14 May, 2010

Wiping a hard drive or restoring a PC to its original condition

I sent the below message to a family member who wants to donate an old PC, to Goodwill, but wants to ensure that his personal information is off the device prior to doing so.  To protect the innocent I have changed his name to "Skipper".

-------- Original Message --------

    There are two approaches you can take, Skipper.

    Around the time you bought that Toshiba, or a bit before, companies started supplying CD's, with the computers, to allow one to restore them to exactly the same condition, as when it was purchased, in case of a need to do so (such as hard drive failure, or like in your case, a sale).  If you can find it, you can run it, on the Toshiba, and it should a) wipe the hard drive, and b) reinstall whatever version of Windows was on it when you bought it.

    If you cannot find that disc, the next best thing would be to run a wipe tool, such as we discussed during your visit.  There are two flavors of usefulness -- sometimes available from the same tool -- as follows:

  • Completely wipe the drive -- This option is the most secure, yet also the most frustrating for whomever buys the laptop.  There will be nothing on it, not even Windows.  Whoever buys the device will have to be savvy enough to be able to install an operating system (Windows or LINUX) onto the PC via their own means.
  • Partial Wipe of Unused Areas (I call this the "surgical cleaning") -- This will place Department of Defense level wiping on the unused portions of the drive, ensuring that no utilities will be able to be run that would sweep in and recover deleted files.  This is the most useful, to the buyer, because they can get a WORKING PC when they buy it versus a paperweight that they have to fiddle with (see above bullet).
    It all comes down to what your mission is.  If you want to feel good about donating the PC, but really deep down do not care about the usefulness of it, once it leaves your hands, then the method in the above first bullet is the easiest way to go.  If you want someone to buy a PC that they can use, then using the original recovery disc, that came with your PC, or doing a surgical cleaning is your best bet.

    If you want to perform a surgical clean, bring it along, and I will gladly run the appropriate cleaning tools to wipe all traces of Skipper off that old workhorse, including removing contents of Documents folders, cached (stored) passwords and logins, etc.  Even if you find the recovery disc, you might want to run it at my house, where you can plug into the wall to access the Internet.  In that way it can run all its updates, to the modern age, from the net without having to fiddle with WiFi.

    If you choose to do it all yourself, I recommend any of the following tools:

  • Active@ Kill Disk - Hard Drive Eraser - http://download.cnet.com/Active-Kill-Disk-Hard-Drive-Eraser/3000-2092_4-10073508.html/ - Not for the weak of heart, this puppy will get the job done.  It should function for both the full-wipe and the "surgical cleaning", although I've not tested the latter.
  •  Easeus Partition Master Home Edition - http://download.cnet.com/Easeus-Partition-Master-Home-Edition/3000-2248_4-10863346.html/ - This tool is over the top for your needs, but I include it here just in case you engage someone like me (IT nerd) to help you, as it is a free way of allowing one to have multiple partitions, which in English means a way to deal with recovery discs that foolishly separate the hard drive space into inappropriately sized C and D drives.  Don't download it, but if I help you out, I might, so I am storing the link to this, in this email, as a contingency for possibly using later.
Skipper wrote:
Hello Dan-Hope you are doing well. We talked about a web site that would allow us to clean out the hard drive on the old lap top before I give  it to Goodwill. Could you please send the information to me,
The Best

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