hard drive formatting

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Securely erase your Computer’s Hard Drive

Posted by on 25 May 2010 | Tagged as: DBAN, hard drive erasing, hard drive formatting

A common question we get here at Computer Repair Vancouver goes something like this: I have just bought a brand new computer and I have no need to keep my old computer; what should I do with my old system before I give it away or trash it. First of all, on a somewhat tangential note, do not throw away your old electronics if at all possible. Instead, search out an electronic recycling location. We realize that these types of locations can be difficult to find (as compared to paper or bottle recycling plants); however, they do indeed exist. Here in Vancouver we have a group of people who come over from Victoria (on Vancouver Island in British Columbia) once a month and collect these types of items for recycling purposes. Although it costs us a few dollars to do this we think it is the environmentally wise thing to do.

So back to the question at hand; you are going to be getting rid of your old machine and you would like to be able to erase all of your hard drive’s files in a secure fashion. You do not want anyone to be able to simply repair your hard drive and take a look through those embarrassing photos and long winded love letters which once filled your PC. So how is this done?

A common misconception is that deleting your computer data and files via your operating system (most likely Windows) is sufficient. After all, once your computing information has been sent to the recycle bin and emptied it no longer exists, right? Well, yes and no! These files are considered to have been deleted by the operating system; in other words they are logically gone. Unfortunately, they still physically exist on your hard drive. I will briefly explain the general idea. Operating systems such as Windows store data and files all over the place on your hard drive (they are not stored in sequential order). Therefore, Windows needs something, analogous to a phone book, which keeps track of all of this data and where it is kept. Usually, when you delete a file from your computer you are not actually removing the physical data itself; rather, you are deleting the entry from the phone book. In most cases this is sufficient; unfortunately (and sometime fortunately) there are programs out there that can repair your computers address book and find old data that had been previously deleted.

So how do you securely erase your hard drive then? You want a program which actually goes through your hard drive (the physical device) and gets rid of all of the binary information encoded on it. The best method we here at Computer Repair Vancouver have found, and the one we recommend, is to use a small utility called DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke). Not only is this utility free, but it is quite easy to use and has a very good reputation online. The general idea behind DBAN is that it goes through your hard drive and uses a series of advanced algorithms to erase all of the data on your hard drive in a manner that makes it very difficult to retrieve. It erases everything: your files, the space between your files, the Windows registry, operating system files …

Now before you use DBAN or any other similar computing tool you must make sure that you have backed up or transferred any important files to your new machine. This may appear self evident; however, we can not stress this enough. Once you have used a hard drive erasing tool your data is gone! The only way you will be able to get it back is if you hire a bunch of guys from the NSA and pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to statistically and algorithmically bring your information back from the dead. This is your last warning; make sure you have anything remotely important stored somewhere else before you use these types of programs!

So how do you use Darik’s Boot and Nuke? In this step by step guide Computer Repair Vancouver will show you how to do so.

In order to follow the procedure outlined below you will need:

  • -A computer with a CD or DVD burner
  • -A blank CD or DVD
  • -DBAN (you can download it free on the internet)
  • -An ISO burning application (you can download one free on the internet – just read on)
  1. Begin by heading over to Darik’s homepage, click on the download tab then click on “DBAN for recent Intel and AMD computers”; a compressed folder with the name dban-beta should be downloaded onto your machine. Simply double click on this folder to open it up; inside you will see a bunch of files, one having a .iso extension.
  2. Grab a blank CD or DVD and place it into your computer’s CD/DVD tray. Make sure that your computer can indeed burn CD’s and/or DVD’s; if it can only read them, but not write them, then you will be unable to complete this procedure.
  3. Burn the .iso file (which you located in step 1) onto your blank CD or DVD. If you do not have an ISO burning application go and grab ISO Recorder developed by Alex Feinman. We will not be discussing what an ISO file is or how to burn an ISO file in this particular article; however keep an eye on Computer Repair Vancouver because we will be creating such an article very soon.
  4. Take the burned CD or DVD and place it into the machine whose hard drive you want to erase. Restart this particular machine and as it loads (before the Windows logo appears) look for the words “boot menu”. When you find these words make note of the keyboard key that appears next to them; this is the key you need to press in order to access the booting list (on most Dell PCs you hit the F12 key as your computer is loading up to access this menu). Once you have hit the appropriate key you should be sent to a list of devices which you can boot/startup from. Use the arrow keys on your computer to select “CD/DVD Drive” then hit enter.
  5. After a few seconds DBAN should load up and you should see a blue screen with a bunch of text describing your various options. At the command prompt simply type in “autonuke” (without the quotations) and hit the enter key to initiate the erasing process. Just as a heads up, this process will likely take an hour or two to accomplish so go have a cup of tea or coffee.

Once you come back to your machine you should see a success message signifying that your computer’s hard drive has been totally erased. If this is the case then you are free to send your PC off to the local recycling station; its computer data is now beyond repair!