. Reboot your PC.

Fix 5:Replace the Bootmgr

The Bootmgr plays a crucial role in the Windows boot process. If you’re seeing error messages like, “Bootmgr is missing,” you’ll need to replace the Bootmgr from the C: drive to the System Reserved Partition.

Doing this, you guessed it, requires executing a bunch of commands within the Command Prompt in Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).

To replace the Bootmgr, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Command Prompt within Windows Recovery Environment.
  2. Type powershell in the CMD console and press Enter.Powershell command.
  3. Now, type
    Get-Partition -DiskNumber 0 -PartitionNumber 1|Set-Partition -NewDriveLetter R

    and press Enter. This command assigns a drive letter (R:) to the System Reserved Partition that contains the original Bootmgr file.GetPartition command.

  4. Type R: and press Enter.R: partition command.
  5. Type attrib -r -s -h and press Enter. This will unhide the bootmgr file within the System Reserved Partition.Attrib command.
  6. Type ren bootmgr bootmgr.old and press Enter. This command renames the “bootmgr” file to “bootmgr.old.”Rename Bootmgr command.
  7. Type C: and press Enter.The C: command.
  8. Type attrib -r -s -h and press Enter.Attrib command.
  9. To copy the Bootmgr file from the C: drive to the System Reserved Partition, type copy C:ootmgr R:\ and press Enter.Copy Bootmgr command.

Fix 6:Restore System Hive

Restoring the system hive essentially means copying files from the C:\Windows\System32\config\Regback directory to the C:\Windows\System32\config\ directory. However, this method is only applicable if you’re running Windows 10 1803 or older. If you updated Windows in or after May 2019, skip this method and use the System Restore method instead.

To restore the system hive, follow these steps:

  1. Open Command Prompt in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. In the console, type CD /D C:WINDOWSSYSTEM32CONFIG and press Enter.
  3. To rename the existing files in the Config folder, type the following commands in succession and press Enter after each one–
    • REN DEFAULT DEFAULT.OLD
    • REN SAM SAM.OLD
    • REN SECURITY SECURITY.OLD
    • REN SOFTWARE SOFTWARE.OLD
    • REN SYSTEM SYSTEM.OLD
  4. To copy the files from the RegBack folder to the Config folder, type these commands and press Enter after each one:
    • copy C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\DEFAULT C:\Windows\System32\config\
    • copy C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\SAM C:\Windows\System32\config\
    • copy C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\SECURITY C:\Windows\System32\config\
    • copy C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\SOFTWARE C:\Windows\System32\config\
    • copy C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\SYSTEM C:\Windows\System32\config\
  5. Reboot your PC.

Fix 7:Uninstall Windows Updates

Windows boot issues can creep up after major updates. In this case, the only way to fix them, is to uninstall the latest updates. To achieve this, you’ll need to enter the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). You can do this using the Windows installation media as described here.

Once you’re in the Windows Recovery Environment, you can uninstall Windows update by clicking Advanced options > Uninstall updates > Uninstall latest quality update.

Fix 8:Use SFC

System File Checker (SFC) is a command line utility in Windows that detects and fixes corrupt system files on your PC. You can use this tool to resolve numerous common system errors in Windows. It’s worth running this tool to address boot issues as well.

Running SFC is simple:

  1. Open Command Prompt in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. In the CMD console, type sfc /scannow.SFC syntax.
  3. The SFC scan will begin. The entire process may take a while.

Fix 9:Run CHKDSK

Another command line utility, CHKDSK (short for check disk), scans your hard drive for errors/bad sectors. Depending on the parameters you add, CHKDSK will either just scan for errors and display them or scan as well as fix them.

To use CHKDSK, follow these instructions:

  1. Launch Command Prompt while you’re in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. Type chkdsk /f /r in the console and press Enter.CHKDSK syntax.
  3. Reboot your PC after the scan is complete.

Fix 10:Use System Restore

Depending on how it’s configured, Windows regularly creates restore points that capture the state of your PC at the time. Using these restore points, you can revert your PC to the required earlier state. Typically, Windows creates a restore point before installing major updates as well.

Here’s how to use System Restore when Windows is unable to boot:

  1. Enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. Click on Troubleshoot > Advanced options.
  3. Here, click on System Restore.
  4. Click Next on the System Restore wizard’s welcome screen.System Restore welcome screen.
  5. Choose a system restore point by clicking on it. Double-check the date and time. Click Next.Select System Restore point.
  6. Click on Finish.Finish System Restore.
  7. In the confirmation prompt, click Yes.
  8. Wait until System Restore completes the process.

Fix 11:Turn off Fast Startup

The fast boot feature in Windows 10 and Windows 11 can sometimes cause startup problems. It’s recommended you switch off fast boot, reboot your PC, and see if Windows is still unable to boot.

