By Leo Notenboom
I would like to clear off/erase all the programs on my hard drive and clean it up so that it’s available for donation. What’s the best/simplest way to do this?
To begin with, good on you, not only for your donation but for thinking to do this. All too frequently we hear of computers donated by banks, hospitals, or other institutions turning up with all sorts of private information that should have been erased first.
The best way? Well … how paranoid are you?
Conventional wisdom is that reformatting your disk is the right thing to do. And I agree with that, if done properly.
What do I mean by “properly”?
Windows (all versions), and even MS-DOS before it, has the option to perform what’s called a “quick format”. In reality, a quick format does very little except create an empty root directory on the hard disk and possibly add a label. The rest of the disk is actually assumed to be properly formatted already and left alone. That’s why it’s quick.
And that’s why it’s insecure. Since the rest of the disk is left untouched, any data that may already have been there will remain. Many commonly available disk recovery tools will be able to recover data from a “quick” formatted disk.
“Well … how paranoid are you?”So the basic and common answer is to reformat the disk, making sure to specify unconditional format. Depending on the version of Windows
or MS-DOS you have, that’s typically a FORMAT /U at the command line, or making sure that Perform a Quick Format is not checked when using disk management tools.
And that’s my general recommendation.
[This post is excerpted with Leo’s permission from his Ask Leo blog.]
Leo Notenboom has been involved in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. After retiring from an 18 year career as a Microsoft Software Engineer Leo went on to create Ask Leo!, a free web site where he answers real questions from ordinary computer users.
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