Erasing an External Hard Drive: 4 Steps (with Pictures)

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Erasing an External Hard Drive: 4 Steps (with Pictures)
Erasing an External Hard Drive: 4 Steps (with Pictures)

External hard drives consist of a hard drive in a durable housing and are usually connected to a computer via a USB or Firewire cable. These devices are useful for backing up data on your computer, transferring files from one computer to another, or simply storing extra files that won't fit on your computer's hard drive. There can be several reasons why you want to erase all data from an external hard drive (in a process called "formatting"). You may want to remove all clutter from the drive and start a new volume, or you may want to delete sensitive data before selling or giving the hard drive to another person. Formatting a drive will also allow you to change the file system used by the drive to organize data. Learning how to erase an external hard drive can help you accomplish these tasks with ease.


Wipe Clean an External Hard Drive Step 1

Step 1. Back up all important data on the hard drive

If there is data on the drive that you need to keep, make sure to save it to another volume (for example, your computer's hard drive) before formatting the external hard drive.

Wipe Clean an External Hard Drive Step 2

Step 2. Format the external hard drive

Formatting the drive erases all references to the data in a process designed to prepare the drive for use with a particular operating system and file system, but it will not delete the data from the drive. The original data will remain completely intact until overwritten by new data and will be easily recovered by a recovery program. The process is simple.

  • On a computer running Windows, right-click the drive icon and select "Format" from the context menu. Adjust the settings to your liking, click 'Start' and then 'OK'. When the drive has been formatted, click 'OK'.
  • On a Mac, open the Disk Utility program by clicking its icon in the Applications folder. Select your external hard drive in the left panel and then click the 'Erase' button in the right panel (under the 'Erase' tab). Click 'OK' to format the drive.
  • Note that formatting the external hard drive does not completely remove sensitive files. Someone with advanced computer knowledge may be able to recover your data even after you reformat the drive. If security is a concern, be sure to take further steps to clean the drive.
Wipe Clean an External Hard Drive Step 3

Step 3. Run an erasing program on the external hard drive

If you want a safer way to erase your data than formatting, you can run a disk cleaning utility. These programs work by writing meaningless data to the hard drive, effectively overwriting your old data to make room for the new data. Two popular disk cleaning programs are Drive Cleanser by Acronis and Boot and Nuke by Darik.

To erase your external drive with these applications, install the software and open it. Select the external hard drive in the program interface and delete its contents (this process usually takes a long time). Be very careful about specifying the drive to be erased, so as not to erase the data from your computer's internal hard drive

Wipe Clean an External Hard Drive Step 4

Step 4. Physically destroy the hard drive

If complete security is a concern and you don't plan to ever use the hard drive again, you can take it apart and break the internal components. Most external hard drives have a housing that can be removed with a screwdriver. The internal parts are delicate and can be effectively broken by covering them with a towel and hitting them with a hammer. Before using this method, however, consider donating or recycling your hard drive at an electronic recycling center.

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