12 NEWS DEFENDERS: Hard drive headaches - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

12 NEWS DEFENDERS: Hard drive headaches - wiping your computer clean

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Some computers last longer than others. But at some point we all have to upgrade. Then the question becomes, 'How do I get rid of my old computer?'

Since private, sensitive information can be stored deep inside your old computer, it's important to erase it. Depending on your device, you can destroy it, reformat it, or wipe it clean:

1. Destroy it?

The 12 News Defenders thought up all sorts of ways to do it. We threw one computer off the building. We drove over another one. And we let staffers hit another with a sledge hammer.

After our experiment, we took what was left of our computers to WSFA 12 News IT Manager Caleb Hawk. 

"You destroyed the outer cabinet pretty good, but what you REALLY want to destroy is the hard drive."

That's right. Even after all of our abuse, the hard drives on some of our computers were still in tact.

"A hard drive almost looks like a mirror with a head that goes back and forth, almost like a vinyl record player," Hawk explained. "Now if you were to hit THAT with a sledge hammer, then no one could get your data."

Hawk recommends removing your hard drive from your computer, opening the cabinet, then hitting the shiny surface with a hammer. Other experts recommend drilling holes through it.

2. Reformat it?

But what if you want to save your hard drive for someone else's use? In that case, you can CLEAN the drive without destroying it.

Computer expert Mike Whitmore of Computer Renaissance in Montgomery says a high-powered magnet would work. But for most people, reformatting the drive is the best bet. 

Reformatting means means replacing old data with something new.

"It's like taking a piece of paper and writing your name, and then crossing it out and writing your name again, over and over," Whitmore explained.

But to ensure that you erase ALL your information, experts recommend reformatting your hard drive seven times. You can have someone at a computer repair shop do it for you. Or you can use reformatting software.

Consumer reports recommends D-ban reformatting software, which you can download for free at www.dban.org

"After it's been formatted seven times, you would need some really good tools to actually recover anything on there," Whitmore said. "And those are tools that aren't going to be released to the general public."

3. Wipe it? (for tablets, laptops & smartphones)

It is more difficult to remove a hard drive from smartphones, tablets and laptops. But most of these devices offer built-in ways to wipe your data.

For example, on the iPad:

  1. go to settings and selected "general."
  2. Look for the "reset" option.
  3. In the next window, choose "erase all content" and "settings." 
  4. A box will appear. Hit "erase," and you're done.

Many newer laptops also have built-in systems:

  1. Go to the "settings" control panel.
  2. Choose "change PC settings."
  3. In the next window, click on "recovery."
  4. Underneath the heading "remove everything" and "install Windows," click on "get started."
  5. In the box that comes up, click on "fully clean my drive."

4. Always Recycle

And when you're ready to get rid of your old device, don't just throw it away. Recycling it! Local electronic recycling drop-off locations include:

Best Buy
1580 Eastern Blvd.
Montgomery, AL
(334) 272-1552

McInnis Recycling Center
4341 Norman Bridge Rd.
Montgomery, AL
(334) 281-7366

C.E. and E. Solutions 
955 Washington Ferry Rd.
Prattville, AL
(334) 568-9621

There can be a nominal fee depending on the device (especially larger televisions), so it's recommended that you call before you visit.

Most electronics recycling services destroy the hard drive for you by drilling holes into it.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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