How to Get Data From a Hard Drive on a Dead PC
By Robert Kingsley
Your computer is dead and you haven't backed up your files for quite some time. This nightmare scenario happens all too often to unprepared users. You're apt to panic if this happens, but you may be able to recover your data. A computer can be destroyed in a number of ways, but very few will actually obliterate your data. Unless the hard drive fails, you should be able to hook it up to another working computer and access your files.
Remove the Hard Drive
Turn off the computer, unplug all wires from the back of the case and place it on its side with the removable panel facing up.
Remove the side panel from the computer to access its internal components. The procedure for this step will vary from one case model to another. Typically, you'll loosen two thumb screws on the back of the case, slide the side panel toward the back of the case and then lift it clear.
Remove the plastic bezel from the front of the computer. The bezel is held in place by plastic clips that should pop loose easily when you pull it away from the front of the case.
Unplug the power and data cables from your hard drive. Unplug the data cable from the motherboard and keep it with the drive -- you may need it to connect the drive to another computer.
Remove the hard drive from your computer. Depending on your case design, you might just need to pull a plastic lever and slide the drive out of its bay, or you may need to remove a screw from the side of the bay before sliding the drive free.
Externally Connect the Drive to Another Computer
Purchase an external USB drive adapter that is compatible with your hard drive. Check the drive's label to determine if it is a SATA or IDE drive and match your adapter accordingly.
Insert the drive into the external adapter. Some adapters only require you to stand the drive up in a plastic base; with others, you'll have to install the drive in a metal jacket. Follow the instructions supplied with your adapter.
Plug the adapter cable into a USB port on a working computer. Depending on the adapter design, you may also need to plug a cord into a power source. Windows will recognize the device and ask what you want to do with it.
Click "Open folder to view files" to view the contents of your drive in Windows Explorer. You can now copy the files to your new computer or access them from your external hard drive.
Install Your Drive Into a Working Computer
Turn off your working computer, unplug all cables from the machine and place it on its side with the removable side panel facing up.
Remove the side panel and front bezel as you did previously.
Inspect your computer to ensure that you have a free hard drive bay, an available power cable from your power supply, and an open slot on the motherboard you can use to connect your data cable. If all three aren't available, you'll need to use an external drive adapter as described above.
Slide your hard drive into an open drive bay in your working computer. In some cases, you may need to pop plastic pieces into the side of your drive before you insert it into the bay; in other cases, you might need to secure the drive in place using screws. Look at the existing hard drive to determine the proper way to install the drive in your computer.
Connect the power cable from your power supply to the back of your hard drive. Connect the data cable to your hard drive and an available port on the motherboard.
Reattach the front bezel to the computer and refasten the side panel. Return the computer to its usual position and reconnect all cables before powering up your PC.
Open File Explorer after Windows boots and click "Computer" in the left pane. Windows should automatically recognize your old hard drive and list it in the Hard Disk Drives section at the top of the window.
Double-click the drive to access the files stored on it. You can copy them to your new computer's drive or access them from their current location.
- For older IDE hard drives, you may need to reconfigure the jumper on the pins at the back of the drive. Check the drive label for proper jumper position. Move the jumper to the "Slave" or "Cable Select" position before installing the drive in your new computer.
- If your drive is not automatically recognized by Windows, you may need to enable "auto-detect" in your computer's BIOS.
- When working inside your computer, place it on a solid working surface rather than a carpeted floor.
- Wear an anti-static wrist band or ground yourself when working inside your PC to prevent accidental static discharge that could damage sensitive components.
Robert Kingsley has been writing technical copy and procedural documents since 2007. He has years of experience with networking and hardware troubleshooting to help guide readers through their information technology-related issues. Kingsley received his associate's degree in computer networking systems from ITT Technical Institute in Woburn, Massachusetts.