The best way to access your data when your laptop has a serious problem and wouldn’t start is to take the hard disk out and install it in an external USB box. These boxes are ridiculously cheap – starting at around $10-$15 and the whole transfer of the HD takes about 5 min. Then you will be able to access all of your files on another computer (even at an Internet cafe) and print whatever you need or copy the data to a CD.

This procedure is easily accomplished on most laptops, as the hard disk is usually held by 1-2 screws and is very easy to remove. However that will usually affect your warranty, so check the laptop’s documentation before starting.

However there are a few exceptions: on most Apple laptops and some light weight Sony and Toshiba models the hard disk is hard to remove as the laptop has to be disassembled completely to reach it. Removing the hard disk on these models would also invalidate the warranty.

Also some sub-laptops have a smaller hard disks, not the standard 2.5″ but 1.8″ HDs. Hitachi’s 1.8″ drives have the same pin configuration as the 2.5″, however Toshiba’s 1.8″ drives use their own special pin connectors (they are widely used in the hard disk based iPods). Finding an external USB enclosure for them is not that easy. It usually has to be preordered and would take a few days to arrive.

As an alternative to using USB enclosures, there are cable adaptors for standard 2.5″ HDs (including Hitachi’s 1.8″) and Toshiba 1.8″ HDs that would let you connect them to a standard IDE cable on a desktop PC.

* If you have password protected your laptop’s hard disk, transferring it to an external USB box won’t work. The only way to access it would be to connect it directly to another computer by using an IDE adaptor and then remove the password.


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  • #6 by IT Services Brisbane May 19, 2011 at: 4:15 pm

    Back up is absolutely vital in todays technology dominated world! Especially when hard drives can be so tempermental/ sensitive/ accident prone. Apparently 93% of business that lose substantial amounts of data close down within 5 years…

  • #5 by Graphic Design Brisbane August 12, 2010 at: 10:31 pm

    How do you get your external USB to connect to your MAC remotely? Also I have a new external harddrive – when I connect it to my PC then I can not start my PC up.

  • #4 by Nathaniel Wood May 10, 2010 at: 12:41 am

    if you are going to use third party USB cables, makes sure that they have the RU or UL mark for best performance.::`

  • #3 by joie deVivre October 18, 2009 at: 12:53 pm

    Can I use a USB box to remove contents from two old I Macs to transfer to my MacBookPro?

    What is a good hard drive for my laptop? I have used very little hard drive.

  • #2 by clogman August 28, 2008 at: 3:04 am

    “The best way to access your data when your laptop has a serious problem and wouldn’t start..”

    This fix assumes the problem is NOT a hard disk fault. If it is, plugging into an external box won’t help.

    “The best way to access your data when your laptop has a serious problem and wouldn’t start”
    is actually to read the back-up of all your critical data that you make regularly because, being a laptop user, you know that your machine might fail, get dropped, or be stolen, which is why you are so vigilant.

  • #1 by usb March 7, 2008 at: 12:55 pm

    Thanks for this post. The USB Box will be a great help for me, cause I lose a lot of data due a virus attack.