Formatting a Laptop Before Selling It Would Still Expose Your Personal Data to the Next User

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Do you happen to have an old laptop lying around that you’re thinking of selling? You should probably hear what I have to tell you first.

If you have already sold one (or multiple), you might not like what I have to say.

So, I’m willing to bet you don’t wanna sell a laptop filled with all your personal files. And definitely not those personal files, if you know what I mean. Not a problem. Just format the hard drives and we should be all fine, right?

Hahaha. Wrong.

Get ready to be confused by the wonderful world of computer nerd talk.

What is Reformat?

Let’s begin with the standard hard drive reformat. I assume you know how to format a hard drive. By which I mean, actually go to the Disk Management setting in Administrative Tools under your Control Panel instead of just selecting everything in your hard drive and pressing delete.

Reformatting a hard drive simply deletes every file you have on the hard drive. That’s different from completely removing/erasing your files (because apparently delete and erase have different meanings for a computer).

Contrary to popular belief (if you’re not a computer nerd), deleting doesn’t actually completely wipe the data from your computer. It just makes the files harder to find, which means you’ll need specialised software to recover them. But that’s not what we’re here for. We wanna wipe that data off the drives completely, so the new owner of your old laptop won’t *ahem* accidentally discover your stash of personal files.

So reformatting is not gonna do the job. Not to worry, Windows 8 and Windows 10 actually includes a reasonably complete hard drive wiping function.

Options for Windows 8 & Windows 10

As usual, it’s under the Control Panel. Simply click Update & Security, and look for the Recovery option on the left. Once you click that, the first thing on top would be the Reset this PC option. Click that, and you’ll be greeted with a popup, with the choices “Keep my Files” and “Remove everything”. You’re gonna have to click the “Remove everything” option.


Rest of it is obvious. Just click whatever Windows prompts you to click, and eventually you’ll reach the end, where your files should be pretty much completely gone. This process will take quite a while to complete, however, as Windows has to delete everything, and overwrite the space that used to contain the data with a bunch of 0s.

Data is Still Recoverable

Unfortunately, it is still somewhat possible to recover some data, according to data recovery services out there. Extremely difficult to recover, but still somewhat recoverable.

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