Can I mount an old Windows OS install to recover data?

I have an old HDD with some data I’d like to access. I replaced the HDD with an SSD, and did a fresh install on the system years ago. Think the drive was getting old enough to trigger some of the SMART readings. No idea if it still works. However, I don’t believe I wiped the drive. Can I just mount it under Linux, and poke around for the files?

You coould do that directly. Linux has support for NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT. A safer way to do it is to so a 1:1 raw disk copy of the files and mount the cloned disk instead of the original

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Just dd the drive onto a newer disk?


It’s also a SATA II disk. Will I need to do anything with the jumpers? Is there a reliable brand I should look at for converting it to USB?

I don’t think so. I don’t even remember the last time I’ve had to deal with jumpers on a drive.


And Sata to USB are common these days and all seem decent.

Even if you have an old external drive you can usually take them apart to have access to the Sata connector board.

Did exactly the same thing a week ago. Drive just shows up in /dev or your distros filemanager and can be mounted easily.

It’s really that easy. I quickly moved all my data and formatted it with BTRFS. My KDE file indexing daemon went nuts on the old NTFS.

if its formatted with a supported file system then just plug it in and you will be able to access it as you would any other drive. (assuming your motherboard still has the right connectors)

it shouldnt try to boot as it should be lower down on the boot tree, than your system drive.
but check bios/eufi just in case and adjust the boot order if needs be.


It’s just old, and I didn’t know if the jumpers would cause problems. Looks like SATA is forward compatible, and should just work.


If the drive has smart errors, make an image of it using ddrescue. That way if it hits a bad spot, you can resume it later easily. dd is not so easy to use.

Also ddrescue won’t write to a drive directly without an override flag. dd will happily overwrite all the data if you aren’t careful and type the wrong destination in.


Ya man, just plugger in. Pull off what you need, reformat it, and use it as digital dumpsite. I usually use old sh*t drives for the write wears.

I’d still avoid USB-SATA adapters. Usually, they don’t forward the SCSI commands and just present themselves as USB mass storage.
This is bad because you can’t read SMART data that way.

If you can somehow manage it, go for a native SATA port(and a high-quality, known-good cable! You won’t believe how frustrating it is to debug a faulty cable!)

Other that that, I’d go for ddrescue instead of dd - Not only is it resume-able, it will try to copy all data in a more safe way:
When an read error occurs, the sector is noted, but skipped at first.
Only at the end are the sectors with errors tried again:
This is so that most data is copied from the disk immediately, and reading a possibly head-crashing area of the disk is delayed to the end.

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Yeah, ddrescue is a better idea. Definitely a bit safer. I’ve done a low level copy with dd before.

I could just open my case up, and plug everything in with cables I have laying around. Shouldn’t even need to order another cable.

Is being able to read SMART data provide a benefit while just doing a low level copy of a disk to another disk?

I shouldn’t have to physically screw the internal HDD in, right? I could just leave it sitting on my desk? I could always just grab the HDD cages removed from the case, and screw the HDD into one sitting on my desk if the vibrations might cause issues.


Should be fine for a short time, just but it on a mat or something to soak up any vibrations.

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Well, if you’re running precarious drive operations, it doesn’t hurt to havedmesg -w running in the background somewhere, to see when and where the drive errors.
A USB drive will report way less errors(AFAIK doesn’t even report retries).
But it’s probably fine if the drive ran before without problems.

I HATE those new USB/E-Sata combination chips that don’t pass SMART data. I’ll spend the extra $10 for the proper chip, just someone make the product again!

You should run one pass of Spinrite if it’s super old. Steve Gibson makes the software and it is widely trusted even though it’s shareware.

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I’ll be looking into all of this soon.

So who exactly trusts Steve Gibson? The guy is a charlatan of the highest order. Errata: Steve Gibson

Use proper recovery tools like ddrescue or take the drive to a professional to get it recovered. Running things like Spinrite on a drive just stresses it and makes it less likely the drive will survive for you to get the data back.

Spinrite itself violates the most important rule of data recovery…never touch the source disk.