Wipe Your Hard-Drive Clean and Start Over

Update: This article was written in 2008, and while much of it is still relevant, DBAN has had issues with some newer hardware and Operating Systems (i.e. Vista, Win7)

A 3 step process to save your data and clean your computer, once and for all (until the next time).

Microsoft Windows

This tutorial is primarily for Microsoft Windows users, however the FREE software is cross-platform

There are times when all else fails. You’ve tried everything and none of it worked. Your computer is so messed up you can’t deal with it anymore and it’s time to do something drastic. The good news is you don’t have to lose everything to do it. I wipe my drives clean once a year minimum, sometimes more.

Why…? Because they get messed up.

No matter how careful you are (and I’m not); drivers, configuration files, shared resources and many of the hundreds of thousands of files needed to run your windows machine are going to get corrupted. It’s a fact of life. Seconds after you bought your computer it became a dinosaur. Technology is moving forward at a blistering pace and our computers are constantly updating themselves but sometimes with disastrous results. Or, you may have gotten infected with a virus that will not go away. Whatever the case, it becomes necessary from time to time to start all over again.


Thumb-drive or Flash-drive

An 8 Gigabyte Flash drive can be had at geeks.com for under $25. A 64 GB Flash Drive (largest they make as of this writing) will run about $150. I’m always looking for FREE or really cheap. If you think you’ll use a 64 GB Flash Drive often, go for it. If your Flash Drive is large enough to store all the data you need, you won’t need to back it up onto a CD/DVD, however, it’s still a good idea to backup your docs on a disk from time to time. If you store everything in My Documents, you can find out real quick how much you have.

Great Deals @ Geeks.com!

  • Right mouse-click on the My Documents folder and click on Properties.

Right-click on My Documents and go to Properties

CD or DVD Burner and blank discs

Burning your photos, music and other documents onto a CD or DVD is a great way to backup your data. I recommend doing it once or twice a year as an individual or monthly if you’re using your computer for business purposes. If you have a choice between CDs or DVDs, definitely go with DVDs. DVDs are sturdier in construction and hold up to 4.7 Gigs of data as opposed to 700 Mb on a CD. Double-sided DVDs can hold 8.5 Gigs. If you have a Blu-Ray burner, use that. Blu-Rays hold 25-50 Gigs of data and are built to last. CDs have about a five year life with moderate use. Blu-Ray Discs and DVDs can last 15-25 years with moderate use. If you’re using them solely for backup purposes, they’ll last much longer than that.

Darik’s Boot-n-Nuke

Darik Horn’s FREE software for wiping your hard drive clean. Download the software here. If you plan on selling or disposing of a computer, I recommend using DBAN to erase any data first. When you delete a file on your computer, it doesn’t actually go away. It’s simply moved to a different location and written over. If you haven’t deleted that many files, chances are you or whoever gets your computer, can retrieve almost every file ever deleted. Scary right.


No really, once this program gets started it’s too late. The download is an .iso file or disk image file. It requires a program like Nero Burning Rom, MagicISO or PowerISO to run. If you don’t have any of those and are digging this FREE thing, you can download ISO RECORDER for XP and Vista and install that first. Create a boot-able CD and you’re ready to roll.

Then, simply put the disk in the drive and do a restart. Your system should boot from the CD, but if not, do another restart but watch for a really quick message that tells you which key (f8 usually for Vista – f12 usually for xp) to push to get to the Boot From menu. Once there choose boot from CD. Once your computer boots from the CD you’ll see the Linux OS begin to load followed by a prompt asking you to type in one word: autonuke. Make sure you’re ready, because there’s no turning back after this step.

Depending on the size of your hard drive and speed of your processor this can take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days.

Windows OS CD or DVD (win2k, XP, Vista)

Most computers you buy today DO NOT come with the operating system (OS) disks. The disks included are usually driver files for recovery purposes and junk software you don’t need. In many cases you can request the company to send you the OS disks, but they’ll often charge you for shipping or other fees. If you have the license, why should you have to pay for the software again? There are FREE options available, which I will not go into here, but contact me if you’re interested.

