How do I clean my ThinkPad's harddrive so I can sell it WITHOUT having to reinstall XP?
October 21, 2006 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I clean my ThinkPad's harddrive so I can sell it WITHOUT having to reinstall XP?

So my wife is ready to take the plunge and sell her 12" Powerbook and Thinkpad (used primarily for CAD) and consolidate with a smoking fast MacBook. It should come as no surprise that getting the PowerBook ready for sale has been a piece of cake and I'm confident any personal information is clear and has been obscured by enough 1's and 0's to thrwart anybody that would actually want the computer.

The Thinkpad, on the other hand has presented itself with one major problem. The Windows XP label with the serial number on the bottom of the computer has been ruined and is completely unreadable which means reinstalling XP would require me to purchase a new copy of it, costing about as much as the computer is worth.

My question is this: Is there a way to get rid of most personal information in a way that makes the laptop safe enough to sell without overwriting the OS?
posted by phixed to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get the serial number


Reinstall XP with your OEM disks and the serial number

posted by kcm at 6:04 PM on October 21, 2006

You can still reformat. Get the Jellybean Keyfinder software, pull the license number for XP from that.

If you don't have the CD, I don't know of anyway to make sure it's secure enough to sell without reformatting.
posted by schnee at 6:04 PM on October 21, 2006

Unless you manually removed it, don't Thinkpads come with a system restore partition? I believe you hit one of the F-keys on boot and it will wipe everything and restore it to how it came from the factory.
posted by randomstriker at 6:43 PM on October 21, 2006

If all else fails and you really do want to wipe the drive, this is the easiest way I know.

Download and burn a Linux LiveCD. Ubuntu is good, but pretty much anything should work. Boot off that CD and open a command prompt.

If you're not already root, su to root this way:

su - root

I don't think you have to type a password on the Ubuntu LiveCD for that. Then type:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/hda bs=512

This will totally wipe the drive. That writes pseudo-random bytes over the entire thing. For maximum safety, do that several times; each pass will take at least a couple of hours.

I suggest following what the other folks are telling you... that machine has a paid-up copy of Windows, and selling it without that paid copy reduces its value to the prospective purchaser. But if you're really sure you want to wipe it, that's how.
posted by Malor at 7:47 PM on October 21, 2006

Yeah, just blow it away with a Linux install. Some Linux installs (Gentoo, for one) come with "disk shred" utilities. At the very least, you'll have dd.

The purchaser can probably get an OEM CD (or the system restore CDs) from IBM.
posted by drstein at 9:04 PM on October 21, 2006

Thinkpads have a copy of WindowsXP on a hidden partition. Just press the Access IBM button near the top left corner of your keyboard when booting and select the reinstall option. I don't think it prompts for serial but I could be wrong.
posted by furtive at 9:40 PM on October 21, 2006

Seconding furtive, and confirming -- it won't prompt you for the serial. Actually, it'd be embarrassing if it did -- like many manufacturers, IBM receive.. special.. serial #'s from Microsoft that don't actually WORK if you plug them in manually.

So hit up your restore partition, and walk away. Problem solved!

Now if someone could tell ME why the new ubuntu build on my _own_ thinkpad doesn't talk to the internet, I'd be rather grateful ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 12:00 AM on October 22, 2006

posted by fvox13 at 12:10 AM on October 22, 2006

If the copy of XP on the Thinkpad is an OEM license then the license is legally forever tied to the machine it came with. Thus if you take the CDKEY from the Thinkpad and use it to install Windows on another machine you've broken the law. Isn't Microsoft great? You have to pay more for a real license that you can use on any machine, so usually vendors give you just the OEM license.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:10 AM on October 22, 2006

Does your thinkpad have c:\i386 still? Even if you've nuked your system restore partition (or yours is one of the machines that didn't have one), you can go through some steps to reinstall XP using the data in that directory.

Use the serial number that's in c:\i386\system32\unattend.txt It's the same one that the keyfinders will find for you.

There's a good, complete set of directions here:
posted by toxic at 4:01 PM on October 22, 2006

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