Laptop dead – can I recover the programs?

I brought my dead laptop in for repair and I just got the call – apparently the motherboard is fried.

I was told they could recover the documents but not the programs. Recreating all that will be a royal PITA. Is there any way to get ALL my stuff back? Can I put the drive in some kind of external enclosure and hook it up to a different computer? Can I get a new computer and have them install the old laptop drive? ANY way to do this?


If you had a second notebook computer that’s the same model as the first one, you could just swap the hard drives. But if the second computer is even a slightly different model, you will need to change the hardware drivers.

If the drive is ok, you can always stick it in an external enclosure and attach it to a working computer to get files off of it.

Programs are a bit trickier. Some programs install different executables depending on your particular OS, so you will only have the executables for your laptop, which may not run on a different computer. Also, copying programs isn’t always as easy as just copying the folder containing the program. Programs will often install DLLs in the system directory and may install other things elsewhere (configuration files in your documents folder, for example), and may also add registry entries.

You can install the drive as the main drive in a new computer, which may force the computer to go through several cycles of detecting new hardware, installing drivers, rebooting, etc. This sometimes doesn’t work very well with laptop drives because you don’t have the full version of windows installed. Instead you have an installer located on a hidden partition, and that installer will typically only work with the BIOS and hardware specific to your laptop.

The TL-DR version is it ain’t easy to do what you want to do.

Remove the hard drive and put it in a USB enclosure. This should cost less than $20 Plug the USB hard drive into another computer.

Edit: Whoops, noticed that you are trying to recover programs. This is a much more difficult problem. Do you not have backup installation software for your applications?

The easiest way would be to hook the laptop drive into another pc… i havent done it using enclosures or using laptop drives, but it should be doable.

If its only the motherboard it should all still be there. You should be able to see all the data - but programs are easier to just reinstall - if you have them.

If you put the old drive in the new computer you may have drivers etc that were for the previous laptop, not sure how youd go…

You should be able to take the hard drive out and put it in as a secondary in another computer to get the data off. If you want the programs you’ll probably have to reinstall. You COULD, as Dewey Finn suggests, put the hard drive into a laptop of the same hardware configuration and it should work…or, simply replace the motherboard on the fried system with the same motherboard you had before and that should work exactly the same. If you could just get the hard drive into a compatible laptop for a while you could image the drive, then use something like Acronis universal restore to restore it to a different computer (you’ll have to load all the new drivers, but the programs should work).


You can put the drive in an external enclosure to connect to a new computer and I would recommend doing so. Getting your applications to work even without a drive transplant is a lot more tricky. If you could buy the exact same model of computer you have now, you could replace the drive and you can probably get it to work eventually. A different model of computer is another issue. You may be able to get it to work or maybe not but that is a process for experts. The issue is that the drive will be set up with drivers from all of hardware on your old computer. If the new computer can boot at all with the drive, you may be able to update it with the appropriate drivers for the new computer but this isn’t a sure thing. It may not have enough functionality to let you get that far.

In case you are wondering why you can’t just copy the applications from your old drive to a new computer, it won’t work. Installing applications involves a lot more than just creating the program folders. In Windows, it also creates the correct registry entries that are needed for each application to work.

I am not saying any of these problems are insurmountable. I have done a drive transplant to a new computer before but I work in IT and it still took me days to get it to work right.

So get a new motherboard or forget about it. Hurumph!

OK - how hard is it to stick a new motherbord into a laptop?
Is this one of those questions that shows how truely stupid I am just by asking it?

Imagine disassembling and reassembling a pocket watch. It’s a lot like that. Unlike a desktop, you’ve got lots of tiny parts and they are all crammed together in a very tiny space.

You should also know how to safely handle electronic parts (wear a static strap, etc).

It’s not a stupid question, but that doesn’t mean it has a good answer. The short answer is difficult and expensive. The longer answer is maybe not that bad, but it will cost time or money, which could probably be better spent buying a new laptop and reinstalling your programs.

I’m assuming the laptop is out of warranty, because otherwise, what would be the point of this discussion? Some manufacturers will repair out of warranty machines. You can investigate the cost of that. The problem is, it might cost you just to get an estimate. Some companies have a flat fee for out of warranty repairs. You could also look into other computer repair shops. I’d investigate independent shops in your area, as opposed to big-name chains.

For some reason, laptop motherboards seem to always cost $400. I don’t know why. You might be able to find a motherboard for your laptop on ebay from a machine with a broken screen, for example. For that matter, you might be able to buy a working machine identical to yours, and just stick in (or clone) your drive.

Laptops are very annoying to work inside. Even the “trained” repair techs often put them back together wrong. Doing it yourself is certainly not impossible, but if you don’t have experience working inside computers, then it is definitely jumping into the deep end.

