Using Linux to rescue a Windows hard drive

Koffice15So, a friend of mine tells me his Thinkpad is kapput. As ‘computer guy’ requests go this is more interesting than the “what computer do you think I should buy” I normally get. Anyway, after very little troubleshooting I conluded his laptop was in fact dead as opposed to just being asleep or needing to be recharged as I originally suspected.

Well since the laptop couldn’t power on, the best I could hope to do was recover the data off the hard drive. I purchased a 2.5 inch to 3.5 inch convertor so that I could attach the laptop’s HDD to my desktop’s IDE cable. CompUSA has one for $9.99.

From there I thought it would be smooth sailing. I booted up the desktop which immediately recognized the new drive. I drilled down through to get the My Documents folder off of the laptop drive. No go. Access denied. Now, I was expecting this. The laptop was running Windows XP and the drive was formatted using NTFS. So I tried using Windows XP’s runas utility to run explorer using my friend’s username and password. Alas, no luck. Now I had run out of clever ideas.

Before giving up, I checked my favorite user’s manual, Google, and came across a great article on using Knoppix to access a NTFS-formatted drive. For those you don’t already know Knoppix is a version of linux that fits on a cd or dvd. You can download the iso file and burn a bootable cd/dvd. Then, simply place the cd in the drive and reboot your computer as normal. Most newer desktops can boot off the cd drive though you may need to access the boot menu. (On a Dell, hit F12 while the screen is showing the Dell logo.) Once Knoppix has finished loading, you’ll see a desktop very similar to Windows’.

Knoppix was amazing in that it easily detected all my hardware including the USB key I didn’t realize I had left plugged in. Actually in the article, using an external USB hard drive sounds like the recommended route. Since I didn’t have one of those and my buddy had 14GB of data, using the IDE connection to copy fies from the laptop’s drive to my own was my only option.

I was using Knoppix 5.0 and found that I did not need to run the Captive NTFS tool that is described in appendix G. Though I did have to follow the instructions for making drives writable. I had trouble figuring out which drives to make writable. This was probably complicated by the fact that my desktop has three HDD’s not including the USB. I fumbled my way through it and was able to copy over the needed files.

It was not without a twinge of irony that I used Linux to save a Windows machine.

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