Best way to erase or destroy a hard drive that no longer works properly?
June 22, 2010 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Best way to erase or destroy a hard drive that no longer works properly?

I've accumulated several disk drives pulled from computers. I want to throw out the drives, but first I'd like to erase the data. What makes this more challenging is that most of the drives are on their last legs (clicking, unreliable access, etc.), preventing me from running programs for erasing data. Despite that the drives are not in good working order, I don't just want to leave it to chance that tossing them in the hazardous waste bin is safe enough; I know for a fact that it's possible to still pull data off near-dead disks. Yes, I know most people will think this is paranoid, but please just humor me. My question is, what do you suggest as the cheapest, fastest way to accomplish this? Open up the case and mangle the platters? Demagnetize the drives? (If so, can you recommend a cheap demagnetizer? The ones I'm finding are $1000 or more.)
posted by StrawberryPie to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A hammer. Once the platters are anything less than perfect it's pretty much game over.
posted by GuyZero at 8:26 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Run a drill through each. A drill press helps.

Alternatively, open them up, take the platters off the spindles, pull the magnets (for use elsewhere) and then take all of the rest of the parts to an aluminum recycler.
posted by tomierna at 8:27 PM on June 22, 2010

cheap + fast = destroy the platters. get the hard drive open, yank 'em out and then bang, scrape, bend, distress, multilate, pummel.

anything that leaves the platter physically unmolested does not offer 100% reliability for data obfuscation.
posted by radiosilents at 8:27 PM on June 22, 2010

Came in to say "sledgehammer", but will just have to second it instead.
posted by Aquaman at 8:28 PM on June 22, 2010

I used a power drill and drilled a hole through each of mine. At that point someone really has to want YOUR data to bother.
posted by true at 8:28 PM on June 22, 2010

Sledge hammer is how I've done it.

If you're doing it outside your workplace I guarantee that almost every passerby will offer an alternative.
posted by ODiV at 8:28 PM on June 22, 2010

Ack! I'm sorry to have put the text of the question in the wrong place. That's so annoying. I gave it a title and I though that the title would be what appears on the question list page. And you can't edit things once they're posted. Shoot.
posted by StrawberryPie at 8:29 PM on June 22, 2010

also : "Once the platters are anything less than perfect it's pretty much game over." is not accurate. data can be pulled off of small sectors of the surface of the disk if some parts are damaged and some are not.

you need the entire platter's surface to be destroyed.
posted by radiosilents at 8:29 PM on June 22, 2010

If the platters are in the least warped or if they are not perfectly aligned on the spindle the heads cannot track the surface and the disk is useless. We're not talking about slight demagnetization here or bad bits. A hammer - not even a sledgehammer - is 100% sufficient.
posted by GuyZero at 8:31 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I too suggest opening the drives and wrecking the platters via whatever blunt force method gives you the most satisfaction, but wear eye protection. Platter shards are sharp and they can splinter violently and I wouldn't fully trust even a bag method.
posted by Cyrano at 8:34 PM on June 22, 2010

If you have torx screwdrivers around, I'd just open the case and take out the little magnets. The times I've done this I've had to mangle the platters anyway.

The wee little magnets inside make great extra-strong fridge magnets.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:43 PM on June 22, 2010

Yeah if you have some time to kill just disassemble them. I use the platters for coasters and they work well. Plus the aluminum rings inside between the platters are great keyrings. And the magnets are awesome strong. Lotsa goodies inside!
posted by msbutah at 8:51 PM on June 22, 2010

Open the case and grab the magnets, for fun. While you're there, trash the platters.
posted by pompomtom at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2010

Platters --> burn it with fire!
posted by Night_owl at 9:05 PM on June 22, 2010

It really is about what level of paranoia you deem appropriate.

I can understand being concerned that someone will plug your drive in, mount it up, and slurp the info off. Once you drill through the drive, or take a sledge to it, or otherwise render it physically non-functional, you're looking at a whole 'nother level of effort required to read the data. Unless its people in black helicopters that you're worried about, I'd say any of the above will do.
posted by mumkin at 9:45 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

We've had fun with forklifts. Yeah - they can put a lot of pressure on an platter.
posted by cftarnas at 10:25 PM on June 22, 2010

I use my old hard drive platters as drink coasters. They're the perfect size.
posted by Justinian at 10:39 PM on June 22, 2010

Platters - Put em in a microwave!

...Might break the microwave.
posted by mervin_shnegwood at 10:39 PM on June 22, 2010

Drop them off of a high place. Record. Put on YouTube as advertisement for your new 'super hard drive protection' cases. Link to your website selling heavily padded metal boxes. Repeat and profit.
posted by blazingunicorn at 12:18 AM on June 23, 2010

For the truly paranoid, a few hours in a roaring fireplace will work wonders. Turn every hour until blackened on both sides. Remove with tongs and serve at room temperature.
posted by Gordion Knott at 5:11 AM on June 23, 2010

at work they smash them with a hammer and/or drive a screw through the platters.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:18 AM on June 23, 2010

Hammer them until you hear a glass shattering noise, and you hear a rattling when you shake it. That's the disc that holds the data breaking, because it is usually made out of glass.
posted by baggers at 6:04 AM on June 23, 2010

I sometimes donate old computer equipment, and the place where I go has a system for ensuring that the information from donated drives is deleted.

They first try to use some software to delete the data, but if it's not 100% successful, they place it into a machine that obliterates it ("a conical punch inside the unit delivers a staggering 12,000 pounds of hydraulic force, causing catastrophic trauma to the hard drive’s chassis while destroying its internal platter"). It costs $5 per drive, and they can even provide proof of destruction (a certificate, or even a video) if you really want it.

Here's the site of the organisation: You could probably find something similar where you live, or I suppose you could also mail the drives to this place if you wanted.
posted by helios at 6:22 AM on June 23, 2010

Think who you are protecting the data against.

Once you have employed a secure method (fire, drilling through platters, dismantling and smashing up) then you have placed recovery beyond the means of people with normal resources to deploy.

If people with abnormal resources to deploy are interested then they will just kidnap *you* and subject you to some recreational waterboarding.

My choice? quick: drill through the case in two or 3 places, slow: dismantle, scavenge and bash.
posted by epo at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2010

you need the entire platter's surface to be destroyed.

What about sanding the surface before you smash it with a hammer?
posted by CathyG at 6:54 AM on June 23, 2010

My plan for the disposal of some fifty-odd drives involves thermite. Once the platter surfaces have been through topological distortions which would make a lewd mathematician blush, and the fragile magnetic domains given the the Big Entropy Mosh by temperatures up to 4,500 F, nothing short of a time machine is getting that data back.
posted by adipocere at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The police department that we serviced back in the days before I went to law school used them for target practice.
posted by norm at 8:02 AM on June 23, 2010

Ooh! I took a class in this back when I worked with classified stuff. Smashing with a hammer is acceptable, according to the NSA, but a drill would be better. The most fun one is shooting it at close range, execution-style, though.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:05 AM on June 23, 2010

Few things could be more satisfying than the sickly crunch of shattering glass platters that emanated from the default laptop drive as I creased the entire damn housing with a brick. That POS cost me untold hours of work and panic over lost baby photos.

That said, most of the drives I recently destroyed had aluminum platters, which just weren't the same.
posted by NortonDC at 10:12 AM on June 23, 2010

Wow, I have to say, this has produced much more interesting and entertaining answers than I ever expected! Thank you, everyone. Lots of ideas here. And thanks for the idea of taking the magnets out first!
posted by StrawberryPie at 9:53 PM on June 23, 2010

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