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There’s nothing worse than a computer that won’t start. It’s a terrifying situation that can mean the loss of important data or the need to shell out more dough on a replacement part or new computer. Despite the panic that might set in, a problem like this might be an easy one to solve or at the very least to mitigate the serious damage.

The good thing is this: Most of your files are probably recoverable. A computer that won’t start can have any number of causes, and a failed or irreparable hard drive, which stores all of your important data, isn’t generally one of them.

Your best case scenario

An easy symptom to diagnose is a power supply problem. If your computer shows no signs of power – no lights, no fans, etc. – then your power supply is probably out. In desktops, this is usually an easy replacement that can be handled with a set of screwdrivers and a little time. (Note: Make sure you unplug your machine before making any internal repairs.) In laptops, the power supply is usually an external element, making the procedure even easier.

If your computer powers up but doesn’t complete the boot process, any number of internal issues can be the cause, but there are a few steps you can take to recover your data and get back to work.

Boot from recovery disk

If you had enough foresight to keep that restore disk that came with your computer, then you might be able to easily get your computer working again. However, this won’t help you get your files back, since you’ll be overwriting all the files on the hard drive and returning to the factory settings.

Boot to safe mode

If most of the internal components of your machine are working properly, you should be able to boot up in safe mode, allowing you limited access to your operating system. In Windows, pressing the F8 key during the boot will get you into the safe mode options; in Mac OS X, holding the shift key will achieve the Mac version of safe mode, called “Safe Boot.” From safe mode, you can diagnose the problem or perform a rollback or system restore.

Remove the hard drive and install it in a working machine

If a computer absolutely will not boot up, a savvy computer owner can remove the hard drive and place it in a working machine. With most desktop PCs, this is actually a pretty easy procedure, and it’s a quick way to find out if the hard drive is damaged beyond repair. If you're finally able to boot up the hard drive, you may need to use hard disk file recovery software.

The best hard drive recovery software will allow you to restore potentially lost files from a damaged hard drive. Once you’re able to access the old drive– whether from safe mode or installed in a working machine – you can run the recovery software and begin copying over those important files.

Check out our disk recovery software reviews to find out which program is best suited for your restorative needs.

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