Removing Files from Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

My computer is 5 years old and it freezes up and shuts down on me at times. So I am considering buying a new one. How do I get rid of any files on it before I donate it to a school?

Since you asked this question, you probably already understand the fact that simply deleting files on your hard drive doesn't actually remove them permanently...

When you tell your computer to delete a file, the operating system just removes a pointer from the file system, so the file can no longer be found on the disk. That physical space becomes available for other files, but it may not ever be over-written.

There are ways to recover files (or portions of them) from a disk once they have been deleted. So if you are considering donating your used computer to charity, you should take some steps to make sure that any personal information is truly expunged from the disk. Here's what I recommend:

  • First, reformat the hard drive. Under Windows, you can format by going to My Computer, right-click the icon for the hard drive, and then select Format. When the format completes, you will have erased all files from the drive.

  • Since your computer now has an empty hard drive, you'll need to re-install the operating system with the original CDROMs. It's still possible, but pretty unlikely, that some shreds of your old files might still be visible. But finding them requires some pretty advanced sleuthing tools and a lot of determination.

    If that solution doesn't satisfy you, there are two other options you can try:

  • Hard Disk cleaning tools such as Disk Wipe, Drive Scrubber or R-Wipe & Clean claim to remove every last shred of your personal files. You can also search the Web for "disk wipe" or "file shredder" to find similar software options.

  • Remove the hard drive and hit it with a sledge hammer. I've done this and it's actually quite satisfying. This pretty much guarantees nobody is going to find your old love letters. Since hard drives are pretty cheap now, buy an 80GB drive for under $50 and donate it along with the computer. Everyone wins!

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    Most recent comments on "Removing Files from Hard Drive"

    Posted by:

    Chris Buechler
    19 Aug 2005

    The Ultimate Boot CD is a freely available utility CD that includes four different tools for wiping drives.

    If your data isn't worth a huge amount of money, using any of those utilities will be sufficient to ensure your files are unrecoverable. Facilities will millions of dollars of special equipment could likely still read the data though, or at least portions of it. If your data is worth *that* much, do as the Pentagon reportedly does - shred the drive into a powder, then burn the powder in an incinerator. :)

    Blowing it into pieces with a sufficiently large caliber gun can be a good time too. :)

    Posted by:

    24 Mar 2006

    hi bob when i download software like norton and i do not want it any more when i del it ,is it still on my hard drive i got nod32 now when i scan it showing norton still there wot can i do plz help

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Wow... did you lose your Shift and "." keys? Anyway, my advice is do nothing and ignore it. I tried to remove the remnants of Norton from a machine once (after uninstalling) and it fouled it up forever. Had to reinstall the operating system. Norton gets its hooks in deep, won't let go, and that's why I don't recommend it.

    Posted by:

    Dr. C. Alvarez
    04 Apr 2007

    Hello Mr. Bob Rankin: I'm a complete novice, pertaining upgrading my system. I have a huge dilemma. I need to clean my Hard Drive. I'm running completely out of space. I need your expertise advise.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: First go to My Computer, rightclick on the hard drive icon, select Properties, then Disk Cleanup. Next, use Control Panel Add/Remove Programs to get rid of programs you don't need.

    Posted by:

    14 Jun 2007

    Bob.Cannot system restore.When I try to boot in safe mode I get stop:c0000218 (registry file failure) The registry cannot load the hive (file):\systemRoot\system32\config\SECURITY or its log or alternate. It is corrupt,absent or not writable. Using Windows XP with SP2.None of the KB articles I looked at seemto help. Any ideas as to how to rectify this just at a stroke negates System Restore. Mant Thanks. Dan

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This may help:

    Posted by:

    21 Jul 2007

    I am trying to remove the contiguous files that are not being removed, how would I do that?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Contiguous files are GOOD. Fragmented ones are bad. What are you trying to accomplish?

    Posted by:

    11 Sep 2007

    I need to clear files from my hard drive without clearing the programs. Thanks.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Have you tried Windows Explorer (Start / All Programs / Accessories) to find and delete the files?

