What's the safest way of throwing an old hard drive away?
April 25, 2010 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I have a bunch of old hard drives with personal data in them that I want to dispose of. What's the safest way of doing it?

So, I have like five old hard drives that I want to dispose of. Problem is they have a bunch of personal data stored in them, and I forgot to properly wipe them before they were decommissioned. If I owned a gun, I'd use them for target practice, since I don't, I caught myself seriously considering dumping them on the East River (which I won't).

I don't want to plug them back in and wipe them - it's going to take a long time and I don't even think they will all work (just the fact that some of them don't work mechanically doesn't mean the data isn't still intact in the drive).

What is the safest way to make the data that is in them unusable before disposal?
posted by falameufilho to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Disassemble, if you can. That will pretty much take care of anything. Then drop it off at electronics recycling facility.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:54 PM on April 25, 2010

Safest? Thermite.

What I would do? Open the drives up and take out the little ridiculously strong magnets, because they are amusing. You'll probably have to bend the platters to do this, but if you don't you can bend the platters up afterwards.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:54 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

smash the platters! take a big magnet to them! GRAR!
posted by sexyrobot at 4:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to a high powered magnet? My boyfriend suggests: If you have a subwoofer you might try taking the cover off and leaving the drive on the magnet inside it for an extended period of time, but it won't be a surefire solution.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:56 PM on April 25, 2010

hammer, concrete patio. beer helps. wear goggles and jeans.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:59 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding Toodley. Power drill also works. Then squirt charcoal fluid inside and light it up. Then East River is best, but if you don't do that just drop in trash at Wendy's.
posted by LonnieK at 5:08 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sledge hammers aren't that expensive, plus they're fun!
posted by cropshy at 5:18 PM on April 25, 2010

Use them for target practice (my brother did that, made a mess.)
posted by govtdrone at 5:24 PM on April 25, 2010

Realistically, nobody is going to try to recover data from some random broken hard drives.

Unscrew the circuit boards, drop the drives on a concrete floor for extra security, and put them in the trash.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:41 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd use a sledgehammer (or, less spectacularly, a workbench vice).
posted by unSane at 5:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may need a Torx screwdriver to open them (you can get a set online for about 10$) or you may just need normal small screwdrivers, depending on the makes of the various drives. Once you get them open, remove the part labeled "platter (disc)" and either brake it or use it in crafty projects (for example, I hear they make great wind chimes and also great noise makers in marble machines).
posted by anaelith at 5:54 PM on April 25, 2010

One place I know uses a hammer. Give it a few solid whacks.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:01 PM on April 25, 2010

(or, less spectacularly, a workbench vice)

I've always enjoyed the vice option. Cool, methodical and ever so effective.
posted by philip-random at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2010

If you can mount them and zero them out and you're that concerned - do so. Note that using a magnet on the drives from outside the metal case won't work as a bulk eraser.

Otherwise just take them apart and get the discs dirty or just give them a good wash and scrub. This makes it nigh impossible to recover any data.

Or break or bend the disks. Be aware that not all drive disks are metal - some are glass or ceramic and it will shatter into shards that will fuck you up.

Save the magnets. They're cool and useful. Be careful, they bite. Wash your hands after taking it apart, and wash the magnets or any saved parts before re use. Electronics have weird chemicals in 'em. Dispose of the rest with an electronics recycler. Some stores have drop boxes for electronics.
posted by loquacious at 6:14 PM on April 25, 2010

A recent article on Lifehacker covers it.

Personally, I'd use a shotgun.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:40 PM on April 25, 2010

String up the disks from your front porch as a decorative wind chime.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:47 PM on April 25, 2010

Disassembling a hard drive is a fun educational experience if you've never done it, but if you just want to render the drive permanently inoperable, the easiest way is probably to just use a drill and bore a bunch of holes through it.

If you have a drill press it's total cake, but you can do it with a handheld power drill — even a cordless one — easily enough. The metal inside is mostly fairly soft.

