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How to wipe a hard drive on your Windows PC or Mac

The idea of erasing your entire hard drive can be terrifying. You definitely wouldn’t want to clear your hard drive accidentally or you’d lose important files, images, and other data forever.

But, there are times when erasing your hard drive is perfectly acceptable and even recommended — like when you need to get rid of an old computer or are selling a laptop you no longer need. In these cases, erasing your hard drive makes sense: you don’t want someone else to have access to your files and other information that could be left on your computer. RELATED: 5 downloads to secure your devices.

Let’s take a look at when and how you should erase your hard drive and the options for doing so.

Why you should erase your hard drive

One of the obvious options you have to clear your hard drive is simply reformatting it. While you may be able to get away with reformatting your hard drive using your PC or Mac’s native software, this option isn’t always as thorough as you’d think.

When you reformat your hard drive, you are essentially creating a new, blank indexing scheme, which will make every sector available to write new files. This creates the appearance that there are no files, directories, or data on the drive, but reformatting doesn’t actually delete the binary files.

What that basically means is that not all information will be cleaned out of your computer by reformatting it, and there will be traces leftover. Anyone with knowledge of how to recover that information — or even someone using a program like RecoverMyFiles — may be able to recover that data from the reformatted hard drive.

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This can be an issue if you’ve donated or sold your machine to someone else who has an interest in recovering your personal information. If you erase your hard drive, though, you can rest assured that your personal information is no easily recoverable by a program or someone with high-level computer knowledge.

So, if you’re trying to clear your information from your computer completely, you probably need to skip the reformatting and go straight to erasing your hard drive.

How to erase your hard drive

Erasing your hard drive isn’t as simple of a process as reformatting it. The easiest way to erase your hard drive is to use software specifically for this purpose. There are several options available to help you erase your hard drive, but as with everything, some programs are better than others.

Let’s take a look at a few of the options available for erasing your hard drive.

Eraser

Eraser is one of the ways you can completely wipe your hard drive clean of all of your personal information — passwords, personal information, classified documents from work, financial records, and other private data. This advanced security tool is available for Windows-based computers and allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns.

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Eraser is currently supported under Windows XP (with Service Pack 3), Windows Server 2003 (with Service Pack 2), Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, 8, 10 and Windows Server 2012, 2016.

Pros of Eraser

  • It’s free. Eraser is free software and its source code is released under GNU General Public License.
  • It’s comprehensive. Eraser supports deleting files, folders, and whole drives. It’s able to erase data on a schedule, and it erases SSDs and mechanical drives.
  • It works with any Windows drive. As long as the drive works with Windows, Eraser will work with the drive.

Cons of Eraser

  • It won’t work with Macs. Eraser is built to work with Windows-based PCs, but you can’t use it on a Mac.
  • It is slightly limited. Eraser can’t wipe the drive that Windows is installed to because it has to be installed on your computer to work.
  • Works best for erasing files/folders. It’s pretty laborious to use Eraser to wipe your entire hard drive; this software works best for deleting on a schedule or only deleting certain files/info.

How to use Eraser

DBAN

You can use Derek’s Boot and Nuke, otherwise known as DBAN, to erase your hard drive. DBAN is pretty fool-proof because it overwrites the hard drive with pseudo-numbers that are generated, making it incredibly difficult for someone to recover your erased files.

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This software is open source and it offers you a ton of different options for erasing your hard drive.

Pros of using DBAN

  • It makes data irrecoverable. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing here, right?
  • It has multiple options for erasing your hard drive. Six options, to be exact.
  • It’s free.

Cons of using DBAN

  • There is no guarantee your data is completely sanitized across the entire drive.
  • It cannot detect or erase SSDs and does not provide a certificate of data removal for auditing purposes or regulatory compliance.
  • It’s complicated to use.
  • It only works on PCs. Sorry, Mac users. DBAN isn’t for you.
  • It has to be burned to a disc or USB drive.

How to use DBAN

  • Back up your data to avoid losing it.
  • Download DBAN, which you can do by tapping or clicking here.
  • Save the DBAN ISO file to your computer and then burn DBAN to a disc or USB device.
  • Restart and boot into the DBAN disc or USB device.
  • Choose an option from the DBAN main menu.
  • Immediately start using DBAN with a Quick Command (Hint: Choosing F3 from DBAN’s main menu will open this Quick Commands screen).
  • Choose the method you want to use to erase files and then choose which hard drives to wipe with Interactive Mode.
  • Wait for DBAN to erase the hard drive(s).

KillDisk

There are both free and paid versions of KillDisk. For personal use, the free version will probably cut it, which is what’s referred to as [email protected] KillDisk Freeware.

[email protected] KillDisk Freeware is a compact utility that allows you to sanitize storage media with the One Pass Zeros data sanitizing standard. It permanently erases all data on hard disks, solid-state drives, memory cards, USB drives, SCSI storage, RAID disk arrays, and even two disks in parallel.

Pros of using KillDisk

  • It’s customizable and allows the user to apply custom erasure methods.
  • It can be used by both Mac and PC users.
  • It erases SSDs and USB drives, something that other software programs can’t necessarily do.
  • It certifies complete data removal via a certificate.

Cons of using KillDisk

  • It costs money. Unlike some of the other software programs on this list, KillDisk is pay-to-play unless you opt for the free version.

How to use KillDisk

  • Download the software for Mac or PC (both can be found here).
  • Launch the program and select [email protected] KillDisk.
  • Press enter to accept the free version.
  • Select the files that you want erased and press F10.
  • Type “erase-all-data” and press enter.

CBL Data Shredder

The CBL Data Shredder is another option for deleting any information or data from your hard drive. This free software eliminates the chance that information stored on your hard drive will be retrieved by anyone when it, or the computer containing it, is disposed of.

The cool thing about CBL Data Shredder program is that it will do what file deletion and partition formatting cannot: it erases the entire contents of a treated hard drive, rendering them irretrievable to existing and future software-based recovery tools.

Pros of CBL Data Shredder

  • This software erases everything on a hard drive.
  • It works with Mac and PC. It’s able to wipe away any operating system, so unlike some of the other free software on this list, CBL Data Shredder works with Macs.
  • It’s simple to use.

Cons of CBL Data Shredder

  • Accidental deletes are a real possibility. Windows version doesn’t make you confirm before deleting a drive, so if you aren’t careful, you can end up deleting something you never intended to wipe clean.

How to use CBL Data Shredder

  • Download and install CBL Data Shredder, which you can find here.
  • Launch CBL Data Shredder.
  • Choose Select Disk to locate the drive that should be wiped.
  • Pick an erase method and hit Start.

Any one of the options in this article will give you the results you’re looking for: a wiped hard drive. Just choose the one that seems best for you and you’re well on your way to a clean drive.

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