READ ALSO: If Windows won’t start and start, how to save everything and reinstall
How to recover important files from locked PC
Acting quickly in these scenarios is vitally important before the hard drive goes under stress and decides to break permanently, losing all saved files forever. Once the files have been saved, it will be possible to concentrate on recovering the operating system, with the last beach of the format (which after the recovery of important files we can perform without fear).
Download the recovery tool
Even if Windows is locked the files are always available on your hard drive, just find a way to access them. Obviously, in order to access the files, we will have to use an “external” operating system, able to work independently from Windows and that accesses the disks on the PC, so as to show us all the files kept. The best free tool is definitely one GNU / Linux distribution, a full operating system bootable from a CD or USB stick to boot before Windows.
There are tons of GNU / Linux distributions to use for this purpose, but we recommend use Xubuntu (a light and performing version of Ubuntu) for its great compatibility with all peripherals and the ease with which it can be downloaded. Xubuntu is available as an ISO (image file) downloadable both via browser and via torrent (perfectly legal as it is free to license).
Once the download page is open, make sure to press the button Download present in the Xubuntu section to start the download; if we want to download the BitTorrent file we put the checkmark on the item Torrent downloads then we press the key again Download.
Preparation of USB stick or disk
At the end of the download, the ISO image obtained must be saved on a medium in order to be used. In the past, CDs and DVDs were very popular, but a USB stick of at least 8 GB is also fine to create the recovery environment.
To create the USB key with the (faster) recovery environment, download the free program on a working PC as UNetbootin, available for free from the official website.
Just download and start it, since it is portable (obviously we first connect the USB key to the PC we are using to create the recovery environment). Within the program we select the item Disc image, click on the button with the dots (…) to select the Xubuntu ISO image, select the drive letter of the USB key to be used in the entry Unit and finally click on OK. After a few minutes, the USB key with the recovery environment is ready, we can move to the PC with Windows blocked or not working.
To learn about other methods to create the USB stick, please read our guide to Programs to burn ISO to USB.
If instead, we wanted to use a blank DVD to create the recovery environment, just use a free burning program, such as those recommended in our article How to Burn CDs and DVDs for Free (Windows and Mac).
Start recovery environment
Now that everything is ready, insert the USB key into a port of the same name on the blocked PC or insert the recovery disc into the reader/burner and start it by pressing the power button. To prevent the PC from immediately calling up the operating system on the hard disk (instead of the disk), repeatedly press the F8 key as soon as the PC starts up; this should be enough, we invite you to read our guide How to change the boot order of the computer.
In this menu, select the item relating to the key (USB, Removable or similar) or the item relating to the disc reader to finally start the recovery environment; after a few seconds of waiting, we will finally see Xubuntu startup with a usable desktop, a mouse pointer, and various tools ready to be exploited.
Let’s make sure the mouse and keyboard are working properly and get familiar with this operating system because it will be the basis for recovering important files from locked Windows.
How to recover important files
After becoming familiar with the new operating system (which we remember works completely from USB or DVB support, does not save anything on the disk, and operates only in RAM memory) we can try to access the hard disks and partitions on the PC with Windows blocked using the tool File Manager, obtainable by clicking on the button at the top left in the shape of a mouse head. Once the File Manager window opens we will see all partitions and disks on the locked PC in the side panel, just recognize the right partition by the size and type of folders it contains.
Click on the disk or partition icon to open it immediately in File Manager; if it opens correctly we check that it is the right partition by looking for the Windows folders inside. As soon as we find the right partition let’s go to the path where Windows saves all the user’s (or users’) files, that is the folder Users.
Here we will find all users created by Windows, with the ability to access common folders (Downloads, Music, Videos, Documents, and Pictures) to recover all files.
The files saved in this way will be copied elsewhere, so it is better to keep another large enough USB stick at hand or better a portable hard drive, so as to save all files in a new space separate from the locked operating system.
Once the files have been recovered, just turn off the recovery environment (Mouse-shaped key -> Shut down or restart) and try to recover Windows in complete peace of mind knowing full well that our files are now safe.
If the hard disk or SSD of our blocked computer is in NTFS format, the files can be easily recovered even with Windows 10 blocked or not working, so that they can be saved before system recovery or formatting. To avoid this scenario, it is advisable to activate and leave active back up your personal files with File History, as also seen in our guide How to backup files in Windows 10.
After having recovered the personal files we can try to recover the Windows 10 operating system; if we have never done it before we invite you to read our guides How to reset Windows 10 (Reset PC) is How to Format Windows 10.