How do I make sure that my information is removed before taking my old eletronics for recycling?
May 2, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

What steps do I need to take before recycling my old computers?

I've got an old desktop computer and a dead laptop that have been sitting around taking up space in my apartment. I'm in the process of moving and have no intention of taking these with me, so I plan to recycle them.

However, I want to make sure that I remove any potentially sensitive info first (banking info, passwords, etc.).

The desktop is an old Windows XP machine that, frankly, might not even boot up (it's old and had been dying for a long time before I replaced it). Assuming it does boot up, what's the quickest and easiest way to wipe it clean? (And, if it doesn't boot up, am I safe?)

The laptop died while I was installing a new OS. It had just finished deleting all of the old OS, to the point that it couldn't be restored, and then died before installing the new OS. Do I need to do anything here or can I consider it dead and safe to recycle?
posted by asnider to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No, if there's a hard drive in there, you're not safe to just donate it. If you plan to use Best Buy for your recycling, they won't even take a computer with a non-wiped hard drive (of course, they'd be happy to wipe it for you, for a fee). Remove the hard drives, recycle the rest of the computers, and physically destroy the hard drive as best as you can. A power drill straight through the hard drive case and platters in several spots can be quite successful for deterring all data thieves but the FBI and CIA.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:58 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Zero -- not just format or erase, but zero -- the hard drives on the computers which still boot. Have the other ones professionally destroyed.

(Whether that information is worth the time and effort it takes to extract it is a different matter, of course. But good hygiene is good hygiene.)
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on May 2, 2012

The safest way to clean your hard drive is with a hammer.

This sounds like something's dead, and if you're confident that there's nothing sensitive on the hard drive itself, you could just change your online banking passwords, your email passwords, and so forth, before you give the thing away.

But to be absolutely safe, you pull the thing and you smash it.
posted by gauche at 1:00 PM on May 2, 2012

No, you aren't safe just because they don't boot up. You would want to remove the hard drives and destructively puncture them with a hammer and nail or something along those lines. (Assuming by "recycle" you aren't talking about taking them somewhere where they'll be reconditioned for someone else to use, in which case more complicated steps could leave them usable.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:00 PM on May 2, 2012

Okay, I forgot that people own power tools. Yeah, just drill through/smash the plates (not just the enclosure but the plates) a few times and assuming you're not a diplomat or important corporate executive, you're fine.
posted by griphus at 1:03 PM on May 2, 2012

Either way, pull the drives before recycling the computers (Freecycle, if you have it in your area) but if you'd like to reuse the drives instead of destroying them, an alternative is to pull the hard drives out of both machines and buy some cheap enclosures for them.

The enclosures usually cost $15-$25 bucks, and you might be able to use them for backups if the drives haven't failed.
posted by mhoye at 1:33 PM on May 2, 2012

I assume it doesn't make a difference, but I'm talking about taking the computers into the electronics recycling facility, not donating them via Freecycle or the like.
posted by asnider at 1:37 PM on May 2, 2012

Edmonton's Electronics Recycling Facility. You probably already have this angle covered, but what the hell.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:42 PM on May 2, 2012

You want to open the hard drive and take the ridiculously strong cool little magnet out. Makes the mother of all fridge magnets.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:59 PM on May 2, 2012

Honestly, I'd take the hard drive(s) out and just hang onto it/them somewhere, as they don't take up any space to speak of. Don't wipe it; you never know what's on there that you might need to extract; if it ends up being important to a tax audit or a lawsuit, it can be worth it even to send a dead drive to a clean room facility to be rebuilt. The same things that make a hard drive worth destroying even if it isn't working make it worth holding onto even if it isn't working.
posted by Diacritic at 2:26 PM on May 2, 2012

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