Get my Files!

file-copy-laptop-to-external-hard-drive-image-from-shutterstockGet my Files! a reader asks…

My Windows laptop has developed a problem and I need an easy solution. I think the hard drive is ok, but the laptop itself is broken (screen cracked, won’t boot up). Is there a place where I can get the data from my hard drive extracted so I can save my personal files? I will be getting a new computer.

Certainly you can pay someone to extract your data and give it to you, but this is something you can easily do yourself. Usually all you need is a small Phillips screwdriver and an external hard drive enclosure. Here’s what you do:

external-hard-drive-enclosure-image-from-amazondotcomFirst, buy yourself an external hard drive enclosure. has two I like, here and here. The first one is $39, and is my preferred one because it is a very sturdy enclosure and includes disk transfer software (great for upgrading your hard drive to a new solid-state drive). The second one is only $9 and is fine for basic use.


What makes this a great and worthwhile investment is that you can use this the same as you would any other external backup drive. Rather than buy a My Passport drive, you can use this with your old laptop’s drive (after you’ve completed the remaining steps) to easily backup one or more computers.

laptop-underside-with-hard-drive-cover-removedSecond, unplug your laptop, turn it over and remove the battery. Unscrew the cover over the hard drive and remove it. Different model laptops may have the hard drive located differently, and at the worst, you may have to remove a lot of screws and pry off the entire back. On one model I even had to unscrew and remove the motherboard and pop off the keyboard to get at the hard drive. Since your laptop is broken anyway, don’t worry about breaking any plastic parts (or even the motherboard and other hardware parts), that laptop is destined for the recycle bin anyway. Just make sure you don’t break the hard drive connector at the end of the hard drive.

Third, open the enclosure you bought and slide the hard drive in. Close it up and plug the included USB cable into the enclosure and into another computer. Open File Explorer and navigate to the external hard drive (which will show up a few seconds after you plugged it in), and viola! you can access and copy all your personal files to the other computer.

After you’ve gotten your replacement computer, set it up and copied your personal files, your old laptop hard drive and enclosure are no longer needed (for that job). So now put it to use as a backup drive. First you’ll want to reformat the hard drive, and then follow the steps in my article Win10-2 things for recovery to turn on File History, and create an image backup. You’ll also want to make yourself a recovery drive using a small USB thumbdrive. Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with the process of recovering from a future disaster, it’ll save you a lot of headache later on!


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  1. Hello Chris,

    Thank you very much for your feedback.

    It is always a breath of fresh air when you find someone in the world of IT who will offer both kind and honest feedback. In contrast, most tech shops give off the feeling that they are trying to get you for every penny that you are worth. And even the internal IT department at my work can be frustrating to work with. Whenever I get an email from the IT people at my office they always give off the tone of you are stupid or don’t bother me (they might as well add that to their email signature.) Great to hear there are still some holdouts of humanity in the IT world!

    I just ordered the simple enclosure for $10. That definitely beats the $150 bid from the IT guy down the street!



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