You Really Should Read This Before You Donate Your ComputerPosted: August 30, 2011
If you are like 75% of the population; and I am being conservative with that number as I’ll wager it is much higher, you have a quite impressive stockpile of old computers and gadgets. Unfortunately there is not an “Island of Misfit Gadgets”, so unless you want to continue to manage a makeshift tech salvage yard, you will want to rid yourself of these items. Alas, getting rid of these old computers is not as easy as loading them up and headed down to the Goodwill now is it? There is one teeny tiny problem with that plan, you have stuff on that PC and don’t want to drop it off at the goodwill for little johnny to discover your financial info, pics or well…..umm…yeah…let’s move on.
The point is, the reason everyone has a stockpile of old computers is because most people don’t know where to start when it comes down to cleaning out that data. Well never fear fair citizens, Ray is here to solve this problem for you. Please excuse the lack of cape, I had to get rid of it, because it was itchy….anyway…let’s get down to business shall we? I mean that’s why you’re here right? To get Tech Info not hear a bunch of bad jokes…So, quit being a comedian Ray Ray and get with the info…sure think here you go.
Back Up EVERYTHING!!!
This is really a no brainer – or at least it should be – you want to make sure you have all of your personal info that you want to keep backed up before you wipe the drive. What you want to avoid is getting halfway through the process of wiping the drives and realize you forgot to backup the pictures on your only child from birth to 5 years old!!! I have seen this happen and it IS NOT pleasant. So, do not skip this step. If you don’t have anything to back up and are sure, skip down to the next step.
If you need to back up your computer – and most of you will – there are a couple of ways to go about accomplishing this. If you have a Windows system you can back it up from within Windows and if you have a Mac there is also a tool within the Mac that will allow you to back up the system. For a step by step instructions on how to back up your system using this method LifeHacker has provided an excellent guide for this. One tip I would offer is if you decide to backup to an external hard drive buy a Drive that is 10x’s larger than the data you intend to back up. For example, if your data is 10GB then buy a 100GB hard drive. A good rule of thumb is to take the data size you want to back up and multiply that by 10 and buy that size of hard drive.
Another method for backing up your data is backing it up online. The online backup is the coolest thing since Bob Saget and Flat Front Khaki’s. While backing up locally is great for getting files back quickly ask someone who has had a house burn down along with their local backup how nice it would have been to have a backup online. I highly recommend this method. In fact, you can set an automatic online backup and live life never thinking about it again, unless you need it. The product I recommend using is CrashPlan. For $5 a month you can have an unlimited backup for one computer and for like $10 a month you can have an unlimited backup of up to 10 computers!!! A small price to pay for a backup that can recovered even if you lose your computer entirely!!!
Now that you have your data backed up using on of these methods it’s time to move on to…
Make Sure You have the Right Tools
Here is the mistake virtually everyone makes when “wiping” their drive. They will insert their Windows Disk reboot their PC and boot to said disc and proceed to reformat it. While this will erase data and prepare the hard drive to be used from the factory settings IT DOES NOT REMOVE YOUR DATA!!! This process simply hides your data in fragments and can still be lifted by even the most novice IT pro. Here is what you need to do to ensure your data is securely wiped.
I recommend getting yourself a copy of Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN). I have used this program several times and have always been pleased with the result. This program allows you to create a bootable CD or DVD who’s sole purpose is to securely wipe your hard drive. It is the Charmin of the Hard Drive Wiper market (okay, that was a bad joke, please for give me for that). Simply download DBAN burn it to a disc and your ready to wipe that drive and get one step closer to sending that computer off to the Island of Misfit Tech.
For those of you with Macs, I don’t presume that you plan to donate it anywhere, because they are pretty versatile for other uses than what they were originally intended for. However, if you are, the Lion Recovery Disk Assistant is to MAC what DBAN is to Windows. Except this recovery tool can be placed and booted from a Thumb Drive.
Now you are ready to…
Wipe the Drive
Now that you have the correct tools for the job, you are finally ready to get your hands dirty and wipe that drive. One very important thing to pay attention to here is the number of passes you perform that will minimize the chances someone can life your data. Here is how to do this:
For Windows and/or Linux PC’s you may need to go into the BIOS an enable booting to a Disc; however, most always you will be able to do this by pressing F12 while the system is booting and selecting boot from CD/DVD ROM, so insert your DBAN Disc and reboot the system and start hitting F12 and select boot from Disc (Be ready to strike any key when prompted, if you don’t it will boot to the Hard Drive). This will load DBAN and if you just press “Enter” at the start up screen you will be able to select the drive you want to wipe. DBAN, by default, will wipe a drive using a 3-way pass which will pass over the drive 3 times writing all your 1’s to 0’s. However, if you press “M” instead of “Enter” at the start screen you can select the number of passes that DBAN will make over your drive. If you prefer 7 passes chooses the DOD5520-22 M Method. For what it’s worth, this is the method used by the Department of Defense when they wipe their drives. If you really want to get after it you can select the Gutmann Method which is a 35-way wipe!!!
Keep in mind the more wipes you do, the longer it will take to complete the process. I would personally recommend using the 7-way wipe as it offers a great balance of security and speed. Not to mention that it will expedite getting that Misfit PC out of your house.
Again, you’re probably not, but if you are planning to donate a Mac and are wiping the drive, it is a bit of a different process. Oh, c’mon you didn’t expect Jobs to do the same thing that Gates is doing do you….umm….anyway…here is a step by step guide for wiping a MAC drive.
Once the wipe process is complete you are finally ready to…
Now you have a PC donation that is functional. All a user needs to do now is put an Operating System on it and it’s ready. If you wanted to go a step further and as long as you didn’t need the OS that was on the donated PC for another system you could go ahead and install the OS on it and send the OS disc with it. This would be a donation that was ready to work right out of the gate for another user. A great idea, especially for older individuals that are scared of computers to begin with.
One thing I want to add about donating your computer. CLEAN THE @#$%# THING UP BEFORE YOU DONATE, don’t take your nasty dust and God knows what else filled computer to the Goodwill or wherever it is being donated in that shape. That is just rude, take the time to vacuum it out and clean it up. I have seen this countless times and it really ticks me off. CLEAN IT UP.
One Last Thing
You need to remember, that it doesn’t matter if you even wipe that drive 35 times or 35,000 times, there is a real good chance that there will still be enough of your data left to be lifted a true advanced pro that knows what they are doing. If someone has the time and resources and is really hellbent on checking your donated drive there are companies like, DriveSavers that can lift data off drives that you couldn’t imagine possible. So, pleas know that when you wipe your drive.The truly, best way to know your data is securely removed is to remove the drive yourself, take it out in the back yard, remove the plate and take a hammer to the platters (discs).
In all reality, if you are like me, there is nothing on the drive worth the cost and time it takes to send it off to DriveSavers, so 7 wipes should be plenty secure. However, for those of you paranoid types, put on your tin foil hat and get a hammer after it.