Finally the steps


1. Backup all your data onto a flash drive, CD or DVD. If possible, copy your entire My Documents folder over. If your computer is a Dell, HP, Gatway, Compaq or other well known brand go to the manufacturer’s website and download all the necessary drivers for your machine. If you are changing from Vista to XP or vice-versa, make sure you download the correct drivers. Make sure you have all the serial numbers for each program you want to reinstall. If you use Microsoft Office and have no idea what the serial number is, there are FREE programs to retrieve that information. Check out these: Belarc Advisor or Magic Jellybean Finder. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express you’ll need to export your Personal Folders or .pst files and copy that separately.

Outlook Steps:

  • Open Outlook, go to File then Import and Export

Outlook Import Export

  • Next click on Export to a File

Export to a File

  • Click on Personal Folder File

Personal Folder File

  • Make sure to choose the top folder – Personal Folders

Choose Personal Folders

  • Finally, browse to a location to save the file and rename it to something that means something to you.

Browse to location to save to and rename

Include that .pst file in with all the other docs you’re saving.


Place the Darik’s Boot-n-Nuke Disk in your CD or DVD drive and restart your computer.

As mentioned above, it’s going to take a while. The program begins and after 5 or 10 minutes the window will display how much time is left to erase your hard drive.


Remove the Boot-n-Nuke disk, put your Windows OS disk in and restart your computer.

That’s basically it right? Sort of…

After Windows installs, each of your programs will need to be re-installed, along with all of the Windows updates and plugins.

Make sure to include all of these when updating your computer:

It’s a pain in the butt, I know…

But your newly refreshed computer will buzz along faster than ever and everything will work right, at least until you screw it up again.

peace out.


Leo Laporte – the tech guy

Leo Laporte

If you ever get interested in learning more about the digital virtual world, I suggest you start my listening to Leo Laporte, the tech guy. Leo had a popular TV series called TechTV which ran from 1998 – 2004. TechTV was extremely popular for a tech-related show, it was broadcast in 70 countries and reached 43 million households. In 2004 Comcast’s G4 gaming channel merged with TechTV and soon dissolved the show much to the dismay of loyal fans.

Leo currently airs a radio show on weekends, 11am-2pm, on clear channels AM KFI 640 in Los Angeles. His show touches on everything digital, computers, cameras, TV’s, home theater, wi-fi, iPhones, iPods, phones, etc. Leo accepts calls during the show and will help even the most technically challenged. His shows can also be viewed via video podcast on his site Leoville.com, compliments of STICKAM.

Leo also offers several FREE video and audio podcasts on another website, TWiT – This Week in Tech. I highly recommend browsing through the volumes of information Leo freely provides for anyone interested in tech, or even just for fun.

Crucial Memory Selector


Beyond Vista

Seems that Microsoft is moving quickly towards it’s next version of Windows. They correctly identified that Vista is flawed. I understand. You put several million dollars into a project, you want it to work, but it isn’t right.

Oh well,

On to the next.


FREE Guide to Internet Security

Is your computer running slow? Don’t pay for a solution when you can get it for FREE!

FREE Guide to Internet SecuritySimply put, almost every program you install on a Windows Computer requires Root Access. Root access enables spyware, malware, adware, viruses, root-kits and more to take control of parts or all of your Windows Computer System. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a number of free programs you can install to protect yourself (or rather your poor unsuspecting computer) in the increasingly shark-infested virtual ocean waters we call the internet. But first:

Watch Where You’re Going!

The first line of defense is proper net surfing habits. Don’t click on flashy, thingy, “you’re the winner”, types of links. They are intended for idiots and you don’t fall into that category. Don’t open any attachments on emails from email addresses you don’t recognize. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, I recommend turning the “Reading Pane” off. The bad guys are able to initiate malicious code in image files by simply displaying the image on your computer. The “Reading Pane” opens the image, and viola, you’ve just been infected. Also, pay attention to links in emails. Bad guys will change one letter or add a .de or something similar in a familiar looking link to trick you into clicking on it. When you mouse-over the link in Firefox, the link address is displayed in the bottom left corner of the browser, just take a look before moving forward. The next thing to look out for is FAKE system alerts. Watch out pop-ups that look like the following:

Fake System Warning – Pop up

Fake System Warning

Fake Spyware Warning

Fake Spyware Alert

Fake Critical Error Message

Fake Critical Error Message

Fake Internet Explorer Warning

Fake Internet Explorer Warning

Fake Infection Notice

Fake Infection Notice

Fake Spyware Ads

Fake Spyware Ads

People have gotten really good at FAKING system error messages and behavior. They trick you into believing you have some sort of infection, then offer a link to remove it. What they actually do is infect your system even more. Fortunately there are a number of free resources available to protect you.