In summary, if this computer is barely over a year old, and just out of warranty you can try guilting the manufacturer into fixing it for free. Nothing to loose, really. If it’s much older than 2 years, then any but the most trivial cost to fix it is probably better applied towards a new machine. That does depend in some part on how much it will cost to replace with a new, but similar form factor computer. $350 discount special laptops are disposable. A 2 year old $1200 high end business laptop might cost enough to replace ($1200!) that it’s worth trying to repair. Even though for the repair price, you could buy a $350 disposable laptop, which will be faster than the old one.

Anyway, carefully consider the difficulty, time, and expense of reinstalling all of your programs on a new computer, with that of trying to repair the old one.

It’s possible, for most models of laptop. (Apples being the potential exception.) That’s about the best I can say.

But I doubt it would be a good solution to your problem:

  1. Laptop drives are notoriously unreliable, and even though your motherboard happened to die first, I’d wager your HD is also on its last-legs. I don’t trust it, in other words.

  2. New laptops aren’t very expensive, almost undoubtedly cheaper than replacing the motherboard in an existing laptop unless your time is only worth minimum wage. And even then maybe not.

  3. Working on laptop hardware is difficult and delicate, and there’s a decent chance you’ll either break the new motherboard, the hard drive, or re-assemble the laptop incorrectly. One mistake with the parts, and the cost skyrockets. One mistake with your one good drive, and your data is gone.

  4. On the off chance you have software you can’t easily find the installer for, or contact the vendor to get a new copy of, you’ll have learned a very important lesson about keeping your data backed-up, which will serve you in the future.

Sorry the last point’s a little snarky. But yeah, plug the HD into another computer, back-up your files and get a list of applications, spend a couple days getting copies of those applications’ installers and reinstall the whole she-bang on a new computer. Then regularly back it up. That’s my advice.

Thanks for the info. I guess I’m off to buy a new computer.

Last question - I really don’t move it around all that much, would I be better off from a reliability stand just getting a desktop?

I think desktop hardware is significantly more reliable than laptop hardware, in general. I don’t have any numbers to back that up, though.

EDIT: meant to type “hardware”, not “software”

It would be cheaper. It all depends on how much is ‘all that much’, really. Personally, I went with a gaming desktop at home (3 monitors), and got rid of the laptop completely…I use an iPad for portable computing these days. The only thing I miss is being able to do serious gaming when I’m on the road, but I’m so old now that I hardly have the energy for surfing porn at night when I’m on the road, let along gaming. :stuck_out_tongue:


Concur; motion will always introduce the opportunity for malfunction. If you need a desktop that you can carry around on occasion, get a micro case with a handle.

The above posts have been good and generally accurate - you can replace a laptop motherboard if you are careful and methodical, and if you can get the parts. But it is often not worth it.

Migrating a running Windows install (you don’t specify which version) to a new hardware platform is hard - Windows records many aspects of the hardware configuration and drivers in the registry, and optimises the boot process using this information. Swapping hardware under the OS causes great confusion and often leaves the system unbootable (particularly if you have changed drive type from PATA to SATA, or ACPI type, or CPU type). You can use Windows recovery in this situation, as it rewrites the hardware configuration, drivers and Windows files.

Microsoft supply a toolset for doing this for mass deployment of a standard image. There are also tools for Virtual Migration (turning a physical machine into a Virtual Machine, P2V) that copies a hard disk to a VM disk, strips the hardware info from a running system and adds drivers for booting into a Virtual machine. You could try using P2V to migrate your old disk to a Virtual Machine (VirtualBox is free), boot it up and add required drivers to the image, then ghost the VM image to your new system disk. It is pretty complex, and not guaranteed to succeed, but it is possible.

Very few Backup tools handle the concept of backing up a system (data, applications, OS) and restoring that to a different system. It does not generally work.


Doable but involved and it would be difficult for a first timer who don’t know all the little tricks and cautions of taking notebooks apart. Usually getting a new unit and selling the chassis and other parts on eBay is the best way to go. You can get surprising sums for some used components.

Is this a Windows laptop or a Mac? With a Mac (and probably Linux), you just copy the programs and go. With Windows — I think there are copy utilities that can recover the programs but I don’t know how reliable they are. Even if you install a new motherboard, the programs will probably have to be re-registered (if they have any copy protection) as the ID of the machine may have changed.

In Arch Linux, I just type “pacman -S all the programs I want to reinstall” and wait.

In Windows, I know it’s a little late for this advice, but I keep a folder under “My Documents” called “Installs” with every program installer I’ve ever used. Then spend an hour or two reinstalling everything if you have to. Even if the programs are out of date, with an internet connection most installers will go ahead and download the updated version for you. It’s a pain in the ass, but that’s what makes package managers so great.

In OSX and Windows 8, you’ll be able to download software through the App Store and presumably reinstall on a new machine if you have to. But of course there are downsides, like their dictatorial walled garden. And you’ll have the same problems if you install non-App Store software.

TLDR: Install Linux. :stuck_out_tongue: