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. You need to wipe your hard drive clean.
Most laptops and many desktops now come with solid-state drives instead of mechanical hard drives. SSDs are faster than their mechanical counterparts but can be trickier to wipe. 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.
You can reset Windows 10, 8.1, and 7 to factory conditions using built-in reset features, but if you want a stronger and more secure method of wiping your hard drive, a good hard drive eraser utility will do the job. If you’re wiping a mechanical hard drive, you’ll want a drive eraser utility that meets the DoD 5220.22-M standard. This means the utility will fully wipe your drive by overwriting your data three times with different characters.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 10
With the help of the recovery tool in Windows 10, you can reset your PC and wipe the drive at the same time. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery, and click Get Started under Reset this PC.
You are then asked if you want to keep your files or delete everything. Select Remove Everything, click Next, then click Reset.
Your PC goes through the reset process and reinstalls Windows. When finished, your PC is rebooted, placing you at the Windows setup screens. If you plan on selling or giving your PC to someone else, you may want to go through the setup process to set up the PC for another person. If you plan to get rid of the PC, just shut it down at this point.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 8.1
In Windows 8.1, go to Settings > Change PC Settings > Update and recovery > Recovery. Click the Get Started button under the section heading Remove everything and reinstall Windows. At the next page, click Next.
You are given the option to either remove your files or fully clean the drive. Choose Fully clean the drive, then click the Reset button.
Your PC resets and Windows is reinstalled. After your PC reboots, you’re placed at the Windows setup screen. If you plan to sell or give your PC to someone, you can go through the setup process to set it up for them. If you aim to discard the computer, just shut it down.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 7
Windows 7 doesn’t offer the same Reset tool found in Windows 10 or 8.1, but you can still bring your Windows 7 hard drive back to factory settings under the right conditions. To make the process go smoother, you’ll need either a recovery partition or the Windows 7 installation disc.
Open Control Panel and click Recovery. At the next screen, click the link for Advanced recovery methods. Note that if your PC doesn’t have a recovery partition then you may receive an error here, preventing you from moving forward.
The next screen presents different options depending on how you choose to reinstall Windows 7. Select the appropriate option for your scenario. Once you make a selection, choose Skip when asked to back up your files, then click Restart.
Windows then restarts. Depending on the option you chose, you can now reinstall and set up Windows 7, thereby wiping out the previous installation. To offer a more secure erasure method, you’ll want to turn to a third-party utility.
Disk Wipe Utility
Disk Wipe is a free portable erasure utility that runs from a USB drive and wipes your Windows boot drive. Simply download and run the DiskWipe.exe file on your PC, or create a bootable environment on your USB flash drive and run DiskWipe from there. Its simple interface displays your drives and partitions. Select the one you want to erase and click Wipe Disk.
The program asks how you want to reformat the drive—NTFS, FAT, or FAT32. Next, choose the type of erasing pattern and the number of passes you want to use, such as One Pass Zeros, One Pass Random, or US Department of Defense DoD. Generally, the more passes you choose, the longer the process will take, but the more secure the erasure will be.
Parted Magic Utility
Parted Magic is a jack of all trades. For $11, this utility offers disk partitioning, disk cloning, file recovery, and drive wiping. The software also supports SSDs. To run this Linux-based program from a bootable USB drive or CD/DVD, you’ll need to use a tool like Rufus to set up the media, a process explained in a helpful YouTube video.
Boot up your PC and choose the bootable media you create. At the Parted Magic screen, double-click the icon to Erase Disk. In the Eraser menu, select either Secure Erase or Block Wiping (the program describes the differences between the two) and then choose the erasure method you wish to use. At the next window, select the drive you want to wipe, click OK, and the drive is wiped.
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