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I no longer need my hard drive. Can you please tell me how to delete everything on my hard drive? In case there is any sensitive data I would like to ensure that its securely deleted or done in a way that nobody can recover the data in the future. I am using a Windows machine.

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    Take the drive out and put a brand new one in, or you could read this topic and discover the endless possibilities of the format command! — Rabid Dog
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8 Answers

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Cmd Emulation for OS Type Windows XP SP2

c:>format c:\
 The type of files system is NTFS

Proceed with Format (Y/N)? _

At this point think very carefully about what it is asking you and then just hit "y" or "n"

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    This won't work, you'll have to run the format program from a Windows 98 boot floppy, or some other boot disk/CD. When you do format a hard drive, or delete files, it just tells the hard drive that it can write over that space now. So if you just formatted the drive, then the FBI came running through your house and takes it, they would still be able to recovery all the plans for world domination. — Tom the Great
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    I tried the Command Prompt way and I received the message "Cannot lock the drive. The volume is still in use." Does anyone know what to do next? — brian_derthick
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If you want the best way to make sure your drive is totally clean - clean of all possibly hidden pests such as trojans or keyloggers that could be hidden in the MBR Table or other parts on your system:

format /mbr

That can clean the master boot record.

That or a couple good whacks with a mini-sledge will do the trick too!

Or, if you really want to make absolutely sure all data will be lost forever without the possibility of recovery, then:


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For Windows 10, you can securely wipe an entire hard drive natively using builtin Windows commands.

  1. Click start menu, type in cmd.
  2. At the top of the start menu you will see Command Prompt. Right click on this and then left click Run as administrator.
  3. Confirm you want to run this program with your elevated Administrator permissions.
  4. Type the command below where f: should be replaced with your hard drive letter you are wanting to delete:
format f: /P:3

The syntax here is:

format <volume> /P:<count>

Deleting Your Main C: Hard Drive

If your main Windows OS is on drive C:, and it is drive C: that are you wanting to completely delete, then you may encounter issues trying to run the above commands with errors that you cannot lock the drive, or that the volume is still in use. You can get around this by setting up Windows on another drive (you are planning to do that in this case right?), and then when running the OS From that drive run the command above to delete the old hard drive using the appropriate drive letter. Alternatively, you can use Window's Recovery Console and the Repair Your Computer option which you can get to by pressing F8 numerous times after restarting your computer, and before the Windows Graphics appear. Once in there you would click on Command Prompt.

Number of Overwrite Passes

The /P switch is the key to ensuring that formatting is done in a secure manner. This switch will be ignored if also using the \Q switch which tells you to perform a quick format. We aren't doing that here, and this type of secure format will take much longer.

When using the /P switch, if the count is zero /P:0 every sector on the hard drive will be zeroed during formatting. No additional overwrites are made after zeroing in this case. However, if you use a number greater than zero, the volume will be overwritten <count> times using a different random number each time. Thus, in our example above if you use /P:3, then during the formatting process first every sector will be zeroed, then it will write to each sector 3 more times with a random number. The more times a sector is written on, the harder it will be to recover any original data there. However, the more passes you do the longer it will take. Additionally if using a SSD or other flash-based media, its important to note that the number of overwrites may significantly reduce the effective lifetime of the media.


The United States Department of Defense recommends using a 7 pass wipe to clean media, but most in the commercial space have adopted the NIST 800-88 Clear and Purge Standards. According to the NIST Standards for CLEAR you can overwrite with at least one pass of fixed data such as zeros, but multiple passes or more complex values can be alternatively used. For PURGE they recommend a more complex procedure using the ATA sanitize command or the block erase command or cryptographic erase command. Finally for DESTROY, which I am guessing is the only 100% guaranteed way, they recommend:

Shred, Disintegrate, Pulverize, or Incinerate by burning the device in a licensed incinerator.

I would think for most cases 3 or less is probably sufficient, but it may depend on your needs.

