Purchasing a new computer is an exciting process. Less exciting, though, is disposing of the original computer and the hard drive in it. While most people will simply drop off their old computer at a local recycling agency, doing so can be dangerous to your finances, because anybody can access the information that is still stored on the hard drive. Prior to getting rid of a computer, you should ensure your hard drive is also ready to be thrown away or, preferably, recycled.
The easiest way to prepare your hard drive for disposal is to format it and reinstall your operating system. Doing so erases the data that resides on your hard drive and eliminates any user-specific information. While reformatting a hard drive is not foolproof --- a good data retrieval company can pull information off a reformatted hard drive, though doing so is extremely expensive --- this method will suffice for users who keep no personal information on their computers.
Overwriting takes reformatting to the next level and is more suitable for people who keep personal information such as names, résumés and pictures on the hard drive. Overwriting is a process in which the original hard drive information is deleted and then replaced by a randomized series of 0s and 1s; a full overwrite usually runs through this process three times. Overwriting is thorough, though time-intensive, and programs designed to overwrite hard drive data start at $50.
If you saved anything on your computer that may be considered sensitive --- client records, medical or financial information, Social Security numbers, corporate secrets or anything comparable --- you should destroy the hard drive before disposing of it. Doing so will prevent anybody from retrieving sensitive data from the drive. The simplest way to destroy a hard drive is to remove it from the computer and give it a few good shots with a sledgehammer; the drive will be sufficiently destroyed when you hear internal pieces rattling around.
Regardless of whether you choose to reformat, overwrite or destroy your hard drive, it is a piece of equipment that can be recycled. Hard drives contain a broad variety of circuit boards and metals, and recycling a hard drive will keep those materials out of landfills. Companies such as Safe Harbor Express accepts and recycles old hard drives for free.
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