If you do not
have the means to physically transfer the hard disk, resist the temptation to re-install your
OS. There are several software tools available which will enable you to boot your computer with an
alternative operating system and then help you try to recover the files.
The simplest way to gain access to the files on your
hard drive with a toasted OS is boot your computer with a DOS boot disk and then
use a DOS compatible file recovery program such as Testdisk, detailed below.
Note that if you have a single hard drive with a single
partition that is no longer bootable, file recovery becomes instantly more
difficult. Most recovery programs will need a place to copy recovered data, and
if you are using the same drive which has the lost data on it you have no guarantee
that you will not be destroying more data than you save. It's a far better idea
to either install a new hard drive onto the current system and put a new OS on
that, or find another computer to transfer the lost hard drive to.
That said, there are several programs such as
'Winternals Disk Commander' and 'ERD Commander', that will boot your system straight
into DOS or an alternate OS, then perform file recovery. None of these programs
are free however.
If you have installed your hard drive
into another computer, or if you have put a new drive with
a separate OS into your current machine in order to boot, you now
have a couple of advantages: Firstly, You can attempt to access your lost data
normally through Windows File Explorer. This will not work if the partition information
has been changed, since the OS will not 'see' the logical drives.
Secondly, You can safely play
with recovering your files, since you now have a completely separate hard drive
on which to put recovered data without compromising the source (lost) drive.
Freeware Recovery Programs
If there is one problem with the
area of data recovery software, it's that companies know that a functional recovery
program is something that people will pay good money for. Hence freeware and
non-crippled shareware programs are thin on the ground.
There are a few options
available though, so on with the list. Please read these through carefully
before deciding the next step you will take.