Ask Leo! #719 – Backing Up a Machine that Won’t Boot

This Week

Featured: Eeek! It won't boot! How do I recover the data? Also this week: sharing is caring, except when it's not. Also, Microsoft's track record of horrible product name selection continues.

Reminder: I have a page listing what I consider to be my most important articles. Conveniently on that page is a list of the most popular ones as well.

I need your support! Here are all the ways you can help. And while I'm at it, here are all the different ways to get Ask Leo!

Backing Up a Machine that Won't Boot


Here's the scenario: all is well, you're getting lots of work done on your computer, when all of a sudden it crashes. No idea why — it just crashes.

What's worse, it won't reboot. Maybe it just hangs on boot, maybe it says the drive isn't found, maybe there's something else interfering.

To make matters worse yet, you stand to lose all that work you were doing, because it hasn't yet been backed up. Your most recent work seems to be locked up inside a hard drive you can't access.

There may be a way to back it up before dealing with the crash.

The technique

The approach is rather simple: boot from something else — a USB stick or CD/DVD that has a backup program on it, and see if that backup program can make an image of the hard drive to an external drive.

I have to say “if” because depending on exactly what's caused the crash to begin with, your hard drive may or may not be accessible. If the drive itself has self-destructed, for example, chances of getting at it are pretty slim without the aid of an expensive data recovery service. On the other hand, if the problem is a simple software issue, or even some other kind of hardware-related failure, there's a reasonable chance that a backup program will be able to copy the disk before you attempt further repairs.

Think of this technique as simply another tool in your toolbox to pull out when things go south.

Getting bootable media

The first step will almost certainly require that you use a different computer. If you have only one — the one that's not working — you may need to borrow a friend's.

The approach I prefer is to download and install the free editions of either Macrium Reflect or EaseUS Todo. (Naturally, if you're borrowing a machine, you'll need the owner's permission to do so.) Then, using the installed tool, create what they refer to as an “Emergency Disc”, “Rescue Media”, or similar term. You'll need to create it on a media that your problematic machine can boot from, so choose a USB stick or CD as appropriate.

We think of these rescue discs as being used to restore backup images to a machine. What most people don't realize, though, is that they contain a copy of their respective backup programs, so they can also create a backup, which is exactly what we want to do.


Booting from something other than your hard drive has become increasingly complex in recent years. It's all in the name of increased security, but it can still be confusing and frustrating. My article How Do I Boot from CD/DVD/USB in Windows 8 & 10? has more.

Booting from the rescue media

Now you'll take this bootable rescue media to the machine that won't boot normally and attempt to boot from it.

Unfortunately, this is the step with which I can help you the least. How you configure your computer to boot from a USB stick or CD is different from machine to machine. It probably involves typing a special keystroke as the machine starts up to enter a BIOS or UEFI configuration utility, and making changes to the boot order in that utility. Check your machine's documentation or manufacturer's support site for the exact steps required.

And yes, this does make one very important assumption: the problem your machine has is not so severe as to prevent accessing the configuration or booting at all. If all you get when you try to boot your machine is a black screen with no errors at all, check the connection to your display device just in case, but it's possible that this technique may not work for your situation.

Making a backup image

Once you successfully boot from the rescue media, the corresponding backup program will run automatically.

Attach your external hard drive if you haven't already. This is where you'll place the backup image you'll be taking.

Take the steps in your backup program to create a backup image of your computer's hard drive. The steps, of course, vary depending on the backup program you've selected.

There is a potential roadblock here as well: if the problem with your computer prevents your hard disk from being visible to the backup program, you may not be able to back it up. You'll need to try a different technique if this happens.

Now that you have an image

Assuming you were successful, you can now proceed to do two important things:

  • On another machine, use that backup image to extract the important files you might otherwise have lost. (And maybe back them up while you're at it.)
  • Repair your computer without the need to preserve the hard drive contents. This could be include using repair tools to fix improper settings, reinstalling the operating system from scratch, or even replacing the hard drive completely.

