How to: safely get rid of your hard drive

Physically destroying a hard drive is inadvisable

After reading Remove Sensitive Data Before You Sell an Old PC , Joel Edillon wants to know if it's a good idea to physically destroy a hard drive instead of wiping it with special software.

I wouldn't advise it. Who knows what sort of toxins you'd release into your living room by throwing a hard drive into the fireplace. I've heard of people smashing them with a hammer, but I'm not sure that would stop a really determined data thief.

Besides, hard drives have value, and if you don't want this one, someone else will. For instance, your county's recycling center would probably rather have a PC with a hard drive than one without one.

Another option is to have the drive degaussed. Basically, someone runs a very powerful magnet over the drive, wiping it clean. There are services that do this, but it's barely practical unless you're a huge organization with lots of drives. My local recycling center ships drives to a degaussing service, but they charge $25 per drive for the service, and you don't get the drive back.

Destroying the data with software, as I recommended in the earlier article, really is the easiest and cheapest way.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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Lincoln Spector

PC World (US online)
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