Ask Leo: Erasing My Hard Drive Before I Give It Away

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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.

But… here’s where paranoia sets in.

[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.

FaceBook URL: Leo’s Facebook

Twitter URL: http://twitter.com/askleo

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5 thoughts on “Ask Leo: Erasing My Hard Drive Before I Give It Away

  1. Strictly speaking, formatting a disk does not “erase” the data on it. In principle, it is possible to retrieve that data and because one has no idea whom the charity is going to be giving or selling the computer to or its final destination, formatting might not be sufficient. The only sure way to “erase” the data is to overwrite the disk. There are a number of programs that do this. Usually they overwrite the disk with X’s.

  2. “Good on you” is perfectly good English. Style of speech depends upon many factors. Our country is very broad.
    As for, “One day, English will be the dominate language on Earth. You wouldn’t want to look like a moron.”, check your English, moron. Change dominate to dominant.
    Here’s a point I think is very important. Leo is a tech geek. Actually, he’s my favorite tech geek, but that’s beside the point. What matters is that I would never think to ask him questions concerning the finer points of English language and usage. As much as I value and respect his knowledge and skill as an IT man, I’m sure there are better sources for language arts.
    Never use a wrench as a hammer.

  3. Ahh, there is hope for the English language after all! I navigated here to post the same comment as Jim. Thanks to Jim and Shawn for beating me to it.

    Now, we have to work on the phrase, “good on you”. This is rarely used in American English. The far more common phrase would be “good for you”.

  4. I was going to say the same thing, but Jim beat me to it. One day, English will be the dominate language on Earth. You wouldn’t want to look like a moron.

  5. Leo,

    “Giveaway” is a noun. “Give away” — a verb and an adverb — are what you need here. Sorry, just trying to hold on to the last shreds of the English language.

    Jim

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