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Rescue data from a laptop with a broken screen

Saving files and folders when you can't see what you are doing

Our HelproomEditor explains how to go about rescuing files and folders from your laptop, if the screen is broken so you cannot see what you are doing. See also: how to fix a broken laptop screen.

QUESTION I dropped my laptop and now see a black screen when I switch it on. I want to get a new laptop under warranty, but first need to remove my data from the hard drive. It has an HDMI port, so I tried connecting the laptop to an external monitor and pressing the Fn and F1-9 keys, but I can't get a connection. The screen says no HDMI input found.

HELPROOM ANSWER First, check the extent of the damage to the screen. It could be that the backlight has broken, but some or all of the screen pixels may still be intact. Try shining a light on the screen to see whether you can make out a faint image of the Windows desktop on the black screen. If you can, you may be able to see enough to be able to enable the external display using the Windows Mobility Center. Search for it from the Start menu (or press Windows, X), then look for External Display.

Different laptops use different keys for enabling an external monitor. You haven't told us the model of laptop you're using, so you'll need to look up the specific key combination for your model to ensure you're pressing the right keys.

If you simply can't get the HDMI port to work (perhaps it was also damaged in the fall), the best way to remove the data from your hard drive is to take it out of the laptop and place it in a USB enclosure or drive caddy that you can connect to another PC.

Provided that you haven't used any encryption, you should be able to copy off your files from the laptop hard drive and then perform a low-level format or secure-erase procedure using a free utility such as CCleaner (tinyurl.com/d48bcx6). You can then replace the hard drive in the broken laptop for insurance purposes.

If you're expecting an identical laptop as a replacement, consider making an image backup of your existing hard drive using a tool such as Acronis True Image. You could then restore this image on to your new laptop. If you do this, be sure to take an image backup of the new laptop before you start, in case your saved image backup proves incompatible with the new PC.

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.

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