If your operating system dies entirely, or viruses make using it almost impossible, we use a simple, affordable and GENERALLY painless process for recovering the data on the computer. We use a piece of software called Acronis True Image Home. This is phenominal IT Services St. Louis backup software that we use for servers and home machines regularly. If you are only doing data recovery purchase the Home edition because it only costs $50 compared to up to $999 for the server editions, and it will work on server for recovery purposes.
I would suggest when you buy the software you go down to your local Best Buy or buy a retail copy online. The reason for this is that the install media is bootable and gives you all the tools you need to recover data. If you buy the download version you have to install it and then create bootable media later. This is not difficult, but why waste the time.
All you will need for this process is a copy of Acronis and either an external hard drive, or a shared network drive. If you are new to this process, or do not use it often, I would suggest you use an external hard drive. We have found that Acronis can have some quirks when it comes to connecting to network shares. These are not huge problems and we use the network share in our shop for backups, but it can create issuse for people unused to the software. Once you have an Aconis Install CD and an appropriatly sized hard drive, just plug in the hard drive and boot from the CD. (Do not try to boot into Windows).
Past this point the process for backing up is pretty simple for computer literate people. Click through a few splash screens, select Backup and pick your options. This process will create an image of the hard drive, or files, and store it in a single .tib file.
My advice is to image the entire hard drive instead of trying to recover individual files. The reason for this is that you can recover individual files from the full backup, so why worry about missing a file if you try them individually? Also, do not bother with the Sector by Sector option, this sounds good, but always fails.
Once you have the full backup you now have 2 options:
Do the process on another computer only select recovery instead of backup and dump the files where you want them.
Or, if you install Acronis on the target computer you will be able to click through the backup file just like it’s a normal Windows folder. Once Acronis is installed just double click the .tib file and you can copy and paste anything you want from it to the computer you are using.