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Follow this steps on how to format your hard drive.

How to Reformat Your Hard Drive

There comes a time in every drives life when it just becomes too cluttered. Sure you could manually delete all those useless files, but who has time for that? The best way to do this is to reformat your hard-drive. WARNING: By reformatting your hard drive, you lose all information that is still on it. This includes, games, personal files, Office Suites, and anything else you have added besides Windows 95/98.

*Note: We must make clear that the procedures given in this article are advice. We absolutely cannot be held responsible for any unintended mishaps that may occur with your system. We have reinstalled Windows dozens of times on different computers, and this article relates our experience with the procedure.

Preparation is Key: Backing Up

Now, the first step in reformatting your hard drive is backing up your information. It is recommended that you use a Zip Drive, or any other high capacity removable media (CD's, Tapes, Super disks). When you perform your backups, make sure you are using brand-new diskettes. A good idea is to print out the important information. Hard copies are much harder to destroy than diskettes. Also, re-creating your documents from hard copies, while time-consuming, is much better than losing the data altogether.

System Information

You need to write down is pertinent system information. Each hardware peripheral on your computer needs a driver -- a driver is the software that allows Windows to communicate with your hardware peripheral. Do you have a sound card? Then you need to make sure that you know which company makes it. Do you have a scanner? Then make sure that you have the CD-ROM or diskette that came with it. You also need to know the manufacturer and model of your video card, your printer, your joystick, your DVD-ROM drive (if you have one), your digital camera (if you have one), and any other peripheral that works with your computer.

If you cannot find the diskette or CD-ROM that came with your peripheral, then you should look on the Internet for a current driver. Every decent hardware maker now has a Web site with drivers you can download directly.

If you do not know the manufacturer or model name of your peripherals, you can find out from the Windows Device Manager.

  1. Click on Start, choose Settings, and then choose Control Panel.
  2. Double-click on the System icon.
  3. Click on the Device Manager tab.

Inside of the Device Manager window click on the "+" sign next to a device type to see the type of device you have installed. For example, our display adapter (video card) is a RIVA TNT made by nVidia. The network card is an EtherExpress made by Intel. I can find current drivers for each of these devices by going to the company's respective Web sites. If I clicked on the "+" sign next to "Sound, video and game controllers", you will see information on the SoundBlaster sound card and the Microsoft Joystick.

Dial-Up Networking Settings

If you use a modem, be sure to keep a record of your dial-Up Networking settings. Open Dial Up Networking connection properties in My Computer, and copy down your ISP's phone number. Be sure you know your login name and password. If you have a cable modem or DSL, your interface to the Internet is most likely a network card -- be sure you have drivers for that card, and that you've copied all the important settings from the Network Control Panel.

Personal Files

Unless you have saved every file, every MP3, and every picture onto a disk, there is bound to be some files that you're going to want to back-up. The default directory is My Documents, however, certain people use their desktop for the same purpose. It is always wise to back-up favorites/bookmarks, and any email messages you need. Internet Explorer has an Import/Export feature to back up, and then reinstall, your favorites, as well as cookies. Outlook Express has the same Import/Export feature for e-mail messages.

Before you start, there are a few things you need:

  1. Windows 98 Startup Disk
    This whole project could end terribly if you reformat your hard drive, and you don't have this disk. To create one, launch the Add/Remove Software window in your Control Panel. Once the window is launched, go to the Startup Disk tab, hit create disk, and follow the directions. Since it includes CD-ROM drivers, the Windows 98 Startup Disk will enable you to launch a painless Windows installation from a DOS prompt. If you're new for Startup Disk's, please refer to our Boot Disk article

  2. Windows 98 CD
    This is necessary for re-installing Win98. Just like any other program, Windows WILL be deleted. If you are without this CD, you will have no chance of getting your computer back up and running. However, you are not limited to Windows. You can install other Operating Systems, such as Windows 2000, Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows Me, BeOS, and Linux. Any of these should work, just make sure that your system is compatible, and that you have the right drivers.