I'm honestly not sure it matters that much where you make the holes as long as you make a few through the platters (once you start boring holes you are not ever going to get those things to spin again, and that's going to eliminate all but the most determined adversaries). I always put a few through the controller electronics, a few through the read/write head area, and then a few through the platters themselves.

Some people like to aim for the center of the spindle; supposedly if you do this right with a big bit on a drill press, and have the thing clamped down tightly, it will cause the platters to spin inside the casing as the cutter goes down through the spindle, thrashing them against each other and against everything else inside. This would seem to be very effective but I've never wanted to risk ruining a good bit doing it. So I just go through the platters in random places.

It's worth pointing out that since this doesn't necessarily wipe all of the data off of the platters that it's still technically possible for someone to recover sections of what was on there, but it would require enormous effort. (And this is true for all destruction methods that just bend or distort the platters and don't involve high heat or degaussing. E.g. crushing or bending the drive in half using a heavy vise or hydraulic press has the same limitations.)

Periodically (this is a topic that seemingly comes up about once a month or so across the various sites I read, plus discussions with coworkers, etc.) I've heard people suggest tossing the drive, once perforated with a drill, into a bath of caustic solution in order to corrode the platters … this seems like overkill to me, and I'm not enough of a chemist to tell you whether something like saltwater or vinegar would do the trick or whether you'd need something more toxic, and whether you'd end up with a solution that was contaminated with heavy metals or worse at the end. So I'd probably just call it a day once you've bored some holes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:32 PM on April 25, 2010

Put them in an old pillow case and hammer the hell out of them. Then take them to a toxic waste recycling center.
posted by oddman at 7:41 PM on April 25, 2010

As others have said, invest $5 in a cheap set of "computer repair" screwdrivers and take 'em apart. If you're bad with tools you really only need to go as far as removing the circuit board. Snap it in half and no one will bother with your hard drive. Otherwise get at the platters and scratch the hell out of them or just run some sand paper/steel wool over 'em.

There are some really good powerful magnets in most hard drives that you can salvage. (Which is why applying a powerful magnet won't work. Some of the most powerful magnets in your house are inside of your hard drives.)
posted by Ookseer at 7:54 PM on April 25, 2010

I personally enjoy pulling the platters out and melting them with a blowtorch. They start out like this and come out looking like this.
posted by mikesch at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2010

Darik's Boot and Nuke. All data is totally unrecoverable (see the second rating comment).
If you want to erase selected portions (e.g. folders) securely, Heidi Eraser is a highly secure way of deleting your data.
posted by Susurration at 8:26 PM on April 25, 2010

Back when I used to smoke I would take the top cover off and use it as an ashtray for a month or so. The first couple times I did this I couldn't stop laughing at the sheer wrongness of it.

Extra credit for plugging it back in the first time you use it. See how long it takes to get errors! LOLOL
posted by KenManiac at 8:45 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Putting a nail or a drillbit through the platters is going to put them out of reach of everyone short of the NSA or somebody, and it's really quick and easy to do.

Opening them up and pulling the magnets is fun too, both because the magnets are nifty and because seeing the inside of the drive is interesting.
posted by hattifattener at 10:38 PM on April 25, 2010

When I had the same issue (hard drive full of data but the computer wouldn't turn on and I was disposing of it), I just ripped open the hard drive and took out the disc that records all the info and scratched the heck out of it with some sharp scissors and then broke it in half. I think I also ran a magnet over it, but I'm not sure if that would do anything.
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:24 AM on April 26, 2010

This should help.
posted by aqsakal at 2:23 AM on April 26, 2010

Yesterday I took my crashed drive apart and gave the chassis, spindle, platters, spacer and cap to my two-year-old daughter. The I stuck the magnet on the fridge. Nobody's getting my data.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 6:04 AM on April 26, 2010

I use mine for target practice. Totally wrecks the platters, and its something fun to shoot at. Try different firearms for even more entertaining experience.
posted by Amby72 at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2010

« Older How can I see London's Rolling Bridge curl up...   |   Lease/notice to vacate question? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.