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Computing  Factoids

   Steve Bassby Steve Bass, PC World; Author, PC Annoyances

There are unrelated things I pick up in e-mail that are terrific—but not long enough for an article. Here are two of them.

Hard Drive Repair Conundrumt

A PIBMUG member was struggling with a faulty hard drive. An Ontrack product manager provided an answer.

Question: I have a question about getting rid of data on a hard disk. I have read  articles about reformatting and assorted software that gets rid of your data. However, I had a hard disk crash and must return the old disk to the system vendor in order to have my credit card credited for the cost of the  new one they sent me (under warranty). 

I do not want them or the OEM to be able to recover that data. With the disk not working, how do I get rid of  the data? If I hold magnets around it, will that work? Should I drop it in a boiling pot of chicken soup? Your advice would be appreciated.

Smart-ass Answer: Chicken soup may work provided you remove all the fat, chicken feet, and carrots (strangely enough, celery and onions can stay).

More realistically, I have to admit I’m stumped. Let me call in some experts from Ontrack, the hard drive recovery company. Mark? Any ideas? ––Steve

Ontrack’s Response:

The magnet idea isn’t going to work unless you’ve got some incredibly strong magnets laying around. A degaussing unit strong enough to erase the platters of a hard drive would generate a field that would damage other magnetic media within several yards.  Also it would erase the servo-patterns on the drive used to control the movement of the read/write head, so it would certainly ruin the drive.

We’ve requested ideas from the real experts, our clean room technicians. 

They had a few solutions, but nothing simple. You could see if an authorized shop (like a disk recovery shop who has authority to break a drive seal without voiding the warranty) would take on a special job (for a fee) to open the drive and degauss the platters.

You could request to review the warranty policy from your HDD manufacturer and see if they have a policy for protecting data that may be on a warranty returned drive.   

Trust the HDD manufacturer to destroy the platters as part of the end-of-life of a returned drive. --Mark

Better Backups

After using tapes and zip drives for back ups, I finally decided to just back up to another hard drive. To simplify the process, I installed two mobile mounts and connected the IDE cables so that the upper mount or drawer is an IDE1 master and the lower drawer is an IDE2 Master. I purchased two drives of the same capacity.  Both are jumpered as masters.  The original is in the upper drawer, and the backup will be placed in the lower drawer.

I use "Drive Copy" which with installation generates a 3.5" floppy "Drive Copy" boot disk. The boot disk is used to start the copy process.  Make certain that your 2 hard drives are labeled such that you will copy from the original to the backup, and not from the backup to the original.

Remove the backup and set it aside for that sad day when the original fails or is infected with a virus. The reason that I like this approach is that if the original drive fails, I can just power down and remove it from the drawer and insert and boot the backup, which is already jumpered as a master drive, and you are immediately up and running. Whereas if you were using a tape you have the problem of trying to salvage the original from the tape, hoping that it works. The same is true of Zip disks.

I will usually start the backup when I go to bed and it is done in the morning. The cost of a 2nd hard drive is probably cheaper than a tape drive or Zip drive and the cost of the tapes and zip disks just add even more cost. ––Clifford Ford (

SSteve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and ran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at 

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