Aug 26 2013

Howto: Rescue Files After Hard Drive Failure

Recently hard drive in my parents’ Windows desktop computer broke down. There was suppose to be a nice scheduled backup system onto the other spare hard drives but when I inspected the situation, I noticed that it had not run in 18 months. This is how I managed to rescue what was there to be rescued.

Prerequisites: This method only works if the hard drive is not damaged too much. If it does not power up or it cannot read any sectors, then you are out of luck. In my case I was very fortunate to be able to read all valuable data so the damaged sectors were somewhere else.


The desktop computer was so old that I could not use live Linux restore system on a USB thumb drive, so I downloaded SystemRescueCD and burnt it onto a CD. If the motherboard is newer you may also install it onto a USB thumb drive. I booted the computer with the CD and selected “Default boot options” and gave my keyboard map “fi” when prompted.

Mount Hard Drives

Next I needed to find out which hard drive is where in the rescue system.

prompt> cd /dev/disk/by-id/
prompt> ls -l
        SEAGATE_xxx ../../hdb1
        SAMSUNG_xxx ../../hda1
prompt> cd /mnt/windows/
prompt> mkdir c
prompt> mkdir d
prompt> mount -t ntfs /dev/hdb1 /mnt/windows/c
prompt> mount -t ntfs /dev/hda1 /mnt/windows/d
prompt> cd c
prompt> ls -l
        My Documents

Copy Data

Now when you have the hard drive(s) mounted, you may copy it to a safer location. SystemRescueCD has graphical user interface where you may copy data to an external USB hard drive, burn the data to CDs/DVDs or copy data to a network location. You can start the GUI typing startx. I decided not to start the GUI and copy the data to my Synology NAS using text-based utility scp (secure copy).

I connected the computer to the same local home network with my Synology NAS and created backup directory there. Then from the computer in question I typed:

prompt> scp -r /mnt/windows/c/Pictures root@

Please note that there is no trailing slash (‘/’) in the source directory because otherwise it will not preserve directory structure but rather copy the files in the destination root directory. is my Synology’s IP in the home network.

It takes a good while to copy the data over the local network (I had 100 Mbps) so leave it to complete the operation.

Make Sure Your Backups Work

This was a good reminder for me that it is essential to make sure that the backup system works! I had built the system so that there was a scheduled task in Windows to copy incremental changes to two different hard drives but when I re-installed Windows 18 months ago I forgot to set the backup system up again, d’oh!


I was fortunate that I could read all the crucial files with the method described. However sometimes the hard drives are so broken that they cannot be read anymore. Please comment if you have succeeded in rescuing your important files with this method.

3 Responses to “Howto: Rescue Files After Hard Drive Failure”

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  • Tom Rex Moise Says:

    i want you gave me how to rescue files after hard drive failure

  • Choice Inspire Says:

    Nice post!! Thanks for sharing this kind of information. These are very helpful for people.

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