How to destroy a hard drive after removing it from your computer, so that its contents can never be recovered

computer hard drive internal
If you want to be sure your hard drive’s data is never recoverable, you can physically destroy it.

  • You can destroy a hard drive by wiping its contents and disassembling its parts for ultimate security.
  • If you’re donating, selling, or recycling a computer, you’ll want to make absolutely sure you’re not giving away the personal and private information on your hard drive.
  • Here’s how to disassemble and destroy your hard drive with just a few common tools. 
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When you’re selling, donating, or recycling a computer, it’s critical that you ensure you’re not accidentally giving someone else access to your personal and private data stored on the computer. One way to do that is to thoroughly wipe (not simply erase) your old hard drive – for details on how to do that, see our article on fully wiping your computer’s hard drive

You can go further, though. For the ultimate personal security, you can remove the hard drive from your computer before you give it away and destroy the drive. That’s not as hard as it sounds, and ensures your old data is completely inaccessible to anyone ever again. 

The tools you’ll need to remove and destroy a hard drive

You don’t need much to disassemble and ruin a hard drive:

  • A Torx screwdriver to open the case
  • A flathead screwdriver to pry open the case
How to destroy a hard drive 1
The only unusual tool you need is a Torx screwdriver (not everyone has one in their toolkit).

How to find and remove the hard drive from your computer

Start by removing the hard drive from your PC. If you have a desktop or tower PC, unplug it and remove the cover or side panel (some cases are toolless and you only need to loosen some restraints, while others might require a screwdriver to remove screws). 

Look for the hard drive, which will be inserted in a drive bay or screwed to the side of the chassis. In most cases, you can simply disconnect the power and data cables and slide the drive out of the computer, but it might be screwed in place, in which case you’ll need to use a Philips head screwdriver to get it out of the PC.

If you have a laptop, you might need to refer to your user guide or contact the laptop’s customer support for information on how to remove the hard drive – the access panel might be on the bottom of the case or you might need to remove the keyboard to reach the hard drive.  

How to destroy a hard drive the fast way

If you’re in a hurry, you can damage it in a way that only a dedicated hacker will be able to recover any data.

1. Flip the hard drive over so you can see the main circuit board. 

How to destroy a hard drive 2
The fast way to render a hard drive unusable is to remove the exterior circuit board.

2. Use a Torx driver to unscrew the circuit board using the four Torx screws.

3. Remove the board, break it in half, and discard it. 

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Unscrew and remove the board.

4. Now you can recycle the hard drive knowing that someone can’t simply connect the drive to another PC to read its data, so it’s safe from casual users. 

How to destroy a hard drive the thorough way

If you are going to take the time to get your Torx driver and remove the circuit board, you might as well be thorough, since it only takes another five minutes to completely destroy the drive. 

1. Remove the Torx screws around the outside edge of the top plate on the hard drive case.

2. There will usually be one additional “hidden” Torx screw under the paper label. Feel around with your finger for a depression and then use a flathead screwdriver to tear the label away. Then use the Torx driver to remove the final screw. 

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Most hard drives have an additional Torx screw under the paper label.

3. Pull the top plate off. You’ll probably need to pry it off with the flathead screwdriver. If it’s extremely hard to remove, make sure there isn’t an additional screw holding it together. 

How to destroy a hard drive 5
Use a flathead screwdriver to pry the top plate off.

4. Now you can see the hard drive platters – there might be several of them stacked atop one another, each with its own read/write head which looks sort of like a phonograph’s tone arm.  

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Once you remove the cover, you can see the tone arms and platters, which are also held in place with more Torx screws.

5. Continue to disassemble the internal components by removing the tone arm and the platters themselves. There will probably be about three Torx screws on the spindle holding the platters in place.

6. At this point, the very act of exposing the platters to air and handling them with unprotected fingers has almost certainly destroyed the data on the drive. To be thorough, use a flathead screwdriver to scratch the surface of each platter. Now anyone would be hard-pressed to recover anything of value from this drive.

How to destroy a hard drive 7
Remove the platters and scratch them to make data recovery impossible.

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How to partition a hard drive on a computer and create multiple drive locations

hands using keyboard computer
You can partition a hard drive on a Windows PC using the Disk Management utility.

