How to Delete a Hard Drive

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The hard drive of a computer is the central storage location for the operating system of the machine, the software that is installed by the user, and the user's personal files and other information. When the time comes to install a new operating system, reinstall the current operating system, replace the hard drive with a larger version or sell the computer, it is a good idea to delete all of the stored information on a hard drive first. If the hard drive is a secondary drive, it will take only a few minutes from within Windows or another operating system to delete the information. When the drive to be deleted is the primary hard drive on the system, however, a few extra steps must be taken.

Things You'll Need

  • Backup media
  • Windows, Linux or OSX CD

Secondary Hard Drive

  • Move all of the important files from the hard drive to an external backup device, such as a USB hard drive, a USB thumb drive, CDRs or DVD-Rs.

  • Press the “Start” button in Windows, and select “My Computer.”

  • Right-click on the drive to be deleted, and select “Format.”

  • Select “NTFS” in the file system box, and press the “OK” button. After several minutes, a status report will be displayed, and the drive is now empty and ready to store new data. In Linux, the drive can be formatted with the partition editor included with the system, which is usually located in the administrator, system, or settings menus. In OS X, the drive can be formatted by running the “Disk Utility” program. Select the appropriate file system for the operating system, which will usually be the same as the current file system of the drive.

Primary Hard Drive

  • Backup all important files. Because the hard drive cannot be formatted while the operating system it contains is running, an external CD-ROM-based tool will be needed. Windows users can use the Windows installation CD, as well as many of the available Linux Live CDs. Linux users would use a Linux Live CD, and Mac users can use the Mac OS X disc.

  • Insert the appropriate disc into the computer, and reboot. The computer should boot from the CD. If not, the BIOS settings will need to be changed to boot from CD first, according to the instructions listed in the computer's owner's manual.

  • Select “R” from the Start menu to start the “Recovery Console” if you are using the Windows CD. With the Linux CD, answer any configuration questions asked, wait for the desktop to appear and start the disk partitioner. On the Mac CD, wait for the “Disk Utility” to start, which happens just before the installation process begins.

  • Type “format c: /fs:ntfs” into the command prompt of the recovery console, if the Windows disc was used. Then press “Enter,” type “Y” to confirm the operation and press “Enter” again. On Linux or Mac, select the drive and choose the format option. Select the appropriate file system for the operating system, which will usually be the same as the file system currently on the disk.

  • Type “Exit” and press “Enter” to leave the recovery console on the Windows disc. On the Linux disc, select the “Shutdown” option; on the Mac disc, cancel the installation after formatting the drive. Reboot the computer.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are selling or giving away the computer or the hard drive, it may be a good idea to use special software to delete the information on the drive completely by rewriting the drive with junk information. There are many different free and paid programs available to do this, such as DeleteOnClick, CyberShredder and Active@ Eraser (see Resources below).
  • Photo Credit Dave Secor
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