How to safely trash your computer

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Hi Scott,

I love getting your newsletter. I wonder if you answer questions in the newsletter. If so, here’s one from me: I’d like to send my old computer to the recycle bin but first I want to take personal information off the machine. Can I simply remove the hard drive? What does the hard drive look like? How do I destroy it?
How to do that? First, make sure that the data you want to save is secure on a flash drive, CD or some other form of backup (how to do that is a separate lesson). Once you are sure that you have saved the data that needs to be saved, unplug the computer and open up the case. Locate the hard drive – it is approximately the shape of a small paperback book, but smaller. It will have two cables connected to it: one cable is quite wide, with about 40 pins being plugged into it. The other cable is about an inch wide, with 4 pins. Unplug both of the cables from the drive, and remove the drive itself from the computer (it is probably held in place by 2 or 4 screws).

Excellent question. With new computers being so inexpensive now, lots of older computers are being replaced. Too many of these old machines still have working parts – and they contain all of your data. This could be data that doesn’t really matter, such as your Spider Solitaire high score. Or, it could be your passwords or private financial information. The safest procedure is to make sure that none of that data is available to someone who might somehow come across your old computer after you have discarded it.

Once the drive is removed from the computer, take it and store it in a safe place. The reason I recommend this is that you may have forgotten some data that you really need, and someday you might want to retrieve it from this hard drive. Just stick it on a shelf in a closet somewhere – it won’t take up much space. You could even take a sharpie marker and write on it “old Dell computer” or something else descriptive.

Now your computer computer can be safely discarded (or recycled) and you don’t have to worry about your data falling into the wrong hands.

This week’s video clip: A simple left turn – in Moscow

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