How to Recover Crypto From an Old Computer
I’m putting the tl;dr first here, because there’s a lot of words below and it makes it look harder than it really is. It’s really not that hard.
- buy SATA->USB adapter
- take out old hard drive
- plug it into said adapter
- boot to old drive
- get rich / die trying
So, if you’ve got an old dead computer and are not an IT nerd, this is a quick summary of…
How to Rescue Crypto off of a Dead Computer
(Note: This only applies to computers with a working hard drive, so they died from something other than the hard drive dying. Rescuing data from a dead hard drive is a more complicated matter.)
- Set of small screwdrivers (required)
- USB adapter for the old hard drive (recommended; the other option is to install the old drive internally on your new computer)
- Can-Do + Never-Give-Up Attitude (required, especially for if you access the hard drive and there’s nothing on it / you can’t access the wallets for another reason)
I. Buy a USB Adapter for your old hard drive. Chances are your old drive uses a SATA connector, so you’ll want to order a SATA–>USB adapter, which should be like $10-$20 bucks. (If it’s a newer, faster computer, it might be an M2 connection, so if its a newer machine, check your specs and get a different adapter as needed.)
II. Take the old hard drive out of the old laptop. Make sure it’s unplugged, and even then, know that the battery could still have charge and mess you up, so it’s best to find a good tutorial guide to help you. For that, I’d recommend Googling the model number and finding:
- a YouTube repair video that shows a disassembly process for your model
- a written disassembly tutorial for your model (I usually find an iFixit repair guide if I can)
III. Plug old drive into USB adapter and plug into new computer. Once you’ve got the hard drive out, it’s pretty obvious how to plug it into the adapter, so you’re cruising here. The one catch is that you want the new computer to be the same operating system as the old hard drive (Windows/Mac). (You can try and install the old drive internally, but if you know how to do that you’re probably not still reading.)
IV. See if You Can Access the Files. Once you’ve got the hard drive plugged into the new machine, see if you can access the files. If it’s working, it’s usually best to try and boot right to that drive. (If it’s not working, check the connections, reboot the machine, pray to the IT gods, blow on it like an NES Mike Tyson’s Punchout cartridge, etc)
V. Ideally, Get the New Computer to Boot from the Old Hard Drive Go into your boot settings and tell your computer to boot to that drive next time it starts (instead of your normal internal hard drive) and then reboot the machine. Better yet, learn how to boot your computer in “Target Mode” and then when you start it, it will ask you what hard drive you want to boot to. (Both of these options are not that hard, but may require 4 minutes of Googling to find the right way for your operating system.)
If booting to the old drive doesn’t work, you can Google around to try and figure out what the problem is, or you can go back and boot the new computer the regular way, and access the old hard drive like a regular external drive. Regardless, once the old drive is connected and you can access the data, you’re golden … It’s just nice to boot to the old drive when possible because then you can see the old operating system exactly like it used to be, run the old wallet software, and reminisce about simpler times.
And that’s it! You’re old hard drive is now running on the new computer, and you can access your old crypto stashes. Happy hunting.
More Careful Approach For Vulnerable Hard Drives
Mechanical drives can death spiral quickly and if you think you have bitcoin on an old hard drive that might be fried or is close to being fried, every little thing you do should be geared towards maximizing your chances of successfully recovering data from the drive:
- DO NOT use a USB adapter. They are varied and many and work very differently and while you’re fumbling around with them you are likely to make drive problems worse. Connect the drive internally.
- Listen very closely when you first power on with the drive connected for abnormal noises like clicking. If you hear anything that sounds off, SWITCH OFF THE PC IMMEDIATELY AND SERIOUSLY CONSIDER TAKING IT TO A DATA RECOVERY SPECIALIST OR RISK LOSING EVERYTHING ON THE DRIVE.
- If there is no audible problem, DO NOT “see if you can access the files” in the old system, new system, windows, mac or whatever. Use a live OS talored for disk recovery like KNOPPIX, have a spare hard drive handy and CLONE THE DRIVE WITH DDRESCUE BEFORE YOU CAN EVEN SEE IF THE FILES ARE ON THERE.
ddrescue will do everything it can to recover data by first recovering the good parts of the drive followed by trying to read bad or weak sectors forwards and backwards repeatedly. once you have the clone you can do whatever the hell you want to the old drive although best practice is to clone the clone and work with the 2nd clone just in case you screw up.
AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TRY TO BOOT THE OLD DRIVE IN A MODERN SYSTEM. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON TO DO THIS WITHOUT USING THE CLONED DRIVE AND EVEN THEN HAS LITTLE CHANCE OF SUCCEEDING WITHOUT SIMILAR HARDWARE.