Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Retrieving data from a dead windows laptop hard drive with an external USB HD enclosure

As our population of windows laptops ages, we are seeing an increasing number that are failing to boot with blue screens.

  1. In many cases, the data is still intact. The issue is either a hardware failure or that Windows became corrupted.

An external USB enclosure can make the retrieval of your data a whole lot easier. The first thing is that you need to determine which style of enclosure you will need. Our experience has been that most laptops that are 4 or 5 years old are newer will fit in a 3.5 inch SATA enclosure.

The steps are fairly simple

  1. Power down the laptop and remove the battery
  2. Carefully remove the hard drive. In many cases there will be 2 small screws on the cover. Once you have the cover off, look for a piece of tape designed to help you pull the drive out of the bay. Be careful not to put pressure on the drive or otherwise damage it.
  3. Once the drive is out, remove the cage that houses it. There should be four small phillips screws on the sides.
  4. The next step is a little tricky. Most drives have a proprietary plug on the pins designed to allow the drive to be dropped into the bay. You need to use a thin blade or even your fingernails to pop that off the drive. Be careful not to damage the pins.
  5. Now, you should be able to insert the drive into the USB enclosure. The screw holes for the laptop drives don’t match up with most 3.5 inch SATA drives but you should be able to make a good enough connection for transferring data.
  6. Once you get the drive in the enclosure, connect the power and USB cables and turn it on.
  7. You should see the drivers load and the drive show up in My Computer.
  8. In many cases, you will probably be using Windows Vista or 7. Much of the data is located in the My Documents folder for the user under Documents and Settings folder. We have not run into any cases where the user had enabled encryption on their account. I’m not sure that the data could be easily recovered for a user who had set encryption on. When you try to open a user’s folder, you will see a notification that you don’t have rights to the folder. In almost all cases, you simply follow the prompts and your machine will gain access.
  9. Copy any data you need to another storage device. We usually use space on a network drive.
  10. Once you are done you can remove the drie and safely pack it away as a backup. If there was something like a hive failure, you can try fixing it. You might want to back up the restore points stored on the drive before attempting repairs.

In summary, the USB hard drive enclosure can be a great alternative to the costly option of sending the drive out for data recovery. Prices for that are usually in the $1000 and up range.

Use caution when doing this as it is easy to fatally damage your hard drive as you are removing it.

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