Does a computer have to run to access the hard drive?

It seems like there could be a way for an operational PC to be connected directly to another that won’t boot up in order to read some of the files off the hard drive.

Is there?

I’m not sure if thats doable…

If you were after the data on the drive of the pc that wont boot, I’d remove that drive and put it in the pc that boots to read it.

I’ve never done it with windows, under linux you’d need to edit your fstab file etc.


The power supply of the disks on the source system only works if the computer is on, and the motherboard is working. Otherwise the power supply shuts down and the disks cannot run.

Most fixed disks used in a desktop cannot run via USB as the power requirements cannot be supplied. The easiest solution is removing the disk (usually not difficult) and using an external adapter and power supply.


The only reasonable way to do it is to directly connect the hard drive to the working computer. It is significantly easier to do this if you take the hard drive out. (Else you need some long cables.)

The caveats are: Different interfaces. E.g., the older PATA connection, the newer SATA connectors and various problems if there is a laptop involved due to smaller connectors than desktops.

Look up the model # of the HD, look up the specs on the working computer. Go from there.

And the easy way to do that is (as si_blakely suggests) to put it in an external enclosure, with (most likely) a USB interface.

As others have said, for various reasons, it won’t work. Namely, the dead computer has no power. When this happened, we always just stuck the old hard drive in the good computer as a slave drive (or where ever there was a spare slot) and grabbed whatever data we needed from it. It does, however, take a little bit of know how to accomplish though.

It’s possible but rare. Apple implemented a feature called Target Disk Mode in their FireWire Macs - you could hold the T key at power-on and the internal drives would be presented on the FireWire port for access by another machine. It was implemented in the BIOS/firmware so it didn’t require a working OS on the target machine, but it did need to be able to power on. Never heard of any PC makers implementing the same kind of thing.

If it is a PC, all the above is correct. If it is a Mac, there is a bit of wriggle room in that Macs that are able to power up and run to the point of executing the firmware (and thus may be considered not to have booted the actual operating system) can be placed into “target mode” where they look just like an external disk - over either Firewire or Thunderbolt. This can be a lifesaver, as you can access a disk that has a damaged operating system and won’t boot. It is possible to recover files, or repair the disk so that it will boot. But it is dependant upon an otherwise correctly operating machine, and since it only works over Firewire or Thunderbolt (well the really old machines did it over SCSI) it is of limited utility if the other machine is not also a Mac.

Why won’t it boot? If it’s a problem with the operating system, you could boot it with a bootable CD or USB drive.

More reason to have copies of your “KEEPER” files on a partition other than the main C: drive.

So, that you can just take out the drive and plug into new comp and retrieve the files from the good partition.

That’s only if it’s the Operation system that is borked on the bad drive, not if the drive itself had fried.

I can still access all my drives from the last 10 years, when the OP system got borked.

Well, I have had two PCs that came with firewire ports (a Dell laptop and a custom-built desktop computer). Also, you can get Firewire add-ons for laptops and desktops both. I have no idea how well they work in Windows, as I’ve never had a Firewire device to use with them.

That said, I have pulled a hard drive from a machine and mounted it in an external enclosure for pretty much exactly this kind of situation. You run into some speed bumps if the original computer used a logon with a password on it, but if you have admin rights on the machine you are using, this is distressingly easy to get past on the functioning computer. Pull off all the files you want to save (documents, pictures, game saves or whatever) and then put the disk back in the computer where you got it to reinstall the OS.

Or, just keep it in the enclosure as an external disk. Whatever works best for you.

This depends upon how faulty the faulty computer is and what features the motherboard has. If the motherboards supports IPMI and the boot sequence can get that far, you should be good.

But as others have said, likely your best bet is to pull the HDD and connect it to the other PC.

You’re making the process far more difficult than it needs to be. It’s utterly trivial to pull a hard drive off a dead PC and put it in a working machine as a slave drive and pull the data off it. It’s a few minutes work in most cases. It’s a bit tougher if the dead computer is a notebook and you have to open it up to get it out, but you’re still not talking rocket surgery.

The above assumes a Intel based PC. I ave no experience re Mac hardware and I have heard accessing components on some notebook Macs is very involved.

Thanks for all of the tips !

I think the harddisk is still quite easy to remove on the normal MacBook Pros. The new Retina MBPs don’t seem to have a standard HDD though, the solid state memory seems to be a group of chips on the motherboard, like the MB Airs. Data recovery from those is going to be hard.

The SSD on these is on a daughter card, so it isn’t all bad. However Apple have used a new connector (with more pins) that no-one else is using so far. So it may take a little while for external adaptors for those SSDs to become available. The original Airs were not a good idea.

Oh good point, is it only a matter of connector difference from SATA, or are the signals different too?

Are those unique to my computer/operating system? Do I have to have made one for this purpose or will any bootable CD/drive work?

If your hardware is sound (just software corrupted), you can boot with any CD for a similar system (Windows 7, XP etc. Don’t expect Win 3.1 or OS X to work). If you’re savvy I think you can get it to boot off Linux from a thumb drive and network it to transfer files out.

Oh and a sign it’s a software problem is it saying something like “non system disk. replace disk and press any key.” Look out when it just starts up (usually showing manufacturer logo) for which key to press to enter setup, so you can choose what to boot off.

There are a number of Linux “LiveCD” distros that are designed to load off of a CD or DVD (they typically load themselves into your system RAM and run from there until the system reboots). A number of those are basically designed for systems with borked OS’s so that you can recover data and try to perform fixes.

Basically, you burn one of these distros to a CD, load the CD in the CD tray of the borked computer, and boot off the CD (typically you have to mash a button on bootup to get this option to appear, on my desktop it’s F8, but it varies from system to system depending on your BIOS). The disc will give you some options (such as what screen resolution to use) and then boot into a desktop environment not entirely unlike Windows or MacOS.

I want to say that, depending on the LiveCD, it should either mount the hard drives automatically, or else you’ll need to figure out how to do that. I’m fuzzy at this point on the topic.