    Posted by:

    19 Feb 2008

    my hard partition affected by virus which damages my two drives out of 4 drives now I want to recover the data from them. Only mbr is damaged I tryed to recover it by using fixmbr but it showing file allocation talbe wrong. pls help me out.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I always recommend TESTDISK in these situations. It can analyze the disk and recreate both the partition table and the boot record. See

    Posted by:

    05 Jun 2008

    hiya, please can you help me. i sent some pictures of myself to my computer. i deleted the files from my computer but how could i delete them completely so they can not be retrieved from my hardrive?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out the Hard Disk cleaning tools mentioned in the article...

    Posted by:

    10 Aug 2008

    I have a pc that the power supply went out on it. I got a new pc and wanted to remove the Hard Drive from the old and retrieve information from it, wifes cooking recipes, some addresses, photo's is there any way to do this?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Sure... the easiest way is to remove the old drive, and attach it to the new computer with an external USB drive kit. You could also install it in an empty drive bay inside the new computer, but then you have to fiddle more with the innards of the computer. You can find the kits at Radio Shack and other places, and they are very easy to use.

    Posted by:

    25 Feb 2009

    If you want to completely get rid of Norton, you have to use the Norton Removal Tool found on their website.

    Posted by:

    02 May 2010

    I tried upgrading home basic to premium with clean install.(f.y.i. i am a beginner with computers)After install i couldnt connect to the internet and nothing worked..i figured out how to recover the files(with the help of disks that came with com.) but before i did i reinstalled home basic. But now my recovery (D:) is full. When i start up i can choose which one i want to go on.The file after install is saved in (C:), so what do i need to delete in (D:)...I can only account for 11.6gb out of 14gb.. Before i did the upgrade my (D:) was at 7.6gb...what should i do? I only need one vista version and ive restored more files back to home basic....please help ive made a mess..i should of left it alonets a dell inspiron 530. I did install the drivers with the disk from when i bought the computer. And before i installed home premium i backed up everything on 12 dvds. I wanted to keep all my files and just upgrade but wasnt allowed to do that option.I thought all the important stuff would still be there(drivers intel chip...etc)and i would just have to restore my programs and documents from disk or the windows.old file.How would i go about accomplishing my original plan(upgrading and restoring my documents etc) from where i am now.. Is everything on those back up disks i made or do i need to use the disks that came with the computer? And how do i erase the partitions and start over? Any help is much appreciated

    Posted by:

    30 Aug 2010

    Hi, I do alot of videos. My movie maker is no longer working and neither is media player. When I try and save my movie. It says I do not have enough disk space. It says 89% free on my C drive. I do regular clean ups. All source files are where they are supposed to be. Is the only way to clean my hard drive with video files on them to scrub my drive and reload everything? Is using a flash drive my only other option?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Scrubbing your drive and reloadling everything will not necessarily leave you with more hard drive space, unless you get rid of some large files. A larger external hard drive as secondary storage sounds like a good option for you.

    Posted by:

    Gary Robertson
    11 Oct 2010

    Bob great site by the way. Ok Bob i rebooted my PC and used my recovery CDs i made when i bought the PC to get it back to the factory settings, Well yes now i know it does not do sure all it has done has cloned every file i have. Is there anyway of getting the PC back to what it was like when i first bought it with the recovery CDs. Now in the UK they dont give you the original disc anymore with the PC. All i want is everything back to what it was like when i first got it, Cheers Bob

    EDITOR'S NOTE: That's exactly what the recovery disk is supposed to do. What exactly happened when you tried that?

    Posted by:

    Deloris Salter
    30 Jan 2011

    How can you save pictures for instance, if a virus has slipped in? Then destroy the hard drive or can the virus be cleaned out of it? I assume it would all be done off-line?

    Posted by:

    01 Apr 2011

    I have importing video files from my digital video camera on my pc. I got the message that my hard disk space is not enough to store all the files. I want to remove the partially imported video files from my pc and start making DVD directly from digital device to DVD without storing on hard disk. But I don't know where these imported files are located on my hard disk. I can see that my C drive is full, but I don't see any video format to remove. I will appreciate if any one can help me overcome this situation.

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