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Windows Vista not showing external drive

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OH Smeg
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Yes your Data will be safe if you use a Live Linux which runs off the Optical Disc not the HDD itself.

The big advantage of Live Linux is that it doesn't rely on having a working OS installed on a system it can allow you to access the HDD without the installed OS running. It also has the ability to read all current HDD partition Types unlike Windows which can only read its own kind of Partitions.

You can download a Live Linux from here

http://www.livecdlist .com/
remember to remove the space from between livecdlist and the .com for a working link.

I personally prefer Knoppix but really any of those listed here will do depending on how well you know Linux/Unix systems. If you have no knowledge at all I would stick with Knoppix as it's easy to use and Remember to run it off the Disc not install it to the HDD.