Are you selling or giving away your computer? You may have already deleted personal files and information, or you may have reinstalled or reset Windows, thereby erasing your private data. Either way, you're not quite done. There's one important action you should take before you say goodbye to your old friend. And that's wiping your hard drive clean.
Simply deleting your files doesn't do the trick since they can be restored from the Recycle Bin. And even if you empty the Bin, your deleted files can often be recovered with the right undelete utility. Using the Reset feature in Windows 8.1 or 10 to return your PC to factory conditions does erase the drive as it reinstalls the OS. So that is a viable option. But what if you're running an older version of Windows, or you want a stronger method of wiping your hard drive than the Reset feature provides? That's when you need a good hard drive eraser utility.
First, a little background information. Most laptops and many desktops now use or offer solid-state drives (SSDs) instead of mechanical hard drives. SSDs are faster and more reliable than their mechanical counterparts. However, SSDs are trickier to wipe and few hard drive erasers support them. If you're wiping a mechanical hard drive, you'll want a drive eraser utility that offers a data destruction method known as DoD 5220.22-M. Served up by the US Department of Defense, by default this method overwrites your data three times with different characters to fully wipe your drive.
Now, let's look briefly at a couple of hard drive erasers.
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PartedMagic is a jack of all trades. For $9, this utility offers disk partitioning, disk cloning, file recovery, and last but not least, drive wiping. The software also supports SSDs. To use the program's "Secure Erase" feature, follow the directions at the bottom of the Downloads page. After you've created your bootable CD/DVD or USB drive, then segue to the directions on the Secure Erase webpage to learn how to wipe your drive.
Blancco Drive Eraser costs $14.20, but it offers a lot for the money. It supports SSDs as well as the DoD 5222.2M method for erasure. It's recommended for use by businesses and organizations, so it's more than capable of handling disk wipes for personal use.
You can take the program for a spin via a free 10-day trial to see if it meets your needs. After you download Drive Eraser, you'll receive an email with instructions on how to create a bootable USB drive to load the software.
Place the USB drive in the computer with the hard drive you wish to erase. Boot up off the USB drive and follow the steps to wipe your drive.