Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting rid of old computers

There comes a time when your computer hardware just gets too slow -- or worse, it suffers some catastrophic hardware failure -- and you need to replace it with a new machine. Maybe you give your old workhorse computer to your kids, or sell it on Ebay, or donate it to a charity like Free Geek. Maybe you're thinking of dumping that dead external hard drive in the trash. Either way, out of sight is out of mind, right?

Not so fast. Before you dispose of any device containing some form of static memory -- be it an old computer, an external hard drive, a backup CD, a floppy disk, or a USB thumb drive -- you need to make sure that you've destroyed any data you wouldn't want falling into the wrong hands.

So, before you dump an old drive or disk, take a look at what's on it. Old financial records? Your latest novel? Or, dear God, your first novel? And what about that, um, "special" video you shot when you and your honey went to Aruba? Yeah. If you don't want a stranger finding that stuff and passing it around to their friends, best to get rid of it.

The trouble is, simply deleting files doesn't really get rid of them electronically. And, unfortunately, simply reformatting your hard drive won't necessarily render old data inaccessible, either. True, after you've reformatted a hard drive, getting to the old data takes a bit of work, but a quick tour of random Web sites should be enough to show you that the world is full of People With Way Too Much Time on Their Hands.

Next: "Dead" hard drives, Before you sell your computer on Ebay or give it away, Safely disposing of flash devices