In the past few weeks my new Windows 7 PC started to produce more and more warnings about disk errors. A dialog box would pop up, asking me to make a back-up NOW and replace the disk. The first time it happened, it started me a lot, and I did make that back-up. But of course NOW was never a convenient time to replace it. So the problem kept on coming back more and more frequently.
I had to do something, so I decided to try to fix it with my trustworthy SpinRite CD. If you don’t know SpinRite, you should really check it out, it has saved irreplaceable data for many people who had neglected to make proper back-ups. In this case however, it seemed not to be the best solution. When I booted up the PC from my SpinRite CD, it needed only a very brief look at the disk to tell me, that the situation was very bad. Trying to revive this disk might only result in losing everything that was on there.
A different approach was needed. But hey! This PC is not even one year old. It is still under guarantee! So I contacted the vendor (Paradigit) for advice. “Of course“, they said: “Just bring us the PC and we will replace your hard disk.” Yeah, right, but what about my data? What about the old disk? “That will be returned to the manufacturer and recycled.”
Well, OK, my data is of course my own responsibility. And I do have a back-up. But still this got me worried: We hear more and more scary stories about “recycled” PCs and hard disks that turn up in unexpected places, with all the data of the previous owner still on it. Even though I am not into international espionage, except when watching “Totally Spies“, I would feel a lot more relaxed, if I knew my data would not leave the house.
Enter “Darik’s Boot and Nuke“. This is a program to completely wipe all the data off your hard disk. It comes as an ISO-image, you can burn onto a CD-ROM. Then you boot the PC from that CD-ROM, select the drive(s) to wipe and let it run.
So far, so good. I baked my CD-ROM, booted the PC and saw it recognized my hard disk. It also saw the USB card readers (listing them as “[????] unrecognized“), but as there was no card in them, this seemed to be harmless. I was not going to select these [????]-devices anyway. But the software would not run. It immediately ended with a “non-fatal” error.
Non fatal? It was fatal enough to prevent me from wiping the disk! I found out, that I had to disable all USB-devices, so that the card reader would not be seen. Easy enough, there was an option for that in my BIOS-settings. I disabled USB, rebooted the PC… And found out, that I had locked myself out! The keyboard was a USB-device too! So now I could no longer control the PC. 🙁
Fortunately, I hate to throw stuff away, so I have some old PC keyboards in the attic, which I had been refusing to throw away for years, even though I was never able to state a clear purpose for them when interrogated about the usefulness of “all that junk” I like to keep… I plugged in one of those, rebooted again, and now I could use the software. The [????]-devices had gone, and only my hard disk was listed. I started it up, and it started to work.
This was three days ago! And it is still spinning. It wants to do three passes over the disk surface, to make totally sure all traces of the data are gone. If I had known it would take this long in advance, I might have chosen a lighter algorithm for wiping. But it has completed one pass over the surface by now. I think this is enough. Tomorrow I will take it to the shop and swap it for a new one.