Disposing Of A PC? Nuke The Drive First.


Dban disk wiping toolIf you're about to buy a new PC, you'll probably end up wondering what to do with the old one. You could pass it to a friend or family member, of course, or give it to a charity. Or just throw it away, or send it for recycling.

Unless you're handing it to someone you trust, you should wipe the hard disk first. This will ensure that no one can retrieve your files, web browsing history, stored passwords, and so on.

Deleting your files isn't good enough. Not even if you empty the recycle bin afterwards. Nor is formatting the drive. There are plenty of ways to recover data in such circumstances. Instead, you need a specialist program that can wipe the entire drive by storing random data onto every part of it, multiple times.

One of the best-known programs for doing this is DBAN, which stands for Darik's Boot And Nuke. It will wipe any hard drive, but note that it only works with traditional drives and doesn't support SSDs.

To use DBAN, head to http://www.dban.org/ and download the .iso file of around 15 MB. You will then need to burn this to a bootable CD disc or USB drive. You then boot from that device into a special program which lets you wipe the hard disk. You can't do this straight from Windows, of course, because an operating system can't delete itself.

DBAN is quite straightforward to use, but can take time if you opt for the most thorough wipe. Though it will give you the confidence to know that you can pass on your old machine safely to someone who make be able to make use of it.

You'll note that I haven't stated whether DBAN is malware-free, and I haven't checked it with VirusTotal. This is deliberate because, frankly, it doesn't really matter in this particular instance!

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If you did full disk encryption on your hard drive, then you don't need DBAN, magnets, sledgehammers, or other silly stuff. You can give it away and let the other guy install a new OS on the HDD, destroying your encrypted volume in the process; or you can offer to install Linux on the PC and encrypt it for him. Either way, no one will be able to access the old drive's contents any more.

You could try Bleachbit if you want to avoid prosecution.

Get a set of torx bits from Harbor Freight for a couple bucks. Take the lid off the HDD and get the magnets out. I reuse the cases for different things, and pull parts off the boards.

PCs that are less than 10 years old and working can be repurposed by installing Linux on them, wiping all the data off. Give it to a kid, Freecycle, school, Salvation Army.

My customers are mainly home and a few (mostly very) small business users.

After transferring their data files to a new machine I always hand them their old drives and ask them to keep it safely stored for at least one year, just in case we missed some data file(s).

I tell them that after a year they can use the drive for target practice or put it under the sledge hammer.

If you're recycling the PC, you can also hit the drive with a sledge hammer a few times. If you're an IT person getting rid of your company's old drives, you should hire a company with a drive shredder. They'll make you a video where they show each drive's barcodes, then chuck it into the machine. This is important if you have payment card or health data on the drives.