How to Rescue Files When Windows Won't Start.

Last updated on November 14th, 2019

Sometimes, there is the need to rescue your files if Windows don't boot, in order to perform a clean installation of the operating system. In this tutorial you will find two different methods, to backup your files to an external USB disk, when your Windows PC won't boot.

Suggestion: According to my experience, when Windows cannot start, means (in most cases) that the hard drive has a problem. So, the most important preventive measures to avoid problems in such a case, is to frequently backup your data to an external USB drive, and to frequently check your hard drive for problems.

How to Backup Your Files if Windows Won't Boot.

Method 1. Rescue Files by using a Widows Installation Media.
Method 2. Backup Files by using a Linux Live CD or USB.

Method 1. Rescue Files by using a Widows Installation Media.

The first method to backup your files, if Windows doesn't start, is to use the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE)

Requirements: In order to rescue your files from WinRE, you need to boot your system from a Windows Installation Media (USB or DVD). If you don't own a Windows installation media, then you can create one directly from Microsoft from another working PC.

To Backup your Files from WinRE:

1. Connect a USB drive with enough FREE space.
2. Power on your PC and boot from the Windows 10 installation/recovery media (USB or DVD).
3. At the Windows Setup screen press SHIFT + F10 to access command prompt, or choose Next –> Repair your computer –> Troubleshoot –> Advanced Options –> Command Prompt.

windows setup screen

4. In command prompt type: notepad and press Enter.


5. From File menu click Open.


6. Click This PC on the left and then explore the contents on all drives (at the right), to locate the Users folder.

How to Rescue Files When Windows Won't Start.

7. Double click to open the Users folder.

backup files from windows recovery environment

8. When you find your account profile folder, right click on it and select Send To -> USB External Drive. *


1. During the copy the PC will seem frozen. Just wait it to unfreeze, when the copy is completed.
2. To avoid to copy useless data (e.g. the Temporary internet Files, Cookies, History, etc.), I suggest to explore the contents of your account profile folder and to copy only the important folders to the USB drive. In most cases you have to backup only the following folders (and of course any other folder/file you want):

  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Videos

Method 2. Backup Files by using a Linux Live CD or USB.

The second method to save your files if Windows won't boot, is to use a Linux Live CD. For that task, follow the instructions below:

From Another Working Computer…

1. Download one of the following Linux distributions* in a ISO file.

* Note: For this example we 're using the BitDefender Linux Live CD

2. Burn the ISO file to a DVD or use the Rufus USB Creator Utility to burn the ISO to a USB.

On the Computer with the problem…

3. Connect an external USB drive with enough FREE space.
4. Boot the PC from the Linux DVD or USB you created.
5. After boot, explore all the drives, to locate the Users folder.


6. When you find the Users folder, double click on it, to explore its contents.

Rescue Files When Windows Won't boot

7. Then double click to open your profile folder.

backup files bitdefender rescue disc

8. Finally, right click at any folder that you want to backup, and use the Send to or the Copy/Paste commands, to backup your files to the external USB drive.


9. When done, with the copy, click the Applications menu and click Log out and then Shut Down.


That's it! Let me know if this guide has helped you by leaving your comment about your experience. Please like and share this guide to help others.

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