  • You can partition a hard drive on a computer to create multiple drive letters with a single drive. 
  • You can use the Disk Management utility in Windows to partition a drive by shrinking an existing partition and then formatting the new unallocated partition.
  • Remember that a partitioned hard drive is still just a single device, so you should have a reliable backup of both partitions. If the drive fails, both partitions will be lost.   
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Partitioning a hard drive is like turning one hard drive into two. By creating a partition, you’ll have two drive letters (such as “C” and “D” drives), and formatting one partition does not affect the other, as if they were two physically separate drives. 

It’s common, for example, to partition a hard drive into a separate system and data drives so Windows and applications are stored separately from your documents, music, and other data. You don’t need any special software to partition a drive; you can do it with the Disk Management utility in Windows. 

How to partition a hard drive 5
When you’re done, you’ll see two drives in File Explorer rather than just one.

When the formatting is complete, you will have a new partition on the hard drive. It will behave like a completely new drive in Windows. Remember, though, that if the hard drive physically fails, you will lose all your data on both partitions. That’s why it’s essential to have a reliable backup. And note, you can’t back up one partition to the other because a failure will destroy both partitions.

Here’s how to partition a hard drive. 

How to partition a hard drive

1. To start, make sure you have enough free space on the drive to create the new partition. To check, open File Explorer and see how much free space is on the drive.

  • Note: You can only add a partition to free space, so if the drive is mostly full of data and files, you won’t be able to create a partition. 
How to partition a drive 1
Check your free drive space in File Explorer.

2. In the Start menu search box, type “Disk Management” (or just “partition”). 

3. Click “Create and format disk partitions” when you see it appear in the search results. 

4. Right-click the drive you want to partition. (Be careful and make sure you’re choosing the right drive.) 

5. In the dropdown menu, click “Shrink Volume…”

How to partition a drive 2
To create a new partition, shrink the existing partition.

6. In the Shrink dialog box, enter the size you want the new partition to be in the field called “Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB:” 

  • Note: If you have a 1 TB hard drive and you want one partition to be 400 GB, and the other partition to be 600 GB, enter “600000.” This will shrink the original partition to approximately 400 GB (slightly less, in reality) and add a new partition that’s 600 GB.

7. Click “Shrink.”

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Choose the size to shrink the original partition by – this will be the new partition size.

8. Now you have a new partition, but it’s not yet usable space – in Windows parlance, it’s “unallocated.” Right-click the new partition, and in the dropdown menu, choose “New Simple Volume.” 

How to partition a drive 4
To finish the process, format your new unallocated partition.

9. Complete the setup wizard by choosing the drive letter and format (NTFS is almost always the right choice). 

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What is an external hard drive? One of the best ways to protect your important files, explained

WD 2TB My Passport Ultra for Mac Silver Portable External Hard Drive
External hard drives are a great way to protect your data.

  • An external hard drive is a piece of equipment that can be connected to your computer to increase its storage space.
  • Unlike the hard drive that’s installed in your computer, an external hard drive is portable and can also be used to store files from multiple devices.
  • External hard drives are easy to use, convenient, and an incredibly safe way to backup your most important files.
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Storage space on a computer is valuable, but it’s not infinite. The hard drive that’s inside your computer can only fit so much data before it fills up.

As a solution, many users have turned to cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. But if you’re looking for a more concrete way to manage your files, you might want to invest in an external hard drive.

External hard drives are a great way to free up storage space and safely backup your files. Here’s what you should know about them.

External hard drives, explained

An external hard drive is a device, usually around the size of a book, that you can store any file or app on. If you’ve ever used a USB flash drive, external hard drives are essentially the same thing, but bigger and with more storage space.

The difference between an external hard drive and the hard drive in your computer is that an external drive is portable – you can disconnect it at any time and move it around, without losing the data inside.

Seagate portable hard drive
You can move an external hard drive without having to take the computer.

External hard drives connect to your computer with a USB cord, and you can copy files to them like you would any other folder. Like flash drives, you can plug your external hard drive into any computer, and transfer your files freely.

