Home » Hardware, Productivity, Resources, Tools

Teacher Tech Support: Retrieve Important Files From (almost)Dead Computer

7 December 2007 5 Comments

It’s true that a computer can have a huge positive impact on the classroom, but sometimes these machines misbehave. One crashed computer can mean months(often years) of hard work are gone forever.

Scenario: You arrive at school ready to take on the day. You go to turn on the computer and get a strange error message or blank screen. Windows never boots, and the thought of all those important files being erased strikes a chill down your spine.

The good news is that in almost all cases those files are still savable. Even if you have a hardware problem. The bad news is that some technology departments won’t have time to retrieve those files and will simply give you a replacement and their condolences. Enter the Knoppix Live Disk.

Knoppix is an Operating System on a disk. It requires no hard drive or installation to work, and if everything else on your computer is running fine then you might just save those files yourself.  Here’s how. Note: Computer must have power to do this process!

Learn how an instructional technology online degree could help you succeed in your professional life by doing something you love.

What you will need:

Download Knoppix– This is a 300mb file, could take a long time on a slow connection.


Once the file is downloaded you will need to burn it to a disk as an ISO. If you are using the CD Burner XP from the link above, open it. Select the data cd option. When the program opens go to File>Burn disk from iso file. Browse for the Knoppix file. Hit Burn.

You are now ready to run it on the problem computer.

Step 1  – BIOS Settings

This step can look scary at first if you have never seen your computer’s BIOS before. Follow the steps and you will be fine. When you start the computer start tapping F2. This will bring you to what is called the BIOS. It controls a lot of the background functions of the computer. For our needs it handles the process of selecting the hardware to boot from.

The default setting is the hard drive. You will need to find the Boot Order screen and set the first device to your CD Drive. Since each BIOS can be different, you may need to do some looking around. The screen you are looking for will say “boot order” and list devices such as Hard Drive, USB, CD/DVD, etc. Set your CD drive as the first device so that computer knows to look there first when starting.(Since you are only changing where the computer looks first, you are only changing what the computer will boot from if it finds a CD or DVD). No worries. Save your settings and restart the computer.

Step 2 Starting Knoppix and Saving The Files

With the disk inserted in your computer it will boot up with the Knoppix OS instead of Windows.  If you arrive there you are in good shape. If not, you are going to have to get other help for this problem. When the desktop opens up it will look almost similar to Windows but the icons will look different and have different names.

Look for the icon on the desktop that says Hard Drive. Open it. From there you have complete access to all of the files on your computer. Look around and find the ones that are important. You will need a place to save them so insert your USB flash drive. When the icon for your flash drive appears on the desktop open it. You can now drag and drop all of your important files onto the drive.

Turn off the computer and rejoice over your files being back from the dead!

Other ideas for restoring files from a broken computer? Let us know in the comments.


  • micah d said:

    I believe this is also a great time to mention frequent backups of important data. There are tons of online resources for backup and flash drives are super cheap these days.

  • Scott Walker (author) said:


    Great point. Most schools have a network drive for saving important documents too. The files stored there will stay there and can be accessed from any computer since they are not stored on the actual computer.

    As for frequent backups, a weekly plan for saving any important documents would be something worth implementing. In the worst case scenario you would only lose a weeks worth of documents.

  • Trevor said:

    this actually worked. however, how do i transfer my files? knoppix will not recognize my flash drive or at least not that i know of. please help me.

  • BrainPOP 30-day free trial! K-12 : Faces of Web 2.0 ? 21st Century Teachers said:

    […] came across this fantastic offer today while stumbling upon a blog with info on how to help me recover data from my dead hard drive. A couple months ago I also lost […]

  • 52 Teaching Tips. | 7Wins.eu said:

    […] The Teaching Tips MachineSelect Bibliography ? Best Practices for Legal Educationnewteacherresourcecenter.com ? Blog Archive ? Tips on How to Adapt InstructionThe Mailbox Blog ? How Has Teaching Changed?How To Create a Quiz in Moodle | Teaching TaliaQuality Teaching: The QTL Blog ? Blog Archive ? The South Carolina EdTech ConferenceThe Challenges of Teaching Math | TeachOrTutor.com Presents: The BuzzNew blog on teaching journalism in Canada | Newslab.ca Teaching Children to Pray – Some Tips – Islam for ParentsTechnology Tips For All Teachers -TeacherTechBlog ? Blog Archive ? Teacher Tech Support: Retrieve Im… […]