When you are ready to recycle or donate a used computer, you want to make sure that all your sensitive personal data has been erased from it first. This can include financial records, personal correspondence, or any other files you would not want strangers to have access to. There are a few simple computer cleanup operations you can perform to make sure others cannot see your personal files once you have donated or recycled your computer. Deleting all data on a hard drive is important because identity theft is a real concern these days. You want to make sure all this sensitive information is erased from your computer, even if you want to leave the computer itself intact so that others can use it after you.
Cleaning hard drives of Windows computers
For a Windows computer, you can use the hard disk wiping software Eraser, available from eraser.heidi.ie to completely wipe a hard drive clean. Eraser is a free and open source software. On the other hand, if you are not very computer savvy, you could use a cheap hard drive erasing software product like WipeDrive, which is available from amazon.com for about $30.00, that will lead you through the process for wiping your computer clean.
However, some data, such as saved email, may still remain unerased. So, for cleaning your hard drive manually, you should create a new user account just to delete data. To do this, open the Control Panel and then click “User Accounts” in Windows XP, or “Add or remove user accounts” in Windows Vista. Create a new account and set its type as administrator. Log out of your current account and then log into the account you just created. Open the “My Computer” window, click on the hard drive icon, and then open the “Documents and Savings” folder in XP, o the Users folder in Vista. Right-click on the folder named after the old account and then click “Erase” to completely scrub your account. Note that this cleanup process will take several hours.
Cleaning hard drives of Mac computers
If you own a newer Mac (OS X 10.3 or later operating system), you can use the “Secure Empty Trash” utility in the Finder for wiping all data from the hard drive. If you are using OS X10.1 or 10.2, there is another free utility called Permanent Eraser that is available at edenwaith.com, which does the same thing.
After downloading the appropriate disk wiping software, open System Preferences on your Mac and then select “Accounts”. Make sure to note your current account’s name, and now create a new account with administrator privileges. Then log out of your current account and log into the new one. Now, use the Finder to access your Mac’s hard drive and then open the “Users” folder. Select your original account and use the Secure Empty Trash utility or Permanent Eraser (depending on your Mac OS X version) to wipe the hard drive clean.
Finally, after having wiped out your computer’s hard drive, if you want to donate it for future use, you want to reload all the original operating system software on to it. Of course, if you just want it to be recycled, you do not have to worry about this step. On a Windows machine, you would reinstall the software by starting it from a system recovery partition. The computer’s manual should explain the process. On a Mac, you would boot it from its system CD or DVD, and use the “Erase and Install” option.
For a PC, if you do not care about reinstalling the software and only want to wipe the hard drive clean, you can alternatively use a free software called Darik’s Boot and Nuke (available from dban.org).