My sister is giving away her old computer. The data is non-sensitive, however she'd rather give it away empty. The computer is disconnected from the internet, does not have a CD drive anymore and runs Windows XP.

Is there a way to format the system drive regardless (all I found was that it requires the installation disk of XP, which is quite a hassle)?

Why can't I restart in plain old DOS and do a plain old format c: /u?


You can do it using USB flash drive.. Two way possible with it:

1st, you can can create a bootable USB flash disc, but it would be tricky i guess.

I'd rather the 2nd way which is copying the windows setup files to a flash disc using another computer, then install recovery console to target pc using flash disc. After that boot to recovery console and format from there...

Check out http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307654/en

  • Well, it is a solution, but still an extreme lot of work for such an easy task. – Abel Nov 8 '11 at 13:48
  • You cannot do a dos boot without any external because of the DOS in windows XP is emulated within the OS itself. It was win98 the last one operates on top of real dos... 2nd solution, recovery console, i suggested is not an extreme but way easier solution then removing the disc and plugging to another pc... – Hasan Manzak Nov 8 '11 at 13:54
  • We ended up plugging in an old cd drive and booting from it to reinstall XP. Good enough for her needs. I'd use DBAN myself, I guess. Accepted this, though I value the other answers as well, they all have merit. – Abel Nov 8 '11 at 14:26
  • That's because it's NOT as simple as just formatting the drive. You MUST overwrite the bits and for that you need a few utilities. `FORMAT C:' is NOT enough to ensure that the person who gets the drive can't recover your files. – Chris Nava Nov 21 '11 at 22:19

You could bring a Linux Live USB stick to the machine, boot off that, run fdisk /dev/sda and delete the partition(s).

That would allow the system to become operational again just by recreating the partition table (which will be easy if there is only one partition). To stop that blank the drive with dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda, or for a faster option just kill the start of each filesystem with dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda1 bs=1024 count=1024, dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda2 bs=1024 count=1024 and so on before wiping the partition table with with fdisk. ls /dev/sd* will tell you what partitions are present on the drive.

Edit: Why can't I restart in plain old DOS and do a plain old format c: /u? - You can if you have an old DOS boot floppy hidden away, but with XP there is no "plain old DOS" to boot to.


Formatting doesn't remove data. Use a software like DBAN.

  • I know it doesn't. She wants it to appear empty. We don't expect the KGB to search her computer. – Abel Nov 8 '11 at 13:37
  • The next owner will sure inspect it for "interesting" data. – kinokijuf Nov 8 '11 at 14:01
  • 2
    DBAN, one or two passes (or whatever they call it) should be fine. Anymore and your in KGB Proof area, any less and your venerable to the many "Recover my files" programs – TheLQ Nov 11 '11 at 17:54
  • One pass should be enough. – kinokijuf Nov 12 '11 at 20:00
  • 1
    Low level formatting does erase all the data. Just a note. This is not usually what people mean when they say formamting though. – soandos Dec 1 '11 at 7:40

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