External hard drives can be used as supplemental storage – in other words, as an addition to the storage already on your computer. For example, if you have a large amount of high-definition photos and videos that are slowing your computer down, you can store them on your external hard drive instead.

External hard drives are also great for moving files between computers, regardless of their operating system. If you have an album on your PC that you want to share with your friend who has a Mac, you can save it on your external hard drive, plug the drive into your friend’s computer, and then transfer it to them within a matter of minutes. 

Most external hard drives can hold at least one terabyte (1 TB) of data – this equals 1000 gigabytes (GB), or 1,000,000 megabytes (MB). To put it into perspective, the most expensive iPhone on the market right now only holds 512 GB – just about half a terabyte. And the average photo taken by a smartphone is around 2 MB.

An external hard drive can hold documents, various forms of media, software, and applications. Essentially, if you have a file on your computer, it can be copied to an external hard drive.

PC computer external hard drive HDD
External hard drives come in various colors and sizes.

Many external hard drives also come with their own apps to help you better manage your data.

External hard drives vs cloud storage

As noted, many users have started using cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and others. The advantage that cloud storage has is convenience – you can access your files from any computer without special hardware.

But the advantage that external hard drives have is that you’ll always have access to your data, even if you lose internet access, and even if you can’t remember your account password.

Any cloud storage website is at risk of cyber attacks and wonky servers. An external hard drive sitting on your desk, however, isn’t.

In addition, with an external hard drive you don’t have to pay the recurring account fees that you might have to pay for using a cloud service. Most popular external hard drives range in price from $30 to $100, but you only have to pay once.

solid state drive SSD laptop
Hard drives are portable, but somewhat fragile.

External hard drives do come with their own risks, though. If the external hard drive is damaged, it can wipe out your files. And leaving a physical hard drive around means that anyone can pick up and take your data.

But if you’re looking for a way to store big files for a long time, an external hard drive might be your best bet.

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How to clone a hard drive as a backup for your Windows computer

PC computer external hard drive HDD
You can clone your PC’s hard drive easily with a third-party program.

  • You can clone a hard drive to make a duplicate that you can use to replace a failed drive or get a new computer up and running quickly.
  • Windows can’t clone a hard drive automatically, but there are free and paid commercial programs that make the process easy. 
  • You can clone any hard drive — the system drive, a data drive, and both SSDs and HDDs.  
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Backup software is a good insurance policy against catastrophe – a failed drive or crippling malware, for example. But a clone of your hard drive – a duplicate of the drive in its entirety – has a lot of advantages as well. For example, if your primary hard drive fails or you are upgrading to a new PC, having a cloned drive means you can get up and running just by swapping in the backup. In fact, a good strategy for some users is to maintain both an incremental backup using backup software and a frequently updated cloned drive.

One important caveat: While you can clone a system (“C”) drive, it’s only useful in the exact same computer. Because of the way Windows works, you can’t clone a system drive and insert it in a new computer with different hardware components. You can clone and use a data drive (such as a “D” drive) in a new PC, though. 

How to clone a hard drive

To begin, you will need a second drive that is at least as big as the content on the drive you want to copy. It can be mounted internally in your computer or an external drive connected via USB. 

How to clone a hard drive 1
You can clone any drive, including copying your laptop’s system drive to an external hard drive.

You will also need a program capable of cloning your hard drive because Windows does not have the ability to do this automatically. You can use a free program like Macrium Reflect, which is reliable and easy to use, or a commercial program like Casper, which you can license for $49.95. The specific process for cloning your drive varies depending on the program you use, but we’ll use Macrium as an example. 

1. Start Macrium Reflect. You’ll see a list of all your drives. 

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Macrium Reflect works like many clone tools. You should see all the connected drives and their internal partitions.

2. Find the drive you want to clone and then click “Clone this disk…” under the drive.

3. In the pop-up window, click “Select a disk to clone to…” and choose the destination drive you want to use to make the clone. 

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After you choose the drive you want to clone, select the destination drive you are going to copy the data to.

4. Click “Next” and then click “OK” to start the cloning process. 

It will take a while to create the clone, depending on how much data is stored on the drive. When it’s done, you will have an exact duplicate you can use to restore or set up a new PC.  

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