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My aunt and grandparents have some computers that they want to get rid of, all of them have windowx-xp and a recovery partition (which allows them to restore the computer to factory settings). So what I want to do is completely wipe the hard drive (c:/ drive) partitions w/out removing the recovery partitions so that someone else can still use the system.

I've no experience wiping hard drives, but I've gone through the recovery procedures before, and installed OSs (windows-xp, osx, unbuntu) before so I have a little experience.

Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

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Duplicate of so many SU questions which are all duplicates of… – Hello71 Jul 28 '10 at 0:01
the answer to that question (which I already saw) is to use Darik's Boot and Nuke which is supposed to "automatically and completely delete the contents of any hard disk that it can detect" which you'll note I specifically said in my question I do not want to do (in order to allow who ever recieves the pc to do system restores in the future). So how is that an answer to my question? – erikvold Jul 28 '10 at 0:04
You really don't need to save the recovery partition. – James Watt Jul 28 '10 at 0:08
I'm pretty sure that DBAN doesn't let you select a specific partition to wipe. Anything on the actual drive will be gone. – James Watt Jul 28 '10 at 0:35
@Erik - like James said, it's true that the recovery partition is rarely of use. If someone buys a laptop, he will install his system most likely from the cd, not from the recovery partition. However, I understand that this is your need, and as such it makes your question different from the proposed duplicate (which is about erasing absolutely anything on the drive). – Gnoupi Jul 28 '10 at 7:29
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Unless the drives are nearly new I'd advise you just destroy them with a LARGE hammer until you see the inner discs are substantially bent up. Otherwise you're going to put a lot more effort into saving a 6 year old drive than it's worth. New drives are large, fast and cheap and lots of donated systems eventually end up with an open source OS on them so the loss of XP from the recovery partition is no big deal.

If you're still determined to salvage the drives - I can't recommend you doing this yourself if you have no experience in it. Hire someone you trust who knows how to do it and watch what they do. It's not at all hard, but the consequences of doing it wrong could potentially be severe (financial disclosures leading to fraud or identity theft as I'm sure you're aware). If it was your own stuff I'd say assess the risk (since you know what's on the drive) and do what you want, but with a relatives system I'd expect you to be a lot more conservative.

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@Erik: Laptops are usually made so hard drives are replaceable without MAJOR effort. Just take drive out and apply hammer liberally. Many PC recyclers will NOT take laptops that have drives still inside (Best Buy for one has this policy). – hotei Jul 28 '10 at 0:31
Yes, but beating the drives with a hammer would also "delete" the recovery partition ... I thought you did not want to do that? – irrational John Jul 28 '10 at 0:34
Seriously. Just get a utility that overwrites all the sectors. Run it over night. Beating the hard drive is ridiculous unless you take some guilty pleasure from the destruction. Most people's privacy is safe enough if they simply format the drive even though all their data is "still there". Few are going to invest the effort to rebuild a file system when they know other people have thrown out hard drives without even bothering to format. If you run a true erase program and overwrite the sectors, you'll be safe. – irrational John Jul 28 '10 at 3:06
@Irrational: You might be surprised to find out how many people get shot every year with guns they thought were not loaded. Likewise lots of folks (documented in several very embarrassing DOD and FBI disclosure incidents) "think" they erased their private or classified data only to find out that was not the case. I used to do this for a living and the question was never "am I being paranoid", it was "am I being paranoid ENOUGH?". If you KNOW the data's not sensitive, maybe a good software erase is fine. If you don't KNOW it... – hotei Jul 28 '10 at 18:19
My understanding was that when Windows comes pre-installed the EUL is part of the hardware it came with. So it would also "travel" with it. Wouldn't it be a bit strange (even for MS) to insist that if you transfer ownership of the hardware you must also buy another license to XP? What you cannot do is try to use that XP license on other hardware. That XP license is bound to that one machine. (From the EUL POV). – irrational John Jul 28 '10 at 22:27

Use the recovery partition to return it to factory condition, then use Eraser to erase the free space on the drive, this will leave the computer in usable condition and no personal data will be recoverable.

I prefer version 5.8.8

Once Eraser is installed on the restored XP installation, open explorer and right click on the C drive and select "Erase Unused Space"

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Thanks for this answer! but I worry that it's not secure enough.. as there does not appear to be a guarantee that the unused space contains the sensitive data. – erikvold Jul 29 '10 at 22:14
Its secure, the factory restore overwrites the space it uses to reinstall the OS, eraser overwrites the rest. Safe as it gets. – Moab Jul 30 '10 at 0:12

I second hotei. Not only are drives cheaper, faster, and bigger each year, old drives are exponentially more likely to fail. These things aren't made to last. "Grandma's XP machine" makes me guess that it's nearly 10 years old. The average life of a drive is well below that. Don't bother clearing them so new data can be written. It will just fail when you least need it to and cause grief

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Couldn't have said it better. I've got some drives that are still error free after 10 years (per SpinRite 6). Others with less than 5 years are quickly sliding towards senility according to SMART monitor. – hotei Jul 28 '10 at 18:20

If you really want to wipe your hard drives for disposal, look for software that complies with US Department of Defense Standard 52220.22-M or US NIST Special Publication 800-88. Anything that does should make it pretty apparent on their website. Most of this software appears to be commercial, however HDDErase is a freeware application recommended in NIST Special Pub 800-88.

The DBAN application has also been mentioned - I have known people who have used this prior to disposing of hard drives. As far as I can tell, it hasn't been tested against the above mentioned specs, but it appears to be well trusted in the security community.

Bruce Schneier, a well known security expert, has written at least one blog post on file deletion.

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Both HDDErase and DBAN will wipe all partitions on the drive, which does not answer the original question, unless additional steps are taken to back up the recovery partition prior to wiping, and then restore it. – Royce Williams Aug 21 '14 at 13:59

As has been pointed out, this is an "Asked and Answered. Many times!" sort of question. There are a number of freeware utilities which let you write zeros (or a random string or whatever ...) to the sectors on a drive. Doing this is usually good enough to ensure your privacy will be preserved.

If you are one of the rare people on this planet for which governments (or their equivalent) will spend large amounts of money to recover your data then a simple overwrite may not be sufficient. Then again, if you're in that category, you probably wouldn't be asking your question here, no?

Look through the answers listed under "Related" for your question and I'm fairly confident that you'll find a utility which will allow you to overwrite/destroy just the data in one partition. That would allow you to preserve the recovery partition as you said you wished to do.

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Or you could open the hard drive case so you can see the platters inside.
Then plug the power only into the drive.
Watch disks spin up, see heads move etc.
Then, grab a screw driver and press it onto the spinning disk. It's fun!
Now open up the platter screws and flip the platter and screw back on again. Repeat screwdriver.
(Warning: The drive will become totally unusable, of course!)
Ps. Don't forget to salvage the super-strong magnet that's in there In fact, throw the platters, keep the drive to make some spinning toy or something!

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Zabba's probably kidding but I do save the magnets to play with. Sanding the magnetic surface off the platters with a power sander is the way to go if you work for a 3 letter agency and are REALLY - REALLY paranoid, since otherwise there's a lot of wasted time dis/assembling the drive with Zabba's method. – hotei Jul 28 '10 at 18:40
@hotei, not kidding, it's fun doing that :p And with the sander, you still have to flip the disks, and get a sander from somewhere too – Zabba Jul 29 '10 at 8:07
Have you ever found anything USEFUL to do with the magnets? I mean the refrigerator is only so big... – hotei Jul 29 '10 at 19:31

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