How to Get Files Off a Computer That Won't Turn On

By Mark Taylor

You can retrieve files from a computer even if it won't turn on.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

When a computer is broken or won't turn on, the files on the hard disk are not lost. By removing the hard disk from the broken computer and connecting it to a working computer, you can recover the contents. Note, however, that some compatibility issues happen when trying to recover Windows files on a Mac or Mac files on Windows. If the hard drive was formatted as FAT32 -- the 32-bit version of the File Allocation Table file system architecture -- both computers will be able to read and write contents to the drive.

Unplug the computer and remove the hard drive. On laptops, the hard drive bay is usually located on the bottom of the laptop. On desktops, the hard drives are located in cages at the front of the computer. A Phillips screwdriver will be helpful to remove screws that are holding the hard drive to the computer chassis. Some mounting systems do not have screws.

Determine the type of data connection that your hard drive uses. If the hard drive's connector is 2 rows of 20 pins, it is an integrated drive electronics, or IDE, connection. If the connector is a short connector with an L-shaped island in the middle, it is a serial advance technology attachment, or SATA, connection.

Find the appropriate cable for your device. For Mac OS X and Windows computers, use a USB to SATA/IDE cable. Connect the USB cable to a working computer. Alternatively, if your other computer runs Windows, you can connect your hard drive up to another computer's motherboard with a standard SATA or IDE cable.

Look in the other computer's disk manager for the new hard drive. In Windows 8, this is can be done by opening up "Computer." If you used a USB to SATA/IDE cable, the drive will appear under "Devices with Removable Storage." If you connected the drive to the motherboard, the drive will appear under "Hard Disk Drives." In Mac OS X, the hard disk will appear on the desktop. Open the hard disk's icon to view the files on it.

Items you will need

  • SATA or IDE cable

  • Phillips Screwdriver