My PC has had trouble recently but now it won't boot into windows. I put in a new HDD and reinstalled windows but now I want to get the info off the old HDD.

What linux distro can allow me to read and possibly repair my old hard drive? I've used Knoppix a while back and it was good, but is there something I can download that is much smaller than 700MB? The distro should have NTFS write abilities too.

+3  A: 

Damn Small Linux? It's about 50MB, and I believe it will read NTFS.

Derek Park
+5  A: 

The Ultimate Boot CD tends to be a good choice. The iso is about 115MB, and it includes most of the great linux support utilities. There are still issues with Linux being able to write to NTFS (Meaning fixing your windows file system is not too likely), but read should work from any relatively modern distribution.

Good luck, whatever you decide to use.

+1  A: 

+1 to akdom's warning about writing NTFS - its still pretty dodgy. (reads are no problem).

If you are trying to repair your old hdd, you may have a lot of trouble. If you are just trying to rescue files and move them to your new hdd, here's what I recommend.

  1. Pick a linux livecd (all the ones suggested above will work fine).
  2. Set up an ftp server on a different machine.
  3. Boot to the old machine using the livecd
  4. Mount the old hard drive.
  5. Copy any files that need rescuing onto the ftp server
  6. Boot to windows on the new hard drive.
  7. Copy your files down from the ftp server.

Of course this can be even easier if you have access to a USB hdd of some kind that can act as the go-between instead of an ftp server.

Justin Standard

Backtrack (http://www.remote-exploit.org/backtrack.html), although not specifically designed for repairing, also features some forensics stuff which might be of help.

+1  A: 

I found puppy linux pretty easy to use for a small distro (88MB) http://www.puppylinux.org/

+1  A: 

Regarding NTFS writing, the problems are only if you are using the NTFS support in the kernel. NTFS-3g is stable and supports both reading and writing to NTFS.

+3  A: 

I swear by SystemRescueCd. It offers all the tools you could possibly need to save a system. This includes dd/ddrescue (for drive copying/recovery), parted/GParted (disk partitioning), ntfs-3g (to read/write those pesky ntfs partitions), etc. It has an X server, should you need one, supports network booting, and uses ZSH instead of Bash, so it's a tad faster and will offer to correct mistyped commands.

The x86 build is <= 200 MB.

One other note: it has testdisk, which I have used before to find lost partitions after accidentally nuking the Master Boot Record (MBR).

I also recommend SpinRite, but it's not free. SpinRite can save almost any malfunctioning hard drive. It's a 200KB floppy disk image that can be run from a CD as well. SpinRite could probably make your malfunctioning hard drive work again.

+1 for SystemRescueCd. And nice one for mentioning testdisk. It's a fantastic app, I used it just today to help a co-worker undelete a bunch of files. You can also get it as a standalone app here - http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/TestDisk
Simon P Stevens

I swear by knoppix for this kind of stuff, it'll read and write NTFS no problem, and has a staggering amount of software on the disk so it covers a lot of scenarios.


As an alternative to an FTP server as mentioned by Justin Standard, I usually just borrow a FAT32 formatted external hard drive and move the files over there. Other than that, things are the same.


Trinity Rescue Kit



I've used Slax and Knoppix extensively in the past.


I have to second SystemRescueCD. It has powerful tools on the commandline and GUI (including for hard drive copying and recovery to other media or over network), NTFS read/write capabilities, low system requirements for those older computers, and it takes up less than 1/2 of a CD. There is much documentation and some helpful tips. Check out the website for more tips on how to use the CD: http://www.sysresccd.org/

Another Linux rescue CD is RIPLinux. Just 88MB .iso to download. Never tried it, but it was pretty popular a year or so ago, and has a new version out now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recovery_Is_Possible