By taking an image of the machine in its failed state, you've given yourself options without the fear of data loss.

Related Links & Comments: Backing Up a Machine that Won't Boot

The Ask Leo! Tip Of The Day!

An emailed tip six days a week to help you use your computer, and your technology, more effectively and with more confidence. Includes online access to all previous tips, as well as Ad-Free Ask Leo!

There's something for everyone, from beginner to the experienced computer user.

By popular demand: now available as a monthly or annual subscription.

Support Ask Leo! by purchasing a subscription to The Ask Leo! Tip Of The Day.



No Ads

Is it Safe to Share My Internet Connection with My Neighbor?

I have a next door neighbor who has a different internet provider than mine. When her service goes down, she asks me for the password to my router so she can connect to the internet. I have no problem providing her with the password, but I wonder if anyone in her house can access my computer now through the router. I trust her but I am concerned that others might try to hack into my system. Should I be worried?

Worried? That might seem a bit strong, but some concern is certainly reasonable.

The short answer to your question is yes, unless you protect yourself, it's possible that someone on her computer with less than honorable intent could cause you grief in several ways.

Let's look at how.

Continue Reading: Is it Safe to Share My Internet Connection with My Neighbor?

What's the Difference Between,, and Now

Is there no longer a I am so confused. I sign into hotmail and it automatically sends me to It would not take my old password, so I had to change it. But, there is nothing in the account. How do you retrieve information that was in This is crazy!!How can I get my messages from my old account or is this really something that has happened. Is there no longer a MSN or is this a joke of some kind.

It's no joke.

Microsoft continues a long history of confusing the heck out of us with the names they choose for their services, and then changing those names as they go along. is what we once knew as Hotmail, which was also called “MSN Hotmail” and was also “Windows Live Hotmail”. That's relatively easy, albeit confusing. But there's more to it than that.

For the record: none of this involves losing any email. That's something else entirely.

Continue Reading: What's the Difference Between,, and Now

The Ask Leo! Tip of the Day

A feature exclusively available to Ask Leo! Patrons Bronze level & above.

More Ask Leo!

Tech Enthusiast Hour: I'm one of the regular hosts of the weekly Tech Enthusiast Hour podcast! Join us as we discuss the latest news & tech goings on. More information at!

Become a Patron
Ask Leo! Books
Facebook - YouTube - More..

Leo's Other Projects....

HeroicStories Since 1999, HeroicStories brings diverse, international voices to the world ' reminding us that people are good, that individuals and individual action matter. Stories - new and old - are published twice a week.

Not All News Is Bad - Each day I look for one story in the current news of the day with a positive bent. Just one. And I share it. - My personal blog. Part writing exercise, part ranting platform, it's where I write about anything and everything and nothing at all.

Help Ask Leo! Just forward this message, in its entirety (but without your unsubscribe link below) to your friends. Or, just point them at for their own FREE subscription!

Newsletter contents Copyright © 2018,
Leo A. Notenboom & Puget Sound Software, LLC.
Ask Leo! is a registered trademark ® of Puget Sound Software, LLC

Posted: August 28, 2018 in: 2018
« Previous post:
Next post: »

New Here?

Let me suggest my collection of best and most important articles to get you started.

Of course I strongly recommend you search the site -- there's a ton of information just waiting for you.

Finally, if you just can't find what you're looking for, ask me!

Confident Computing

Confident Computing is the weekly newsletter from Ask Leo!. Each week I give you tools, tips, tricks, answers, and solutions to help you navigate today’s complex world of technology and do so in a way that protects your privacy, your time, and your money, and even help you better connect with the people around you.

The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition

Subscribe for FREE today and claim your copy of The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition. Culled from the articles published on Ask Leo! this FREE downloadable PDF will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer, and yourself, safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.

My Privacy Pledge

Leo Who?

I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.