What is overlooked many times are the manfactures tools for the drives they sell. They can migrate data as well as identify if there is a problem.
I know I want to know if the drive is healthy before I spend the time to put the OS back on.
For example, Western Digital has a tool called Data lifeguard Diagnostic. Both a Windows version and a bootable DOS are availible.
Of course the limitation here is that you must be using Western Digital drives. You can test the integrity of the drive and determine if it truely is failing. If the drive is junk, all the software poking and proding as users is not going to fix this. Since there are many times long warranties on drives it would be a needed step anyway.
Also Western Digital has another tool called Data lifeguard Tools. This software will allow you to migrate or clone if you will a exisisting WD harddrive to another. This also has a in Windows version and a bootable DOS disk.
There is of course Seagate and Maxtor. This should be a surprise that they also have simular tools. Under the name of DiskWizard and MaxBlast.
Disc Wizard/Max Blast feature disk drive cloning, full disk imaging, formatting drives, creating partitions, erasing all the data on the drive.
You are going to love this, guess who provides the software for the diskcloning feature in Seagate/Maxtor? Our good friends Acronis.
LImitation is that at least one of the drives you are working with is a Seagate/Maxtor.
Samsung does not offer a recovery/file backup utility, but does offer a diagnostic and some drive property setting tool, called HUTIL.
Limitation is that the tool does have a write function in its testing and can destroy data.
IBM/HITACHI/Toshiba has a utility for their drives called Drive Fitness Tool. This also is diagnostic and allows some control of features. This tool does not have a write function and should leave data untouched. This is only a Bootable Dos type tool. Might be suitable for other makers drives, but will not produce a RMA code for failed drives for obvious reasons.
Now for straight out copying Documents and settings from one Windows machine to another media destination. You know about how Windows native copy proceedure will choke if it hits a file it can not copy. (drag/drop, copy/paste, send to) You lose all your progress. Access Denied issues, cannot read, path too long, to name a few. Nothing more frustrating wasting hours to find out you were about 99 percent complete and have to find that bad file.
My new favorite is a program called unstoppable copier by ROADKILL. Standalone application, no windows installation, about 80 kb in size. Three tabs.
You set a source and destination, either manual or by a browse button. You decide if it should skip files it can not read or recover as much of a file it can. You set for accuracy (slow) or speed (really fast). No choke or Windows issues.
This even works for recovery on scratched cd/dvd. This Creator/author/programer has other tools that look interesting, but have not tested them for I have not the need yet to do so.