How Do I Erase a Hard Drive?

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If you’re looking to sell or recycle an old computer, it’s always an important security practice to make sure you wipe the hard drive first. Many people use their computers to store personal information to avoid losing it or having it fall into the wrong hands — but you don’t want that information to remain accessible once the computer is out of your hands. Join us for a look at how to back up and remove all the data from your computer’s hard drive to erase it for good.  

What Exactly Is Wiping a Hard Drive?

Unfortunately, deleting information from the average computer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone. Most of the time, deleting a file only makes the data invisible, and it may still exist in a record on your hard drive. Recovering this information is generally as easy as installing software, like a file recovery program.

While this can be great news if your recent deletion was accidental, it can have some serious security implications if your computer ever changes hands permanently and you haven’t actually wiped the hard drive. Before you sell, give away or even recycle your computer, it’s vital to make sure all that sensitive information is really gone and doesn’t remain accessible to the next user. 

That’s where erasing your hard drive comes in. By completely erasing your hard drive, you’ll make sure any data it contains is gone forever. Just be aware that we do mean forever. That’s why it’s important to back up any files you may want to save before initiating a hard drive wipe. 

Backing Up Your Data

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Just because you don’t want your data on a particular computer anymore doesn’t necessarily mean you want to lose it entirely. There are several ways to go about moving your files to another location, including online and offline storage options. 

External hard drives offer a great way to back up your data by storing it securely in a separate device that you can then access from any computer it’s connected to. They’re available in a wide variety of storage-size options and are also effective for backing up your important files even if you don’t plan to wipe your hard drive soon. If your computer crashes or becomes unusable, you’ll always have backup copies in an independent location — the external drive. 

Then there are online cloud-based storage options such as iDrive, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. These services back up all your data to a secure online storage site that you can access from any device for a small fee. 

Which backup option should you choose? Many experts recommend using the 3-2-1 Backup strategy, which means that your data is always stored on three separate devices. The first is your computer itself. The second should be an online storage site, and the third should be an external device, such as a portable hard drive. That way, if one fails, or in this case is wiped clean with a hard drive erase, you’ll still have two other copies. 

How to Manually Wipe a PC or Mac Hard Drive

You have several options for erasing your computer’s hard drive. The first is to do so manually by following a set of steps that’ll vary depending on whether you’re running a Windows or Apple operating system. 

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If you’re attempting to wipe the hard drive of a Windows device, follow these prompts:

  • Start
  • Settings
  • Update and Security
  • Recovery
  • “Get Started” under the “Reset this PC” option 

At this point, if you want to delete all files, programs and settings completely, then click “Remove Everything.” If you don’t want to delete the Windows operating system entirely, then select “Just remove my files.” After you make your selection, press “reset.” Once the hard drive wipe is done, you’ll be able to start anew and set up Windows as a whole new user. 

If you’re wiping a Mac, follow these steps: 

  • Restart
  • Hold down the Command and R keys as the computer is restarting and release them when the Apple logo appears
  • Disc Utility
  • View
  • Show all Devices
  • Select your hard drive
  • Erase

Once the hard drive has been wiped, you can then reinstall the operating system and begin as a new user. 

Data Destruction Programs

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If you’re looking for an easier route to make sure all of your data is erased, try using one of the many data-destruction programs available. Aside from being far more straightforward, many data destruction programs also use powerful algorithms to make sure your data really is gone for good. This is a great route to go if you’re looking to wipe a computer that has extra-sensitive or financial information. 

There are many data-wiping software options available for various prices. While you can purchase some for a small fee, others are completely free to use. Here are some of the top-rated data erasers to check out: 

  • Bitraser
  • Mac Optimizer Pro
  • Blancco
  • Permanent Eraser
  • File Shredder

Most of these programs are easy to download and will guide you through a setup process, much like any other software program. Some even come with perks, such as locating junk or duplicate files, allowing you to free up space even if you’re not ready to wipe your entire hard drive. 

Helpful Hints to Remember When Erasing Your Hard Drive 

Before You Begin

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The most important things to remember before you begin erasing your hard drive revolve around making sure you’ll have everything you need once the process is complete. Make sure you’ve backed up any important data to at least one source. 

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Additionally, make sure you have a copy of the computer’s operating system to reinstall after the hard drive wipe is complete. If you still have the disc you used to install it when you first purchased the computer, that should work. If not, then you can download either the Windows or Mac operating system you need and store it on a USB drive until you’re ready to reinstall it. 

During Your Hard Drive Wipe

Don’t be concerned if it feels like your hard drive wipe is taking too long. Depending on how much data you’re destroying, erasing your hard drive might take as little as half an hour or up to several hours. 

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After the Process Is Complete

Once the process is complete, your computer should guide you through what to do next. If you plan to reuse it yourself, you’ll want to reinstall the operating system if needed by inserting the installation disc or USB. However, if you plan to sell it or give it to someone else, you may want to hold off on this part, as this is when the new user will set up their account.

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