To create your BartPE recovery disc, click 'Build'. This generates the CD image and then burns it to your disc. Test this disc by restarting your PC and booting from it. You should now be able to use the pre-installation environment. This gives you an environment that's very similar to Windows. You can browse your hard drive using the file manager. To recover files from your disk, launch CD Burner XP Pro and copy them to CD or DVD.

There is a Vista alternative to Bart PE, which you can get at VistaPE. However, the XP version will enable you to boot a Vista machine and it provides a lot more tools and has lower overheads. If you have access to a copy of XP, we'd recommend Bart PE. Another alternative is to use a Linux live CD. See 'Spotlight on boot discs' for more information.

Damaged media

Physical damage can be a challenge. Some of the data will have been completely destroyed. Scratched CDs and DVDs can sometimes be restored by carefully polishing out the scratch, as long as it hasn't gone deep enough to damage the foil that actually holds the data. You can also try CD/DVD recovery software that checks and attempts to restore lost data on optical discs.

CDCheck is available as a free trial. Install the software and select the drive you want to check and follow the prompts. For recovery, you'll need to specify an output folder.

You may not be able to get a hard disk to spin up at all. In these cases you have little choice but to call in the experts. There are many data recovery services available, but Kroll Ontrack has specialised in this area for many years. Physically damaged drives can be shipped into Kroll Ontrack's clean rooms for on-site recovery.

These are similar to clinical laboratories. The dustfree environment vastly reduces the chances of damaging the data on the disk. Professional data recovery isn't cheap, but is worth it if your data is valuable.