How to Destroy a Hard Drive
What is Hard Drive Disposal?
Hard drive disposal is the only secure way to destroy a hard drive and its sensitive data when a computer is recycled.
Using a hammer or other implement to smash hard drives might seem like an excellent way to dispose of them, but surprisingly, if not done correctly, determined criminals could still access and read your data from the bits that are left.
This article will help you learn how to destroy a hard drive safely and stop your personal and confidential information from getting into the wrong hands, information such as:
- Confidential data
- Bank account details
- Credit card information
Just deleting files isn’t enough, even if you empty the recycle bin and format the hard drive. Widely available software applications can easily read and restore data deleted in this way in minutes.
The only way to be 100% certain that your data is put beyond reach is to use advanced disposal techniques from a specialist computer recycling company like TechReset, which use specialized methods like hard drive crushing and hard drive shredding to ensure the destruction of data.
But if you want to learn how to destroy a hard drive yourself, here are the basics.
How to Find and Remove the Hard Drive from your Computer
The first step to how to destroy a hard drive is to understand what a hard drive is!
A hard drive is a physical component inside a computer that stores data, including the computer operating system (Windows, MacOS, Linux etc.), the applications you use, (MSOffice etc.) and your own personal files.
Inside every hard drive is a magnetic disc that spins at high speed, and on the surface of this disc is where your data is stored. When you smash a hard drive, you must ensure that this surface is destroyed so the stored data can no longer be extracted.
In modern computers, hard disk drives are being replaced by solid-state drives. These are smaller than traditional hard drives, contain no moving parts but store data in memory chips. But again, if these are not destroyed properly, the stored data can be retrieved.
Most laptops have just one hard drive, although some can have two.
Desktop computers can have between one and 12 hard drives.
The location of hard drives varies between desktop PCs and laptops.
Most PCs use a standard type of computer case. Once this is removed, it’s generally easy to spot where the hard drives are. Normally, drives look like a small rectangular metal box with a label on it that says something like HDD.
Laptops are much more of a challenge when learning how to destroy a hard drive. If you’re lucky, there will be a removable cover on the back or side of the laptop with a hard drive underneath it.
But many laptops hide the hard drive inside the laptop. Sometimes it’s underneath the motherboard, making it even harder to find. This will make removal extremely complex, even requiring the removal of the screen and keyboard.
If in doubt, seek specialist help before you try to smash hard drives in a laptop.
Before you can safely smash hard drives, they must be removed. Always consult the owner’s manual if you have it, or find one on the internet. If in doubt, leave it to a professional.
1: Take out the power cable
- This is important for your safety.
2: Open the outer case
- Remove the screws that fasten the left side cover of the case using a suitable screwdriver. Then slide the cover off and remove it.
3: Remove all cables from the drive
- Find the drive and disconnect all cables from it without using force. Gentle wiggling usually helps. Needle nose pliers can also be useful.
4: Remove the drive from the bracket
- Use the correct screwdriver to remove the screws, then take the drive off the bracket. You might have to remove the other pc case cover too.
This assumes that the hard drive is under a visible access panel.
1: Disconnect the power cable
- This is essential for your safety.
2: Remove the battery
- You could damage other components if the battery isn’t removed. If the battery is built-in and not removable, take the laptop to a specialist.
3: Unscrew the hard drive access panel
- Use the correct screwdriver to remove the screws, then remove the panel.
4: Remove the drive mount
- Find and remove the screws that fasten the drive mount down.
5: Pull the drive away from the connectors
- Carefully pull the drive away from its connectors using a flat-bladed tool, being careful not to damage them. Then take the hard drive out of the laptop.
The Four Core Parts of Hard Drives
Every hard drive has four core parts:
- Read/Write arm
These are circular discs made from glass, aluminium, or plastic coated with a magnetic surface for data storage. The number of platters in a hard drive is typically between 1 and 5, depending on the storage capacity. When you smash a hard drive, you must ensure that all platters are sufficiently damaged.
The spindle runs through the centre of the platters, rotating them at high speed so that data can be written and read all across the surface.
3. Read/write arm. (AKA the Actuator Arm)
Sometimes called an actuator arm, this controls the read/write head that moves across the platter’s surface, which writes the data to the magnetic surface or reads it back from it.
The actuator controls the read/write arm, directing it to the precise point where data needs to be read/written.
The Tools you will Need to Remove and Destroy a Hard Drive
As well as learning how to destroy a hard drive, you will need several tools for removing everything then smash a hard drive safely and effectively:
- Soft mat to protect the PC/Laptop casing
- Tray to put removed screws into
- Set of Torx screwdrivers to remove screws
- Set of Jewellers screwdrivers to remove small screws
- Set of Hex screwdrivers to remove screws
- Small flathead screwdriver to pry parts open
- Specialist laptop pry tool to take the casing apart
- Magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe
- Needle nosed pliers for removing parts
- Plastic tweezers for removing parts
- Hammer and nails for destroying platters
- Coarse sandpaper for destroying platters
- Large, powerful neodymium magnets for wiping data
- Gloves, face protection, and safety goggles
Why Would You Want to Destroy a Hard Drive?
Quite simply, destroying a hard drive stops the data that’s on it from getting into the wrong hands. Whether you’re donating, selling, dumping, or recycling your computer, destroying the hard drive completely is the only way to be 100% certain that your data is no longer on it in a salvageable format.
The Best Methods for Destroying the Hard Drive
The best way to destroy a hard drive is to remove it and take it to a specialist recycler like TechReset. They have specialist equipment that mechanically shreds the drive into fine particles, with an absolute guarantee that all data is erased.
But if you want to smash a hard drive yourself, here are some methods for how to physically destroy a hard drive:
Magnets and sandpaper
Hammer and nails
Hammer by itself
1. Magnets and sandpaper
First, take the platters out of the disk drive. Then leave them between two large, powerful magnets for 30 minutes to wipe the data. Finally, grind the surface of the platters down with coarse sandpaper.
2. Hammer and nails
Remove the platters, then hammer nails all over the surface.
3. Hammer by itself
Vent all your anger onto the disk drive by hitting it hard with a hammer over and over again until it’s smashed into little pieces!
Just be sure that the method you choose does not cause injury to yourself or others nearby. Make sure you damage the platters as that will ensure the data is destroyed. Otherwise, all your efforts would have been in vain.
Of course, if you have many PC’s or laptops to dispose of, perhaps from a company downsizing or a replacement of older IT equipment trying to destroy the hard drives in each machine is both time consuming and reduces the buyback value of your old equipment. TechReset can assess the value of your assets, provide hard drive erasure and destruction services and a certificate of data destruction.