Clean me up, Scotty!
February 29, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to erase my hard drive for resale if I don't have original OS reinstall CDs to work with?

I have a 1.5 year old Dell laptop running Windows XP SP2 which I'm selling in the next couple of weeks (getting a Macbook... YESSSS). I'm going to make an attempt to sell it here on campus or through Craigslist before I try other methods, and so as soon as I transfer everything I want to keep over to my new computer, I want to clean the hard drive off as well as I can. The problem is that, in a misguided money-saving attempt when I first ordered the Dell, I did not request physical Windows XP reinstall CDs. Obviously I cannot just completely reformat the hard drive, then, since I will have no way of reinstalling the OS.. right? What do I do to get this thing ready to sell to a stranger?

For the record, there's nothing terribly "sensitive" on here, just personal/academic documents and photos, but I'd rather get it as clean as possible just in case some total weirdo gets a hold of it.

Any other tips on dealing with the less-than-stellar electronics resale market would also be appreciated.
posted by rhoticity to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd go with DBAN.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:51 PM on February 29, 2008

You need an Ultimate Boot CD.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:51 PM on February 29, 2008

Oh, that'll totally wipe the drive...did you want to leave Windows on it for resale?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:52 PM on February 29, 2008

Obviously I cannot just completely reformat the hard drive, then, since I will have no way of reinstalling the OS.. right?

Nope, you can format the drive completely, and anyone with a valid Windows XP (or Linux, or whatever) installation CD can boot off the CD and do a fresh install. You may not be able to format the disk from within Windows, I've never tried that.

I would personally boot up an Ubuntu CD, and run "dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda" and zero out the drive (might be "hda" instead of "sda" depending on the type of hard drive you have). Make sure the person you give it to knows how to install a new OS, so they don't come crying back to you about "operating system not found" messages.

If you're not too concerned about the data, just clean up My Documents, your browser history and cache, and the various "Temp" folders.
posted by knave at 1:56 PM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, the idea is that I'd be able to offer it with Windows on it... there are not many people around who'd buy a laptop with only Linux on it, unfortunately. We're pretty tech-unsavvy around here.
posted by rhoticity at 2:01 PM on February 29, 2008

Does your Dell/XP license allow you to transfer ownership of the OS? Personally I'd do a secure overwrite of the whole thing and let the new owner worry about software. If you're on a campus your bookstore might have deeply-discounted copies of XP for students.
posted by bizwank at 2:04 PM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: I have a feeling that selling it as a "do it yourself" project is going to further hurt my chances of getting ANY money whatsoever. As it is, I can only get about $230 for it on those "we'll buy any laptop" sketchy websites.
posted by rhoticity at 2:06 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Do you have a recovery partition you can restore from?

Otherwise, you can try calling Dell and telling them that you have "lost" your disks. I've done this a few times and have had replacements sent for free. If they don't give them to you, then just download a copy of Window from one of the various torrent sites and install it with your key. And if you don't feel comfortable doing that, you can always just order some replacement media straight from Microsoft, although there is a fee involved with that. Or, maybe you can borrow somebody else's.

You own a legal copy of Windows, and it is represented by the key on the side of your computer. The physical media doesn't mean anything. So you just need to get a copy of the right edition and install it with your key, and that'll be fine to resell.
posted by tracert at 2:09 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're going to download a copy, make sure you get the right editon, because the keys are different for retail, OEM and VLK licenses. You need an OEM copy of either Pro or Home, with no cracks or other shenanigans on it. If you really don't know what I'm talking about, just getting a friends Dell Windows disk is a good call.
posted by tracert at 2:16 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Two easy options:

1) Download Eraser, and use it to delete anything sensitive from within windows.

2) Boot off of a linux live cd, and use the shred command to delete the files and directories you want to erase.

Both methods erases a file, then overwrite the position of that file a number of times with random data to ensure that it can't be recovered.

In the interest of this not taking days to complete (if you have a lot of data), a single pass is fine (or two if you're feeling paranoid). As discussed in previous threads, anything more than that is really overkill.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:21 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually install ubuntu or DamnSmallLinux on the drive, then wipe the free space by copying /dev/zero to a file until all space is exhausted, then remove the file. That way the buyer can boot it at least and it's pretty well wiped.
posted by chairface at 2:22 PM on February 29, 2008

Piggybacking on this question -- I'm in the same situation but the laptop doesn't have a working CD drive. I'm going to uninstall all our software, delete all our Windows IDs and personal folders, etc, but I was wondering:

Is there a utility that cleans up common caches of personal information in Windows -- something that might be left in the registry or other nooks?
posted by Yogurt at 2:40 PM on February 29, 2008

This site has some suggestions for laptop cleaning without reinstallation. (Answering my own question.)
posted by Yogurt at 2:43 PM on February 29, 2008

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