To turn off fast boot, follow these instructions:

  1. Enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) and launch the Command Prompt.
  2. Type the following command – Powercfg -h off and press Enter.Powercfg command.
  3. This command will disable fast startup, along with Hibernation. The two features are interrelated.

Fix 12:Use Diskpart to Assign a Drive Letter to the UEFI Partition

Occasionally, Windows may be unable to boot if the UEFI partition doesn’t have a drive letter assigned to it. To assign a drive letter to the UEFI partition, you’ll need to use diskpart–Windows’ partitioning and disk management command-line utility.

Before you begin, ensure that all external storage drives are disconnected from your PC.

To assign a drive letter to the UEFI partition, follow these steps:

  1. Open Command Prompt in the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. Type diskpart in the console, and press Enter.Diskpart command.
  3. Type select disk 0 and press Enter.Select disk command.
  4. Type list volume and press Enter. This prompts diskpart to list all the volumes on your PC. Look for the UEFI partition. It’ll typically be labeled “BOOT” and will be formatted to FAT32. Note down the volume number.List volume command.
  5. Type select volume x and press Enter. Replace x with the volume number you noted down earlier.Select volume command.
  6. Now, type assign letter=N: and press Enter. You can use any letter instead of N, but it should be unique, i.e., not assigned to any other partition on your PC.Assign letter command.
  7. Type exit.
  8. Reboot your PC.

Fix 13:Factory Reset Windows

If nothing else works, a factory reset might be the only way to fix Windows if it’s unable to boot. This option will reinstall Windows and you’ll get a clean slate. You can opt to delete or keep your personal files. Regardless, the reinstallation process does take a while, so be prepared to wait.

Steps to perform a factory reset when Windows is unable to boot:

  1. Enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).
  2. Click on Troubleshoot > Reset this PC.
  3. Choose whether you want to keep your files or erase everything.
  4. Select your user account and type in the password. Click Continue.
  5. You can opt to perform a Local Reinstall or a Cloud Download. Choose whatever option suits you. You’ll need an active internet connection to perform a Cloud Download.
  6. Click Reset.

How to Recover Files from a Hard Drive After Fixing It

Fixes such as System Restore, and CHKDSK can cause some files to go missing from your hard drive, even though the boot issue may be resolved. Additionally, if the problem arose because of a corrupt hard drive in the first place, numerous files may have already been lost before you attempted the fixes.

In this case, third-party data recovery software can help you get them back.

For our tutorial, we’ll use Disk Drill to recover lost data from the hard drive. It’s easy to use, recognizes over 350 file formats, and works with any storage device under the sun. As a Windows user, you can take advantage of Disk Drill’s free trial which lets you recover up to 500 MB of files at no cost.

To recover data from your HDD using Disk Drill, follow these steps:

  1. Download Disk Drill and install it.
  2. Open Disk Drill, select your drive, and click Search for lost data.Search for lost data in Disk Drill.
  3. Click Review found items once Disk Drill finishes scanning your PC. Alternatively, you can directly click on the file type you want to recover, such as Pictures, Video, Audio, Documents, Archives, and Other.Review found items screen in Disk Drill.
  4. Select the files you would like to recover by ticking the checkbox next to each filename. Disk Drill displays a preview of the currently selected file. Click on Recover, after confirmation.List of recoverable files in Disk Drill.
  5. Choose where you want to save the recovered files. Click Next.Recovery destination prompt in Disk Drill.
  6. Disk Drill will recover the selected files.

Conclusion

Fixing an unbootable PC can be a tedious process, determined by what caused the problem. However, you should be able to get back any important files from your hard drive using the methods we described. If you’re unable to do so on your own, it may be worth investing in a professional data recovery service to help you out.

FAQ:

Recovering data from an SSD that won’t boot is not as easy as doing the same on an HDD. You need to use a bootable USB drive, and run the CHKDSK utility to see if it fixes the drive. If it doesn’t, use an SSD enclosure to connect the drive to another computer and create a disk image of it. The disk image can be scanned for recoverable data. You can do both of these things, using Disk Drill.
To wipe a hard drive on a PC that won’t boot, enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE), run Command Prompt, and use the diskpart format command to format the drive. Alternatively, you can factory reset the PC and opt to delete all your files.
To back up and access your files without booting into Windows 10, either use a bootable drive and open Windows Explorer from it or use a disk enclosure to connect your drive to another PC as an external hard drive.
manuviraj
Manuviraj Godara is a professional content writer with over 4 years of experience under his belt. His ever-growing fascination and experience with technology drives him to create content related to data recovery and consumer technology.
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12 years experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair.