Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I met a drive upon the stair, my programs think it isn't there
December 27, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

How to manually clean a failing hard drive before a return when I can't run any cleanup utilities?

My desktop hard drive is in its death throes, and a technician will be coming by in a few days to swap in a replacement (hurrah for warranties!).
The failure affects its ability to run windows explorer and programs, so I can't run any kind of cleanup utility, but I am sometimes able to move and delete files and uninstall programs once I've played with it a bit.
I've already gotten my personal files off it, what else should I do to make sure the old drive is reasonably privacy-neutral before handing it back? Assume that I might not be able to run browsers to delete my history, for example.
Dell PC, Windows 7/64.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Boot off a linux live CD and use that to attempt to format/zero the disk.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:53 AM on December 27, 2011


Or try DBAN to wipe it clean.
posted by holgate at 9:57 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look up DBAN, it will erase a drive to a clean slate. Boots off a live disk and works perfectly.
posted by handbanana at 9:58 AM on December 27, 2011


"Deleting" files unter windows is a pointless exercise anyway, don't bother. Those files still exist and are still readable. What you want is to wipe the drive. Have you access to a working pc you can connect the drive to? If so, download HDD Wipe tool and wipe it from Windows. Make sure to choose the correct drive ;)
Alternative: Download DBAN (it's an CD ISO image of a minimal linux boot drive) and wipe the drive after booting from CD. You need to burn the image obviously, either your pc works well enought to do that one more time or you need help from someone.
A single wipe with zeroes is completely sufficient, anything else is cargo cult and serves no purpose.
posted by Nightwind at 9:58 AM on December 27, 2011


My IT guys just mechanically kill them by drilling a few very large holes through the casing and platters before disposal. Unless you are worried about the FBI, this should really do the job.

Seconding DBAN if the drive will mount and obey commands.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:06 AM on December 27, 2011


My IT guys just mechanically kill them by drilling a few very large holes through the casing and platters before disposal. Unless you are worried about the FBI, this should really do the job.

I'd imagine this would affect the warranty-ability of a disk drive.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:07 AM on December 27, 2011


Thanks! I have an older computer I'm using for now, so I can make the DBAN disc there and wipe away. Fantastic!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:15 AM on December 27, 2011


Giant Magnet.
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on December 27, 2011


It's also worth mentioning that if you can't get get the drive to work at all, then neither can anyone else. Sure, it's feasible that someone might be able to pull the platters from the drive and retrieve data from them, but the warranty technician is not capable of nor interested in doing this to retrieve your browsing history.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can get it to work sporadically, so in theory so could someone else. I'd rather be careful.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:22 AM on December 27, 2011


Data can often be retrieved from most broken drives. Warranty-replaced drives get bundled up and shipped to refurbishers, who then salvage what they can of each drive to fix and sell back to the manufacturer.

When a hard drive dies, it is rarely the platters that go bad. it is usually the stepper motor. Once that gets replaced, all the data is still on there. Some refurb places wipe them, some claim to wipe them but don't, and others just do a quick format to make sure it works.

It's enough of a problem that most vendors offer a plan where they let you destroy drives that need replacing rather than give them back, or guarantee a wipe and indemnify you in case they drop the ball.
posted by graftole at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2011


If your drive is for-sure already being replaced, take a powered drill and drill a hole through it. This is what we do at datacenters at work (mega-secure Sarbanes–Oxley governed stuff).
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:44 PM on December 27, 2011


« Older How do great authors describe ...   |  I'm interested in compiling a ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.