  3. Drivers
    Every piece of hardware requires a driver to tell it what to do. While some drivers are on the Windows 98 CD, it is recommended that you go online and search for all of your necessary drivers. Even if you have them on disk, it's always a good idea to have the most up to date version.

Before this point, we did not delete any files, or do anything that could render your computer useless. All that is about to change. Before we proceed, it is recommended that you test your startup disk. Shut down windows, insert the disk, and restart your computer. Answer 'yes' to the question about CD-ROM support. Now, if the disk works, its time to begin!

Clean Sweep

Now the real fun begins! We're will proceed into DOS to reformat Windows. Click on your Start Menu, and then click on Shut Down. Next, click on the bullet that reads "Restart in MS-DOS mode." Then select "ok."

Windows should shut down and your screen should become black and display a few words or information. This program is called Command Prompt, which allows you to input basic commands without a graphical user interface. In our scenario, we're using Command Prompt to reformat your hard drive when Windows is not running.

You should be presented with a prompt of: C:\Windows>

At the prompt, type CD\. If that doesn't work, type CD..

You will now see a C:\>. Type format c: /s and then hit Enter.

The /S saves your important system files. If you receive an error when typing in /s, remove the /s and only type: format c:. Next, hit the "Y" key to proceed reformatting your hard drive. After completion, it will ask you for a volume label. You can type up to 11 characters to name your hard drive, or simply hit Enter key to assign the default name, C:.

You are now ready to re-install Windows. Congratulations, you got through the toughest part: preparation. The rest is easy, because Windows does most of the work for you.

Turn off your computer and put the Windows Startup Disk in the A: drive.

Turn your machine back on and allow your computer to access the floppy diskette. While your computer is accessing the drive, insert the Windows 98 CD-ROM. When the options appear, select "Start Computer with CD-ROM support" which is choice number one. This enables Windows to obtain the vital information and drivers from the CD to install Windows. The installation process takes anywhere from 30 - 70 minutes to completely install, depending on the options you pick and the speed of your computer. While Windows is installing on your computer, remove the floppy diskette. When Windows is completely reinstalled, then you can start re-installing your software applications.

Reinstalling Windows takes time and loads of preparation, but in the end, your machine will run like new! Windows will start faster and run quicker, finally free of years of application bloat. I hope this guide makes the reinstall process a bit easier for you. Just by following the preparation instructions, you'll have saved yourself days of frustration and heartache. At the very least, we hope you keep your sanity during this process!

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An easy way to do it. Well, this may not be the best way to do it because you will also need another hard drive, but if you have another hard drive, this is the easiest way to do it, and here we go.

Make sure both hard drives are connected to your PC. The one you want to format (delete entirely) will be the slave and the other will be the master drive. Turn on your PC then go to my computer find the disk you want to format, right click on it and press format.

It will take a while depending on how big the disk is. Wait a couple of hours and then your hard disk will be clean.

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Perhaps re-partition with FDisk which would delete all of the contents on your hard drive?

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I know a way for how to delete everything without even turning your PC on.

The technic is called Degaussing. Only a degausser can remove data 100% and ensure that all data is securely and completely erased. The Degaussing term takes its meaning from Johann Gauss (1777-1855), a mathematician who studied & worked on electro-magnetic fields. It is used today to describe the process of erasing magnetic media i.e., removing from that media, remnants of previously recorded signals. Degaussers are sometimes called "Bulk Erasers" because the entire drive, tape, cartridge, floppy disk etc., is erased. In some cases, whole packs of media i.e. a box of 100 diskettes can be erased at once.

You just find a big magnet, or source of magnetic field with a strong gauss unit to erase everything from your drive. After the degaussing, your hard drive will be reset into a factory default state so you have to do a low level or deep formatting again.

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