Sometimes going caveman on old technology is the only way.

Above is a photo I took of an old mechanical hard drive right before I disposed of it.

There's really only three options when it comes to the disposal of an old hard drive.

Option 1: Dispose and hope nobody ever tries to recover the data from it.

Option 2: Securely erase the data first, then dispose.

Option 3: Disassemble the drive, take out platters and physically damage them to the point of being unreadable, then dispose.

The first option is the fastest and easiest but at the same time the dumbest. The second option can take up to a full day to complete, and only if you know how to do it right. The third option takes about 20 minutes and absolutely works.

Let's talk about the second method first.

Securely erasing a drive

In Windows or Linux, securely erasing a drive can literally by an all-day thing.

The Windows way since Windows 8 to present (assuming the drive letter is E):


This slow-formats the drive first with zeroes, then overwrites every sector three more times, each time with a random number. If you're really paranoid, you can increase the 3 to 4 or 7 or whatever. If it were a 7-pass, that literally could take all weekend just to format the drive.

The Linux way:

Find the path to the drive first. A quick way in Terminal is by using df. After that, you go into the danger zone with dd, which if used improperly can literally destroy your drive if the command isn't written correctly (and I'm not kidding).

sudo dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/DRIVE-GOES-HERE bs=8192 status=progress

This means to write random data, 8192 bytes at a time, across the whole drive and show the progress while it's doing it. After it's done, the drive will have to be repartitioned (such as with gparted) to be usable again. Why? Because using dd this way will wipe over everything including the partitions.

Note to those who would ask, "Why not use /dev/zero instead of /dev/urandom? Wouldn't using zero be faster?" Yes, faster, but /dev/urandom writes random data while /dev/zero uses just zeroes. In the Windows method used above, random data is used for the additional passes. I wanted to give a similar style for the Linux method.

In either OS, this process really, REALLY should not be interrupted. If you unplug the drive or lose power during the process, the HDD, SSD or whatever you're wiping has a high probability of being damaged beyond repair, i.e. "bricked".

In both OSes, securely erasing is s-l-o-w and that's just the way it is.

Going caveman instead

If I'm not selling the drive and the thing just needs to be thrown out, I don't secure-erase. Destroying the drive is faster and easier.

Properly destroying a mechanical drive does require removing the platters.

With 2.5-inch HDDs, those platters can be physically broken apart similar to how you can crack apart compact discs and DVDs.

With 3.5-inch HDDs, you either use bolt cutters to cut the platter in pieces, or take a utility knife and cut deep lines all over both surfaces of the platter. The business end of a large slotted screwdriver will also work.

What's my reason for doing this?

In this year 2023 I've been doing a lot to get away from mechanical media as much as I can.

Earlier in the year I moved all my old data off a stack of DVDs and then destroyed the discs because I wanted them out of my life. I wanted absolutely no way to go back to those discs.

I had a small pile of 2.5" HDDs. Like with the DVDs, I copied off all the data, then opened up the drives and destroyed the platters (easy to do).

The 3.5" HDD destruction was a "when I get around to it" thing because platters in those are more difficult to get to and remove. I finally got around to it, got the platters out, scratched them all up, done.

Given the fact 512GB USB sticks are cheap and 1TB SSD is the same price, and 2TB or even 4TB SSDs are now in the affordable range, yeah it's safe to ditch those old HDDs now.

Heck, even the 1TB microSD memory card is affordable now (about the same price as a 2TB SSD).

It was the right time to finally part ways with the big 3.5" HDDs.

Published 2023 Aug 22