How to Restore a Computer Hard Drive

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Wondering how to restore a computer hard drive? If you’ve had to replace or format your hard drive, you’ll probably want your data back. Depending on what software you use, you have a few different options.

Check your operating system.
Both newer versions of Windows and the Mac OS X Snow Leopard have built-in backup capabilities. If your operating system has built-in backup tools, and you’ve backed up onto an external drive, restoring is a breeze.

Basic installs of Windows Vista and Windows 7 include built-in data backup tools, while more advanced versions of these Windows operating systems offer complete system backup. Mac OS X Snow Leopard includes Time Machine built-in, which offers a range of backup and restore functionality. If your operating system offers built-in restore and you have a backup, simply follow your OS instructions to restore your hard drive.

Some manufacturers provide restore discs.
Some computer and laptop manufacturers provide their own restore functionality out-of-the-box. Consult your manufacturer’s instructions to find out what restore options are available. Some computers come with restore discs that can reload your basic software, while others include the option to create backups that include anything from basic data to the entire contents of your hard drive, which you can restore after a crash. If your computer manufacturer offers restore functionality, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for how to use it.

Restore using your backup software.
Most backup software programs offer a hard drive data recovery utility that enables you to restore data from external hard drives. What you can restore varies depending on what kind of software you use, and how recently you’ve backed up. Some software programs restore only your basic data and photos, while others make an image of your entire hard drive and are able to copy that image back onto your computer when you need to restore. Consult your hard drive data recovery software to figure out what options you have, and follow those instructions to restore your drive.

You can restore only if you have a backup.
One important caveat: You can restore your computer’s contents only if you have a backup in the first place. If you’re not backing up your computer, you may still be able to restore basic software as provided by your computer manufacturer, but you’ll lose all of your computer’s contents and the software you’ve installed through the normal course of using your computer.

Without an image backup, you’ll have to restore all of your software manually by reinstalling it fresh. Without at least a data backup, you won’t be able to recover anything after a hard drive crash. Make a policy of storing data or complete computer images on external hard drives so that you’re covered in the event of an unfortunate crash that could wipe your computer clean.

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