How to Wipe a Hard Drive on a Dead Computer

How to wipe your data from a dead computer

What to Know

  • Remove the drive from the PC and plug it into another one. Then run an erase application on it.
  • If you can't erase it with software, you can break it physically using a drill or hammer.

This article explains the best ways to wipe a hard drive even if the computer with the hard drive is dead.

Is There a Way to Completely Wipe the Hard Drive On a Dead Computer?

Unless you can get the computer to turn on and start working again first, no. You'll need to move the drive to another computer to wipe it there, or physically destroy it.

How Do I Wipe My Hard Drive When My Computer Won't Turn On?

If you can get the computer running again, then you can wipe the drive right on the PC using data destruction software. However, if you can't get the system running again, the only way to wipe the drive is to remove the hard drive from the PC.

  1. Unplug all the cables from your computer, and place it on an easily accessible desk surface with plenty of light.

  2. Unscrew the side panel that gives you access to your hard drives and remove it.

  3. Remove the power and data cables from your hard drive, and if necessary, unscrew it from its mounting points. Where your drives are installed and how they're mounted will be different for every PC, so if in doubt, refer to your PC's manual for more help.

    Then remove the hard drive from the PC.

    Removing a hard drive from a desktop PC.

    Andrii Atanov/Getty Images

With the hard drive removed from the broken PC, you have two options. Install the hard drive into working computer or use a cable to attach the hard drive to a working PC. Using a cable like USB to SATA, an external hard drive can work as a makeshift external drive.

Once the hard drive is accessible to the working PC, you can run a data destruction application to wipe the drive securely.

When using more than one hard drive, pay extra attention to which hard drive you are erasing. it's incredibly easy to get confused and wipe the wrong one.

If you don't have a cable or another working PC, you'll have to physically destroy the drive to make the data physically irrecoverable.

How to Physically Destroy a Hard Drive

The surest way to make data on a hard drive unrecoverable is to physically destroy the hard drive. That's right, it's hammer time.

  1. Remove the drive from the dead PC if you haven't already (see steps above).

  2. Place the drive on a hard surface and, if you can, clamp it in place. Ideally, wear gloves, an apron, and safety goggles, too.

    You'll then need to hit it with a heavy hammer to try to shatter the internal platters. This can take some effort, and some time, so keep it up until you can hear the platter pieces rattling around inside.

    Alternatively, you can use a drill to drill into the drive, and destroy the platters that way.

    Consider destroying any data connectors and the drive's PCB to further make data recovery from the drive impossible.

    Be sure to recycle the old drive and its components as e-waste, to prevent it ending up in landfill.

  • How do I wipe an external hard drive?

    You can use the same software to wipe an external drive as an internal one. Windows uses Disk Management, while macOS has Disk Utility. Connect the external drive and select it in the relevant program to erase and reformat.

  • How do I wipe a hard drive without deleting Windows?

    Because your computer stores Windows and all of its files on the internal hard drive, it's not really possible to completely wipe a hard drive without having to reinstall Windows afterward. One workaround is to create a partition on the drive in which you keep all of your personal files. Then, you can clear just that part of the drive while keeping Windows in place.

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