PC Pro's top 10 hard disk destruction methods

20 Aug 2009

It appears that our investigation into the Bustadrive, a home-made hard disk destruction device, has unleashed the latent violence that lurks within the average PC Pro reader: several folk entered into detailed discussions in our comments section and over on Slashdot about which calibre of bullet would do the best job of ensuring that no-one could get their hands on your credit-card details, and countless other readers have suggested similarly violent methods for disposing of your data.

We’ve been so impressed with the calibre of comments that we’ve compiled a list of our top ten hard disk destruction methods – although, since we’re ever so slightly scared of some of these people, they’re in no particular order.

1 - The classic hammer was suggested by several readers, including David, Nick, Stuart and the enigmatically-named "Waste of Money", who suggested that we "just hit the drive with a hammer" before branding the Bustadrive a "stupid invention". After seeing this video detailing the precise method to use when hammering a hard disk, we can't deny that it looks plenty of fun.

2 - "What's wrong with an angle grinder?" asked Simon - a fair question considering that one of these fearsome tools could be used to instantly slice through hard disks rather than being used as a prop on Britain's Got Talent. If there's anyone out there with an angle grinder going spare, then we're keen to see precisely how many sparks fly when disc meets platter - grinders to the usual address, please.

3 - The average welding torch, meanwhile, is a fully paid-up member of the "life-threatening but enormously enjoyable" club - and there's no denying that a 3,000-degree flame would reduce the average hard disk platter to a pool of reflective liquid quicker than you could say "data protection". It's a superb suggestion from Steve, who also put forward the angle grinder for consideration. We're worried about him.

4 - Several other readers, most of whom named themselves as "anonymous", suggested various forms of weaponry, from 12-gauge shotguns to high velocity rifles - and, as Beard showed with a link to this video, it looks like somebody has beaten us to it, proving that it takes precisely 18 hard disks to stop a serious piece of ammunition.

5 - Science fans will be pleased to see an electromagnet on the list, which was suggested by the effervescent Wes, who explained that he takes his old hard disks "en masse to the local scrap yard", where they're subjected to the whims of an electromagnet "at the end of a crane". Apparently, this destroys the drive heads and wipes all data from the drives simultaneously and also makes the disks fly ten feet into the air, suspended by the sheer power of the magnets. All we know is that we'd really, really like to try this out before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Presumably it's a little bit like this, only far larger, far more dangerous and much more fun.

6 - Another solution inspired by electricity was far simpler: use a drill. While it may not have the physics kudos of an electromagnet, there’s no denying that drilling through a hard disk would be deeply satisfying – and a very efficient method for erasing your data.

7 - Hard disk platters are generally made from aluminium, which melts at 660.32°C and can be recycled into all manner of objects, from drinks cans to brand-new computer components. Monkeyship was the reader urging us to do our bit for the environment, then, by slinging used hard disks into the nearest furnace, salvaging the liquid aluminium for future generations and getting rid of your sensitive data at the same time.

8 - Electric log splitters may be good for, well, splitting logs, but these powerful devices surely have other uses, with reader John suggesting that splitting hard disks in half could be just as rewarding. There can’t be many disposal methods that let you recreate a pivotal scene from 1995 James Bond flick Goldeneye, either, even if you won’t be able to finish off Pierce Brosnan at the same time.

9 - An industrial shredder must be one of the most effective and satisfying ways to destroy your data. If you don’t believe us, take a look at this video and watch as the relentless machine churns its way through hundreds of gigabytes of data with nary a care in the world.

10 - Finally, another method that scores valuable points for science: Thermite. Even its Wikipedia page sounds tantalising, describing the “short bursts of extremely high temperatures” that result from its use and detailing how some types of Thermite reaction can heat victims to 2,500°C. Also tempting is the list of tasks that Thermite is normally used for: welding railway tracks together, disabling artillery pieces on the battlefield and as a key ingredient in some types of hand grenade. Suffice to say that there’s enough power here to blow the average Caviar Blue to smithereens.

These ten methods are the best that our dear, violent readers have managed to come up with so far – but, now that we’ve got a taste for it, we’re hungry for more. What other fantastically destructive methods would you use to take out your hard disks, and how would you ensure that your data could never be recovered, no matter how many scans with an electron microscope?

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