FREE Resources

1. Spybot Search and Destroy – (download link)

Spybot has offered their excellent FREE anti-spyware software since 2000. I recommend this every time because it’s still the best. It is constantly updated and one of the premiere products of this type. It takes a few minutes to download and install, but has many features to keep the bad guys out. Here’s a few features:

Feature Default
Removal of adware and spyware
Removal of dialers

Removal of keyloggers

Removal of trojans and other baddies

Removal of usage tracks

Yes Yes
User-extendable database Yes Yes
Save removal of threats by shredding them Yes Yes
Backups of every removed problem Yes Yes
Exclude option to ignore specific problems Yes (1) Yes
Permanent blocking of threatening ActiveX downloads

Permanent blocking of known tracking cookies for IE

Permanent blocking of threating downloads in IE

Yes Yes
Command line parameters to automate tasks Yes Yes
Number of targets > 600 > 600
Number of detection files and entries > 10000 > 10000
Detailed information about problems found Yes Yes
Strict criteria to define targets Yes Yes
Integrated update function

Weekly updates

Update notification by mail

Yes Yes
Free email & forum support Yes Yes
Settings to automate scan, removal and update No Yes
System reports to locate even unknown threats No Yes
Skins to adjust interface to the users liking No Yes
2. Ad-Aware from Lavasoft – (download link)

No spyware, malware, virus removal software is all inclusive. I don’t care what their ads say. Ad-Aware from Lavasoft is the perfect accompaniment to Spybot. Between the two of them, you catch most of the junk out there. Here are a few more features from the Lavasoft site:

  • Improved Threat Detection
    • Spyware, Adware, Trojans & Hijackers
    • Fraud Tools & Rogue Applications
    • Password Stealers & Keyloggers
  • Enhanced Rootkit removal system
  • Faster Updates & Faster Scans
  • Less Resource Usage for optimal computer performance
  • Easy to Download, Install and Use
  • Lavasoft ThreatWork submission tool
  • Compatible with Windows Vista (32- and 64-bit)
  • Supported Languages: Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
3. AVG – Antivirus – (download link)

AVG is another tried and true FREE Anti-virus software package that is constantly updated and protects you against many of the nastiest bits of code prowling the net. A little more about AVG:

  • Automatic update functionality
  • The AVG Resident Shield, which provides real-time protection as files are opened and programs are run
  • The AVG E-mail Scanner, which protects your e-mail
  • The AVG On-Demand Scanner, which allows the user to perform scheduled and manual tests
  • Free Virus Database Updates for the lifetime of the product
  • AVG Virus Vault for safe handling of infected files

These three are a great start, however I will warn you that almost any anti-spyware, anti-virus, etc., will have an effect on system performance. Things will slowdown a little. Each of these programs attempt to catch the rogue code before it makes onto your hard drive. That means there are millisecond delays before pages load, emails appear, etc. so that’s the trade off. Paid for versions by Norton, McAfee and other are no better, in fact in most cases they are worse.

If you’re a pretty safe surfer and you don’t want to bog your machine down with a bunch of software than there are FREE online Scan alternatives. I refer all my friends to these:

TrendMicro – is a FREE online virus scanner. It’s completely trustworthy, effective and up-to-date.

Panda ActiveScan – is another great FREE online scanner.

A couple other safeguards are switching to Mozilla’s Firefox browser instead of Internet Explorer. Firefox has a number of builtin safety factors that IE is trying to implement, but just doesn’t do as well.

I hope this was helpful. Any comments are welcome of course.