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Wiping your hard drive before selling or donating your computer

Wiping your hard drive before selling or donating your computer
Russell Kidson

Russell Kidson

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Financing the latest tech is far from cheap, so it’s no surprise that many of us sell off our old gear to pay for new additions to our tech collection. However, before you part ways with your old laptop or computer, ensure you give your hard drive a proper goodbye – you don’t want it conspiring with its new owner to empty your bank account or steal your identity, do you?

The decent thing to do is erase every trace of you from the poor thing’s memory. The article below will highlight three methods that we’ve compiled to give your desktop or laptop a new lease on life – with someone else. We’ll cover three different levels of data erasure, revealing how to wipe your hard drive before you donate or sell your computer.

How to wipe your hard drive before selling or donating your computer

  1. Three degrees of erasing your data

    How to Wipe your Hard Drive Before Selling or Donating your Computer

    Method 1: The extreme method – 100% effective

    If you want absolutely no chance of anyone gaining access to your hard drive, remove it and take a sledgehammer to it. It’s a messy solution, but an effective one. There’s absolutely no coming back from such a vicious physical assault, no matter how good a hacker you are.

    However, I suspect your buyer would prefer the hard drive included when they purchase your old PC. In which case, destroying it will almost certainly affect your asking price. Unless you’re committed to total protection from someone recovering your data, try some of our other solutions instead.  

    Method 2: The (slightly less) extreme method – 100% effective

    So, your buyer is a bit of a stickler and wants a hard drive with his new computer. People can be so demanding, can’t they?

    The good news is that there’s a way to wipe your hard drive without bludgeoning it to the hereafter (as fun as that may be); a program that overwrites ALL of your data.

    Now this might seem like an easy option, but hold on. First, not all hard drive technology is supported. For example, the free version of DBAN – the best wiper of them all (conforming to Department of Defense standards) – doesn’t support SSDs. And for a guaranteed, certificated erasure you also need to pay for the business version. Whether it’s worth it is another question only you can answer. If you have neither the time nor energy to to determine this for yourself, read our review of DBAN for a comprehensive look at its pros and cons. You’re welcome.

    If you decide that DBAN and utilities of the like are not for you though, feel free to keep scrolling for our most in-depth and most widely-performed solution.

    Method 3: The manufacturer method – 99.9% effective

    Whenever you delete a file, it doesn’t just disappear. You’re simply telling the computer that it can be overwritten with something else. So even after doing a manufacturer’s factory restore/reset, while the hard drive seems empty, you can recover data that hasn’t already been overwritten.

    In 99.9% of situations, this isn’t a problem. Beyond a factory reset, you have to start buying expensive recovery software or pay others to recover surviving data for you, which is a deterrent for all but the most persistent criminals. Another factor to keep in mind is that in 99.9% of circumstances like this, you’re selling to a genuine buyer – perhaps a friend – and they’ll quickly overwrite your “disabled” data with their own.

    So unless you suspect your buyer is a cybercriminal, there’s not much to worry about. With that out of the way, let’s head into how to restore/reset a Mac, Windows 10, and Windows 11 PC. We’ve covered all our bases with this guide.

  2. How to restore/reset a Mac

    How to Wipe your Hard Drive Before Selling or Donating your Computer

    – Back-up all your data, either to an external hard drive or cloud storage

    – Ensure your Mac is connected to the internet so it can reinstall macOS

    – Deauthorize iTunes on your computer

    – Sign out of iCloud and disable it on your computer

    – Restart in Recovery mode by holding down cmd + R

    – Use disk utility to erase the hard drive

    – Reinstall macOS

  3. How to restore/reset a Windows 10 PC

    How to Wipe your Hard Drive Before Selling or Donating your Computer

    – Back-up all your data, as above

    – Save your software serial keys so you can reinstall on your new machine

    – Go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC > Get Started > Remove everything > Remove files and clean the drive

  4. How to restore/reset a Windows 11 PC

    How to Wipe your Hard Drive Before Selling or Donating your Computer

    – Create a backup of your data, as above. 

    – Save any software keys you have so that you can install on your new device, as above. 

    – Head to Settings > System > Recovery > Reset PC and follow the prompted factory reset guide.

The great reset

Learning how to erase yourself from any given system is an integral skill. Especially in the current climate where nothing is permanent and tech changes hands as fast as it progresses – lightning fast. We hope the guide above helps you safeguard your most precious memories with your old PC while simultaneously pulling a Men in Black and wiping your existence from its memory – or at least instructing it to forget that memory until someone else comes along to overwrite it.

For other guides, you may want to see our tips for how to stay safe online.

Easy ways to remain safe online READ MORE
Russell Kidson

Russell Kidson

I hail from the awe-inspiring beauty of South Africa. Born and raised in Pretoria, I've always had a deep interest in local history, particularly conflicts, architecture, and our country's rich past of being a plaything for European aristocracy. 'Tis an attempt at humor. My interest in history has since translated into hours at a time researching everything from the many reasons the Titanic sank (really, it's a wonder she ever left Belfast) to why Minecraft is such a feat of human technological accomplishment. I am an avid video gamer (Sims 4 definitely counts as video gaming, I checked) and particularly enjoy playing the part of a relatively benign overlord in Minecraft. I enjoy the diverse experiences gaming offers the player. Within the space of a few hours, a player can go from having a career as an interior decorator in Sims, to training as an archer under Niruin in Skyrim. I believe video games have so much more to teach humanity about community, kindness, and loyalty, and I enjoy the opportunity to bring concepts of the like into literary pieces.

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