If nothing helps you to get Windows starting and working properly and you do not have a recent or valid backup, you can still recover your important files if your hard drive is fine. Please note that Puppy Linux cannot help you if your hard disk is unreadable or its file system is badly damaged!
Also, if your Windows drive is encrypted with TrueCrypt, you must use its Rescue Disk to decrypt it first.
Files encrypted with Windows Encrypting File System (EFS aka NTFS-encryption) cannot be copied.
There are several tools available for the job, but we will use Puppy Linux, because it does not require you to have the original Windows installation CD/DVD and it is a relatively small download (around 133 megabytes, compared to Ultimate Boot CD 250+ megabytes and required Windows XP Professional installation CD). Puppy Linux has low system requirements and works pretty fast. Forget the common Linux versus Windows nonsense, this is never really relevant - both Windows and Linux are good operating systems. Full stop.
You will need a CD-writer and a program capable of writing CD images (ISO files) if you want to boot from CD. You can use Windows Disc Image Burner included in Windows 7 and 8 or free CDBurnerXP for this task. As your Windows computer is broken, visit a friend of yours and create the Puppy Linux bootable CD there.
With Universal USB Installer, you can create a bootable USB flash drive instead. This will probably work faster, but you must be sure that your PC supports booting from USB drives.
Also, make sure you have a USB flash drive or external hard drive that has enough free space for the files you want to recover.
If this article is of no help, try using the www.winhelp.us Data Recovery CD/USB that has tools for fixing serious file system errors, duplicating disks, restoring deleted files and partitions, recovering data from hard disks with unreadable clusters and even resetting Windows passwords.
Downloading Puppy Linux
Open Puppy Linux download page and find "Download latest version from ibiblio.org". Click lupu-<version number>.iso link (for example, "lupu-528.iso").
Note that there are some other Puppy distros on the page (such as Slacko Puppy), but you need Lucid Puppy (lupu), the Ubuntu-compatible one. Always make sure you start downloading a file that starts with "lupu"!
In Windows XP, Vista and 7, click Open in Internet Explorer download dialog if you want to create a bootable CD. If you want to create a bootable USB drive, click Save instead.
In Windows 8, click Save - otherwise the downloaded file will be mounted as a new virtual CD/DVD drive.
If you selected Open, Internet Explorer Security dialog will pop up in Windows Vista and 7 after the download and warn about opening a program on your computer outside Protected Mode. Click Allow.
CDBurnerXP opens with Burn ISO Image window. Insert a blank CD or CD-RW now.
Click to check the Verify data after burning and Finalize disc boxes. Then click Burn disc.
If you inserted a CD-RW with some files already written on it, CDBurnerXP will ask whether you want to erase the whole disc contents or not. Make sure you do not have anything important on the disc and click Yes.
Leave Fast selected and click Erase.
CDBurnerXP is like your mom and wants to be sure you want to erase the disc. If you want to turn the "mom" off, check the Never ask again box. Click Yes.
After erase is complete, CDBurnerXP will tell you about this. Check the Never tell again box, if you don't want the program to be like your mom anymore. Click OK.
The disc burning will start. It will take several minutes until the burning is complete. CDBurnerXP will notify you with "Writing process is successfully completed" message. Click OK.
Click Close to exit CDBurnerXP.
In Windows 7, Windows Disc Image Burner will start. In Windows 8, open Downloads folder, right-click the downloaded .iso file and select Burn disc image from the menu.
Insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW now.
Tick the Verify disc after burning check box and then click Burn.
If tray of your CD-writer opens and Status says "There is no disc in your disc burner", you should really insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW. Click Burn in 10-15 seconds after inserting the disc (CD-writer needs to check the disc first).
If you get the "Please wait while the disc burner is getting ready" message in Status box, wait around 10 seconds and click Burn again. The CD-writer is just not ready yet!
In case you inserted a CD-RW that is not blank, Erase Disc dialog will open. Make sure that you have not inserted a disc with important data and then click Yes. This will erase all data on the CD-RW and then burn the disc image.
Windows Disc Image Burner will then erase the disc (if necessary), write the files, finalize the disc and verify the written image. This takes several minutes to complete.
After everything is complete, your new disc will be ejected and Status box will display "The disc image has been successfully burned to disc".
Exit Windows Disc Image Burner by clicking Close.
Because many modern laptops do not have CD/DVD drives, you should create a bootable USB version of Puppy Linux instead.
After downloading the Puppy Linux ISO file, head to Universal USB Installer download page and click the blue Download button.
After the download is complete, connect a blank USB thumb drive (all files on the drive will be overwritten!) and open the program.
License Agreement windows will pop up first, click I Agree.
In the Setup your Selections Page window, open combo box entitled Step 1: Select a Linux Distribution from the dropdown to put on your USB, scroll down and select Lucid Puppy.
Then click Browse on the right of the Step 2: Select your lupu*.iso field.
Locate the lupu-<version number>.iso file you downloaded earlier and click Open in the dialog.
Then select the drive letter of the USB pen drive you want to use for Puppy Linux. Use the combo box in Step 3: Select your USB Flash Drive Letter Only for this. You can use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+E to open Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Windows 8) to double-check that you'll use the correct USB drive letter.
To be absolutely sure that the USB drive boots correctly, enable the Format Drive (Erases Content) option.
Finally, click Create.
Universal USB Installer then warns that it will close all open Windows/File Explorer windows, format the selected drive and turn it into a bootable Puppy Linux USB drive.
Click Yes to continue.
The formatting and creation process will take a few minutes and 7-zip window will pop up while extracting files to the USB drive.
After everything's done, click Close in Installation Complete window.
The selected USB drive is now ready for booting into Puppy Linux.
Make sure that your computer is configured to boot from CD or USB first, insert the Puppy Linux bootable CD or USB drive and restart your computer. Remember that in LiveCD mode Puppy Linux will not write to or change anything on your hard disk(s), so it is a completely safe option.
After your computer boots from CD or USB, you'll see Puppy Linux boot options screen. You do not need to do anything here except waiting for 5 seconds for Puppy Linux to start. Or you can press Enter key on your keyboard to launch Puppy right away.
If you do run into trouble later (screen is unreadable or blank, or no hard disks detected), reboot your computer and press F2 key while the screen above is displayed. First, try typing puppy acpi=noirq and pressing ENTER to see if everything's working fine after this. If not, reboot again, press F2 key and type puppy acpi=strict instead.
After that Puppy Linux will load essential files, that might take several minutes.
Then Desktop with icons appears and Personalize Settings window opens. As you do not need high resolution for recovering files, just choose your keyboard layout (the default is US) and click OK.
In case you changed the layout, test it out by typing some characters and click OK again.
Some users might see a Simple Network Setup window next. In most cases, network is not required and clicking the X mark on top right of the window will close it. If you need networking (for example, you have some networked storage), click eth0, wlan0 or the network interface you need (driver names and connection types are listed).
The personalization part is now done. Let's get to work!
Move on to page 2 of this article to see how to perform basic fixes on NTFS drives and copy your files and folders to external media.