Recover Data from a Damaged Hard Drive Using a Live CD

Last week my hard drive started looking like it might be on its last legs. The built-in diagnostic tool that comes with my HP computer was returning a “BIOHD-8” error, which suggested that my hard drive was not feeling too healthy.

Unfortunately, the last time I backed up my data was about a year ago (I know, I know) so I dusted off my external hard drive, which — click, click, click — also turned out to be dead.

Hoping for a long term solution less prone to mechanical failure I opened an account with the online backup service Mozy and started backing up my data to the cloud. At a rate of around 2GB uploaded a day, it was going to take about a month to do the initial backup.

And then on Friday, with about 10GB of data uploaded, my hard drive failed completely — error message “BIOHD-1” for the record. I tried using the built-in recovery tool on my PC but it was too slow and rudimentary. Fortunately, a little searching brought me to a useful article — 5 Ways to Retrieve Data Off a Crashed Hard Drive.

I’m not usually one for messing about with PC problems. The time spent vs. money saved calculation rarely seems to be worth it. But this time I decided to try the Live CD option that was outlined in the article.

Using my other PC, I downloaded Puppy Linux and burned the ISO file to a disc using ImgBurn. With the CD inserted I restarted the main PC and changed the boot sequence to detect the CD tray first.

This time when the PC restarted it loaded up Puppy Linux. After clicking through a few configurations (the default settings were mostly fine) I found myself faced with my first Linux desktop!

Even better, I could see my failed hard drive ‘mounted’ on the desktop and I could click into it and navigate around it just like using a regular file explorer.

I plugged in my USB flash drive, which was also detected and displayed on the desktop and started copying my files over, ready to be transferred to my remaining working computer.

To my surprise, not only did the live CD solution work, it was actually fairly easy.