Several friends have recently told me they want to donate or gift an old PC but want to be sure they have removed personal data before doing so. Most of them realize that if they somehow remove ALL data from their hard drive the machine is totally unusable until someone reinstalls some version of an operating system. Many folks have no idea how to do this and don't remember, years after purchase, where they put the CDs with the operating system on them or if they ever got those CDs when they bought the machine. Here is a typical question on the topic that I just received in an email from a good friend who wants to donate his old machine to a charity:
If I reformat my C drive on my old computer I assume that everything is lost including the operating system. That means someone needs to reload my Windows XP, right?? Is there any freeware.... that allows one to “shred a file” so that it can’t be easily read? Also, if I decide to format, can/should I use the “quick format” option?"
Rather than answer in a one-on-one email I thought I'd share the information in this blog post.
General Source of Info on Tech Topics
There is a techie, Leo Notenboom, who keeps a website and blog called Ask Leo ( http://ask-leo.com/ ) where he takes computer related tech questions and answers them for the layman. I read him and refer many people to him and have never read a bad piece of advice from him. Go to that link and in the search box provided enter the words "erase hard drive give away" (without the quotes). The article I want you to read will be the first one listed. it's title is "How Should I Erase My Hard Drive Before I Give it Away?". Note that the title of the first article does not have the word "comments" after it. This means it was written by Leo, not by one of his readers who left a comment. I trust the articles written by Leo. As for comments by others, you're on your own.
In the article, Leo recommends two approaches, one for the paranoid (drill holes in the hard drive) and one for the not-so-paranoid (reformat the hard drive PROPERLY) and goes on to explain what he means by properly. He then goes on to point out that
1. drilling holes is the ultimate solution but leaves the computer unusable
2. reformatting isn't a great solution for the paranoid individual because at some expense data might still be recoverable
so how does the paranoid individual remove data more effectively than multiple unconditional reformats while not physically destroying the hard drive? One good approach is with a free software tool called "Darik's Boot and Nuke" which you can download at WWW.dban.org/download. Note - this is for the power user, not the novice. You will need to know how to burn the downloaded file to a CD (for help see http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Burn-a-CD-or-DVD-from-an-ISO-file and how to change the boot sequence of your machine so it will try to boot from the CD drive before it tries to boot from the hard drive (for help see http://pcsupport.about.com/od/fixtheproblem/ss/bootorderchange.htm
If you are less paranoid and want to leave your operating system on the disk as is but just want to effectively delete your own personal files, you might just drag and drop them into the trash and then empty the trash but you probably already realize that this just removes the entry for the file from the hard drives file index (the directory) leaving the file itself untouched. To actually destroy the file itself you might consider the free program known as Eraser which you can find at http://eraser.heidi.ie/index.php For example, if all the files you want to erase are in "My Documents" you're in good shape.
I hope this helps. Please leave comments here if you have questions and/or you use any of these suggestions.
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An Effective and Free Tool for Wiping Your Hard Drive
Darik's "Boot and Nuke" is a free