Best techniques for the safe disposal of drives

Doug Spindler

The design of today’s solid-state drives has made classic data-wiping techniques ineffective.

But there are sanitizing procedures that will effectively render sensitive data on SSDs — and other rewritable storage devices — unintelligible.

It’s likely that most Windows users aren’t aware of the hidden changes in disk drives over the past decade. Sure, they hold lots more data, but the hard drives and solid-state drives used in modern systems now have more computing power built in than a modern smart phone.

PC hard drives trace their origins back over 60 years to massive, low-capacity, hard-disk devices created by IBM for its mini and mainframe systems. (According to a Wikipedia history, the original drives were the size of two refrigerators and stored a whopping 3.75MB.)

From the 1950s through the turn of the current century, the fundamental design of the hard disk remained essentially unchanged. Data was stored on disks or platters — somewhat like our phonograph records — that spun at contact speeds of 5,400 to 15,000 revolutions per minute, depending on the drive model. (That’s a bit faster than our vinyl 33.3s and 45s.)

Then, in 2000, drive technology was upended: Trek Technology and IBM began selling data-storage devices that used silicon memory chips instead of spinning platters. The new devices essentially used a slow but relatively inexpensive form of nonvolatile, rewritable RAM.

Over the next 15 years, chip-based — solid-state drive (SSD) — storage has grown faster, less expensive, and capable of storing more information in the same physical space. SSDs have now reached 1TB and are rapidly replacing the traditional spinning hard-disk drives (HDDs), both on mobile devices and on the desktop. (It could be argued that the success of smartphones and tablets is due to the low power and small size of SSDs.)

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2015-06-25:

Doug Spindler

About Doug Spindler

Doug Spindler is a technology consultant, digital forensic investigator and college professor. He holds numerous certifications and industry awards, including MCT, MCSE, and Microsoft MVP, and he founded Pacific IT Professionals an independent association for IT Professionals with over 4,000 members.