If you notice strange hard drive behavior and you fear for lost data these are steps for retrieve data and to do backup.
In case your hard drive experiencing difficulties reading data and you can’t log in into your Windows profile it is time to start Windows recovery console and to scan hard drive for bad sectors. Best way to do this is to find right media CD (Windows xp sp2 or sp3). Make sure to configure your BIOS settings boot order. Make it to boot from CD/DVD optical device. Place your Windows xp CD into CD Rom and turn on your PC. Choose Repair at first blue screen option and then enter recovery console. Enter the right Windows installation folder and type Administrator password if you got any. If not just hit Enter. Now you have fully functional recovery console. Just type help and hit Enter to see list of all commands you can use.
Command you should use in case damaged hard drive is chkdsk. This is very powerful command and it will help you to retrieve your data. It could take some time for scan to finish but it is worth waiting. When command comes to the end it will display how many errors were found and how many are successfully repaired.
Next step is to exit recovery console and to try start Windows once again. To do that in recovery console type Exit and hit Enter. PC is going to restart. Remove Windows xp CD and let it boot into your log in account.
If you are lucky this should be enough for copying your data from damaged hard drive to another safe location.
It is good to copy all your important data in case hard drive goes away. If you want to keep all your data and Windows as well then you can use some image disk tool like Acronis true image. Just make hard drive image and then restore that image to another hard drive.
Another methods to retrieve data from damaged hard drive
Try to use Ubuntu live CD. Do necessary steps to configure boot order. Make your PC to boot from CD and boot Live Ubuntu distribution from CD media. When OS loads just browse for files and folders and copy them to USB stick or removable hard drive. This should do the trick in case you got a Virus on your Windows xp system and it can’t log into your user account.
If you don’t have Ubuntu CD simply download image from internet and make CD. I suggest you to download old distribution like Ubuntu 8.10 or 9.04 . They can be written on CD and can be used for operations explained above. Newer releases must be written on DVD, so keep that in mind if you are choosing Ubuntu as a tool for retrieving data.