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How can I reliably erase all information on a hard drive?

I'm looking to see if there's a method that can completely wipe out the content of a HDD, so that nothing previously on it can be recovered by any means, even by a professional. I'd like the HDD to be useable afterward by someone else.

I've come across HDDGuru, File Shredder, and DBAN.. As I understand them, they write on the HDD over and over to make recovery difficult at the minimum. How effective are these? DBAN seems the most promising..


Zero out all the data if the drive is magnetic.

The DoD 5220.22-M specification requires 3 passes, though I personally go for 7 each time.

-> Related Gizmodo article


The best way to erase a magnetic hard drive (not SSDs) while leaving the drive working is the ATA Secure Erase command.

For a single use of this, a (relatively) simple'ish way of accessing a compatible, modern tool which implements ATA Secure Erase is:

  • Download and run UNetbootin to create a bootable USB stick.

  • Download GParted Live or a similar special Linux distro oriented towards disk tools. (Using other Linux disk images will probably also work.) Install the disk image to the USB key using UNetbooting.

  • Boot from the USB key, and enter a Linux command line. From here, perform the secure erase with HDParm.

Good end user tools for ATA Secure Erase are unfortunately a bit hard to come by. I don't know of anything much easier than the above.

If the above software isn't working for you, then just use a single wipe pass from conventional software that overwrites the drive with random data. That's still good enough. Such software for example be found on the Ultimate Boot CD.

  • 2
    I recall reading a test where a shockingly large percentage of drive's firmware would accept the secure erase command, but basically so nothing. It was a NO-OP that returned no error. Much safer to do a single-pass random data overwrite with DBAN, and it takes the same amount of time.
    – rmalayter
    Feb 19 '12 at 3:29

When in doubt a sledgehammer, a blast furnace, or thermite does the trick.

  • 3
    "I'd like the HDD to be useable afterward by someone else." It will be reusable but only as a paperweight or doorstop. Feb 11 '12 at 18:12

DBAN is great. I know first hand that it is used in big corporations and in recycling shops.

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