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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 115: Recover Files from an Unbootable PC

Level Advanced

Platform Windows

Cost Free

Few moments in computing are as heartbreaking as when you turn on your trusty PC only to receive that bone-chilling message:

Boot sector corrupt. Config.sys missing. Disk cannot be read.

In other words, you’re dead in the water.

Or are you? Just because your computer can’t boot up Windows from your hard drive doesn’t mean you can’t boot it up with another operating system on another disk just long enough to rescue your important files. This hack uses the completely free Knoppix Linux Live boot disk (http://knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html) to safely move your files from a failing hard drive to a healthy USB drive — no Windows required.

NOTE There are lots of flavors of bootable CDs and DVDs that you can use to get your computer running long enough to grab your files. Some of them require your original Windows installation disk to build, though. Knoppix is for users who have lost or no longer have access to their original Windows disks, don’t want to build a boot disk, and who aren’t afraid of a different-looking operating system.

What You Need

For the latest version (as of this writing, 6.44) of Knoppix to run, you need the following:

  • Intel/AMD-compatible CPU (i486 and up)
  • At least 120MB for graphic mode (which is what you want)
  • A bootable CD-ROM/DVD drive (IDE/ATAPI/SATA, Firewire, USB) or USB flash disk
  • A standard SVGA-compatible graphics card
  • A standard PS/2 or USB Mouse

Ready to ...

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