Our Helproom Editor explains how to rescue data from a damaged hard drive.

QUESTION My old desktop computer has broken. I think the hard drive is damaged and the system won't power up to let me attempt recovery. How can I get my files off my old hard drive and load them on to my new PC?

HELPROOM ANSWER Rather than risk further damage to your data by attempting to repair your old PC with the hard drive in place, we would suggest removing the old disk and attaching it to your new PC for inspection.

Removing a hard drive is relatively simple and can usually be achieved using only a screwdriver. First, you will need to unplug your old PC and open the case.

With any luck the hard drive will be easily accessible and held in place by four screws or a removable caddy. It will probably have two cables plugged into it, both of which will need to be removed.

Depending on the age of your original PC, your hard drive may be a SATA or IDE type. Your new PC will have SATA connectors.
If your old hard drive is also of the SATA type, and you're confident with such installations, you could install it inside your new PC using a spare SATA connector on the motherboard (see our step-by-step guide on page 111 for more details). An easier method, however, would be to externally connect the drive using a USB enclosure. IDE caddies (in which you simply slot the drive) are also available, although less common.

If your PC has USB 3.0 ports, plump for a USB 3.0 caddy. This will greatly reduce the time needed to copy files.

If your old hard disk turns out to work fine, then an external drive enclosure would enable you to continue using the drive as portable storage. The drive caddy option takes less time to set up, too, as you simply slot in your hard drive rather than having
to install it inside an enclosure.

Whichever method you choose, you should now be able to access the data from your old system on your new PC. This, of course, depends on whether or not your old hard drive has been damaged. If it's seriously broken, you may not see it show
up at all on the new PC.

If this is the case, you may have to send it away for specialised data recovery. That said, there are some data-recovery applications that are able to recover data from a hard drive that doesn't show up in the PC's Bios.

We've previously had success with R-Studio from R-Tools Technology, although many other data-recovery tools are available. Most let you try before you buy, so you can find out exactly which files would be recovered before having to pay for the software.

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