There are thousands of articles on how important it is to backup your data. And still I haven’t met a person whose hard disk has just died, that didn’t loose some files. The simple truth is that “Your data is only as good as your latest backup”!
Backup files from a non-starting computer
If the computer has a hardware problem and is not under warranty any more, take out the hard disk and (temporarily) install it in an external USB box. On most desktops and laptops this is a straight forward job taking about 5 min. However on some laptops the HD is quite hard to remove (like most Apple and some Sony and Toshiba). On these laptops it is not worth it to take the HD out unless it’s being replaced by a new HD, or the laptop is beyond repair.
Once your hard disk is in the USB box, you can connect it to any computer and copy, burn to CDs or print any of your files.
If you have chosen “Make my account private” when you were choosing your password, you won’t be able to open your “My Documents” folder. To fix that you will have to restart in safe mode on Windows XP Home, or turn off “Simple file sharing” on Windows XP Pro (Control Panel -> Folder Options -> View -> uncheck “Use simple file sharing”). After that you can right-click on the folder and choose “Properties -> Security -> Advanced -> Owner” then check the “Replace owner on subcontainers and objects” checkbox, select “Administrators” as the new owner and click “OK”. Now Windows will go through all files and folders in your “My Documents” folder and make them accessible (may take some time).
If your computer has only a software problem and wouldn’t start even after you tried to fix it, you can use UBCD4WIN to start it and then copy your files to an external USB disk. It’s a good idea to have one of these external disks, as making regular backups to them is very easy. However you may even borrow one off a friend if you can, as you would only need it for a few hours until you reinstall/restore Windows. To do this just plug in the USB disk before starting the computer, so UBCD4WIN would recognize it. Then the USB disk will show in “My Computer” as usual and all you have to do is navigate to your files and copy them over.
The two folders that you should always backup are “My Documents” and “Desktop”. Both of them are in “C -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name]“. Your Internet Explorer Favorites are there too. Also some programs (usually accounting and tax software) save everything in their installation folder. If you have any of these installed, copy the entire folder from “C -> Program Files -> [program's name]” to your backup media.
To navigate to the folders listed below you need to enable “Show Hidden Files and Folders” in “Control Panel -> Folder Options -> View”.
- If you use Outlook Express your emails are in “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Local Settings -> Application Data -> Identities” and your Address Book is in “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Application Data -> Microsoft -> Address Book”
- If you use Outlook your emails are in “C -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Application Data -> Microsoft -> Outlook”.
- If you use Thunderbird your emails and settings are in “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Application Data -> Thunderbird”.
- Your Firefox profile including bookmarks are in “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Application Data -> Mozilla”.
- Your Opera settings and bookmarks are in “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Application Data -> Opera”.
Or just delete the “temp” and the “Temporary Internet Files” from “C: -> Documents and Settings -> [your user name] -> Local Settings” and copy the whole folder that has your user name from “C: -> Documents and Settings”. Of course, you will be backing up quite a few useless files that way.