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Drilling a hard drive will certainly destroy it! Your data should be safe from most recovery efforts.

Can I just go ahead and drill my hard disk platter without first running the DBan software? My floppy disc drive and CD drive is not usable because I don't have a floppy disc, and my CD drive isn't working. Will I be safe by doing this before donating my old computer?

In this excerpt from Answercast #16, I look at the damage that can be done to a hard drive with an electric drill; it's pretty extensive.

Can I drill my hard drive?

Absolutely! Drill away!

You don't need to run any software on the hard drive before physically destroying it in that manner. I mean - you can if it makes you feel better.

Ultimately, drilling holes through the hard drive, through the hard disk platters, is gonna cause several kinds of problems.

  • One is there's gonna be a big hole; meaning that everything that was recorded in those holes is gonna be physically gone.
  • The other problem, of course, is that it's going to introduce all the remnants of those holes; the drill dust, if you will, is gonna end up inside of the hard disk so that even if the hard disk were turned on, that dust was going to fly around there and scratch the heck out of everything
  • It will probably also cause the disk heads to come into contact with the disk media and just cause all sorts of self-destructive stuff.

Government level forensics

Unless you're really, really concerned about, like, national security agency kind of data recovery techniques, where they've got thousands of our dollars ready to focus on a problem like this, drilling the hole through the disk is absolutely going to render it effectively useless.

After you've done that. one of the things I might suggest you do before donating the machine is remove the hard drive and leave it out of the machine. Then donate the machine without a hard drive. Or, if you're feeling charitable, buy an inexpensive replacement hard drive that's empty and put it in there.

But remove the hard drive; drill some holes in it; run it through electronics recycling (so that you're not polluting a landfill somewhere) and you'll be just fine.

Article C5319 - May 9, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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10 Comments
Dave Markley
May 11, 2012 8:47 AM

I just wanted to add that you should
definitely not put the hard drive back in the PC after destroying it. If someone tries to turn the computer on, it could damage the mother board
if it is shorted inside.

Dan
May 11, 2012 8:47 AM

At my old job, we used to use one of those old tape erasers (the kind that send electomagnetic pulses to erase reel to reel tapes). We even did it on a few running computers' hard drives to see how long it took for them to crash. Usually didn't take long at all! Old technology sometimes can still come in handy!

Actually I don't recommend that approach any longer. Current drives are apparently quite resilent to those things and you're not really guaranteed of erasing everything you thinnk you are. DBAN instead.
Leo
11-May-2012
John H
May 11, 2012 11:08 AM

Jeeze, Just run DBAN and then disassemble it. Hard drives have awesome magnets inside and the disks make neat mirrors for art projects.

Gord Campbell
May 11, 2012 4:45 PM

My preference is a sledge hammer....

BAW30s
May 11, 2012 6:17 PM

Drilling! Hammering! What a barbaric thing to do to a highly sophisticated complex electronic device. Unless your drive is suspected of containing data relevant to national security or of extremely high value, who is going to try to recover the odd byte after a couple of full formats? I would run a secure shred on anything I thought sensitive and then restore the computer to its original condition as supplied using the manufacturer's hidden partition / system disk and give away something in good working order.

I agree, but some people are particularly concerned for assorted reasons. Most people (myself included Smile) just aren't that interesting, and a run of DBAN is more than sufficient to prevent accidental data leakage that could lead to identity theft - the most common concern.
Leo
12-May-2012
James
May 12, 2012 5:27 AM

My bigger concern in what the person wants to do, is that he wants to donate a non-functioning computer. He says the CD drive doesn't work and now he wants to permanently destroy the hard drive. After that, the computer is going to be a hunk of scrap metal.

I work for a charity and we get donations all the time of various items, some of which are broken, cracked, and non-functioning. It actually costs us a lot of money to scrap items which the donors should have scrapped themselves.

Unless the charity is specifically collecting scrap metal to sell as a fundraiser, please keep your non-functioning computer and dispose of it yourself.

Jeffrey
May 13, 2012 5:42 PM

James, a Computer without a HDD is perfect for those charities, like goodwill or salvation army, who have stores and can sell it to tinkerers, but as Leo said in the article "Or, if you're feeling charitable, buy an inexpensive replacement hard drive that's empty and put it in there."

John Servis
May 13, 2012 8:05 PM

I agree with Leo & Jeffrey. You may want to check with the charity you want to donate to and see if they'll even take a PC in that type of condition, first, before just leaving it on their doorstep to deal with. Charities don't have the resources or personnel to repair these machines before selling them. Since you stated that the CD Drive doesn't function, re-installing the O.S isn't an option and I'm pretty sure the disk cleaners/wipers others have mentioned run from your optical drive as well. You could try a card reader in a USB port, but you'd still have to get the program onto the card first.

Digital Artist
June 2, 2012 3:46 PM

Those of you who think that Goodwill only sells junk computers to tinkerers are wrong. Goodwill has computer recycling centers in several cities around the US. If you're lucky enough to be near one you can pick up a late-model PC running Windows 7 with a range of memory, HDD, and optical drives, depending on what they have on hand for around a hundred dollars. Monitors run from around ten bucks for the oldies to around fifty for an lcd screen. They also have a wide assortment of accessories, and about a million miles of various cables. So, please don't overload them with junk. They are a great organization doing good for the community, good for the environment, and good for me, personally, with two of their refurbished computers running in my home.

BAW30s
June 20, 2012 5:57 PM

I just came across this expert article:
http://www.howtogeek.com/115573/htg-explains-why-you-only-have-to-wipe-a-disk-once-to-erase-it/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=190612&utm_content=emailsidebar
which explains "Why You Only Have to Wipe a Disk Once to Erase It" and that it is an "urban legend" that more are needed, so don't worry!

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