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Ask Deemable Tech: What Can I Do With An Old Hard Drive?

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Thurman writes, "I have a hard drive that was removed from my old computer before I got rid of it. It has some pictures on it that I don't have stored anywhere else and some of my old tax returns. Is there anything I can do with it, or is it just a hunk of junk? And, should I be concerned about other people getting into it if I throw it out?" 

You can definitely make use of that old hard drive, and you can get those pictures and tax returns off of it too! 

No matter how old your hard drive is, it will still probably work with the latest and greatest computers. If you have a new desktop computer, it might even be as simple as opening up your computer case and just plugging that hard drive in. This can be hit-or-miss since a lot of new desktop computers are so small that there's no room for a second hard drive.

However, almost all computers have a USB port. All you need is a special adapter to change your internal hard drive into an external one, and then you can plug that hard drive into the computer's USB port.

External hard drive adapters are available almost anywhere you can purchase computers, and vary in price from $5 to $30. If you’re only going to use it once, or you don’t care if it looks fancy, the lower priced ones will work just fine.

Now, Thurman, you asked if you should be concerned about your data if you just throw that hard drive away. The answer is a resounding YES. You should definitely be concerned about your privacy, as it’s just as easy for someone else to put that hard drive into their computer as it is for you. Even if you delete your sensitive files, they pretty easy to retrieve.

Your computer doesn’t really erase files when you delete them, it just pretends that the space is no longer written on. To make sure that your hard drive is secure and completely erased, the U.S Department of Defense recommends that you write over every sector with new data at least three times (or even up to 35 times, if you really want to be safe). Each single bit of the hard drive needs to be written over with all ones and zeroes.

We know that sounds daunting, but there are a few easy ways to accomplish this. If you have a PC, you can use a program like Eraser or the “Drive Wiper” feature in C Cleaner. If you’re a Mac person, try using a program called Permanent Eraser.

Just plug in your hard drive to your new computer using the USB adapter, run one of the programs to wipe it, and you’re good to go. Just make sure you wipe the right hard drive.

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Sean Birch joined the WJCT team in late 2011 and was with the company until 2016.
Ray Hollister can be reached at, 904-358-6341 or on Twitter at @rayhollister.
Tom Braun is a writer living in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to writing about tech and co-hosting WJCT’s Deemable Tech, he writes content for websites and blogs, ghostwrites ebooks, writes short fiction and has written a woefully unpublished dystopian young adult novel that is no doubt his ticket to fame and fortune. Before realizing his true calling as a writer, Tom worked for over a decade as a software developer. He enjoys board games and traveling and once spent a year living in The Netherlands.