Copy Data Off an Unbootable Laptop or Desktop Hard Drive

I recently had a client who was running Windows 10 and got a horrific computer virus that prevented him from starting up his computer. Unfortunately, he had a ton of files on his hard drive that he needed and therefore could not simply format and start from scratch.

If you are in a similar situation where you have a hard drive that works perfectly well, but the operating system won’t boot up because of some kind of corruption of system files or virus, then there is another way to get your data off before you wipe the drive clean.

In these types of cases, you need to invest a small amount of money to buy what is called a hard drive docking station. This is basically a device that lets you take a SATA hard drive (usually) and plug it into another computer via USB. You can buy one that has slots for 2.5″ or 3.5″ SATA hard drives, meaning you can plugin laptop or desktop hard drives. If you have an SSD drive, there are also SSD hard drive docking stations.

hard drive

Once you plugin the drive, you just connect it to your computer via USB most often and now you can browse the hard drive like an external hard disk! You don’t have to load the OS or anything, you can just go straight to the files and folders you want and copy the data.

In this post, I’ll mention a couple of brands that make really good hard drive docking stations and where you can get them. I highly suggest buying one of these because they are simple to use (as long as you can take a hard drive out of a computer yourself) and it’s far cheaper than going to GeekSquad or some tech service like that.

Thermaltake BlacX Hard Drive Docking Station

If you search for this on Google, you’ll get a bunch of results with different prices. Basically, the differences are that the device has either one slot or two. I would recommend the dual slot as that will allow you to read both laptop and desktop drives.

Secondly, most connect to the computer via USB, but there is a more expensive one that also has an eSATA connection. I would only recommend that if you need eSATA, otherwise just get the cheaper USB one. It’s worked great for me for years.


StarTech External Hard Drive Dock

The other really good one is StarTech USB to SATA Dock or StarTech eSATA/USB to SATA Dock. Again, the first one is like $20 and the second one is $40 – $60 because of the extra eSATA option.

startech dock

So those are my two recommendations for hard drive docks. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to copy data off a hard drive that is no longer accessible via normal methods such as booting up, etc. It can even come in handy if you think the hard drive is failing. I’ve been able to copy data off a hard drive that starting making clicking noises using one of these.

Of course, there are some issues. For example, if you encrypted your entire hard drive or even specific files or folders, you won’t be able to view those unless you have proper encryption keys on your new computer. Secondly, you may have to manually override permissions on a folder so that you can actually copy the files.

Sometimes when copying data this way, you’ll get a “Access Denied” error message when browsing through the files. That’s because it was from another installation of Windows, for example, so you have to take ownership of the folders and files and then you’ll be able to copy them. Enjoy!