What is the safest way to permanently erase a laptop drive? [Ask ZDNet]

On modern systems with solid-state drives, you can often find a management utility that includes the Secure Erase command.

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Welcome to this week’s Ask ZDNet issue, where we answer the questions that make Dear Abby’s eyes shine.


In the mailbag this week: What’s the best way to securely erase your computer before you sell it or give it away? How can you fix weak passwords easily? And why is it so hard to find a laptop with a big screen and touch screen?

If you have a question about any of the topics ZDNet Covers, maybe one of our team of editors and contributors has an answer. We’ll find an outside expert who can point you in the right direction if they don’t.

Questions can cover any topic related to remote work and technology, including PCs and Macs, mobile devices, security and privacy, social media, home office equipment, consumer electronics, business etiquette, financial adviceā€¦ well, you’ll get The idea .

Send your questions to [email protected] Due to the volume of requests placed, we cannot guarantee a personalized response, but we promise to read every letter and respond here to messages we think our readers will be interested in.

ask away.

What is the best way to permanently delete all personal files from my laptop before giving them away?

I am presenting my old Windows laptop to a friend. Before I do that, I want to make sure my personal files are safely erased and completely unrecoverable. Do I need a special program for that?

When you prepare a computer for reuse, the best way to start is to boot from the Windows installation media, remove all existing disk partitions, and then perform a clean install. This option removes any existing personal files, but does not wipe the disk clean. As a result, it is possible that someone with advanced technical skills could use forensic tools or data recovery software to access some of the deleted information.

On modern systems with solid-state drives, you can often find a management utility that includes the Secure Erase command. For Samsung SSDs, use Samsung Magician software. For Intel SSDs, download and install Intel Memory and Storage Tool. Crucial SSDs use the Crucial Storage Executive utility. Microsoft Surface devices support a dedicated tool called Microsoft Surface Data Eraser.

You can also use the encryption tools built into Windows to ensure that your entire system drive, including unused disk space, is encrypted before performing a clean install. This extra step requires some extra time, but it ensures that any data retrieved from anywhere on the drive will be unreadable. And you don’t need third-party software to get the job done.

Your entire system drive is encrypted by default if you sign in to Windows with a Microsoft account on a modern device that supports BitLocker Device Encryption (BDE). To ensure that your device supports BDE, run the System Information utility (Msinfo32.exe) as an administrator and check the Device Encryption Support entry at the bottom of the System Summary page.

On a system running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro, you can use the Manage BitLocker utility (type BitLocker in the search box to find it) to encrypt the system drive and any data drives. Make sure to select the option to encrypt the entire drive and not just the space that currently contains the data.

If device encryption is not available, open a command prompt with the Run as administrator option and enter this command:

Encoder / W: C: \

This command “de-zero” unused disk space, overwriting it so that it cannot be restored. This process can take a long time, so consider letting it run through the night while you focus on the more important tasks.

also: Best Encryption Software: Protect Your Data

My password manager says some of my passwords are weak. Should I be worried?

I recently started using a password manager, and when I log into some sites, the program tells me that my password is weak. What should I do to replace weak passwords with strong passwords?

If you’ve recently started using a password manager, congratulations! This is a big step on the road to being safer. You are undoubtedly dealing with a set of credentials that you have created yourself over the years during this transition. And because humans are notoriously bad at generating truly random text strings, these passwords are likely to be weak, meaning they can be easily guessed or vulnerable to a brute force attack.

A weak password is usually very short, consists of words that can be found in a dictionary, and/or contains all or part of the account name. Even if you can generate a really random password that’s hard to guess, your password manager will flag it if it determines that you’ve used it on multiple sites.

The good news is that your password manager undoubtedly has a password generator, which you can use to replace old, weak, and insecure passwords. Unfortunately, the process of changing old passwords is labor intensive. For each service, you will need to find the page where you change your password; Use the password generator to generate a new, random, and unique password, then update the saved entry.

As a best practice, you should do this as soon as possible for high-value sites such as banks, credit card portals, email accounts, and social media. After completing each password change, I recommend that you log out of the Service immediately and log in again, using the newly saved password, to confirm that the new password is stored correctly.

Where are all the touchscreen computers?

I have been shopping for a new laptop with a larger screen, at least 16 inches. The extra heft doesn’t bother me because my mobile needs are very limited and I’m not a big fan of having an external screen. But I was surprised by the number of Windows laptops with larger screens that don’t have a touch screen. It’s 2022, isn’t it? Am I just looking in the wrong place?

These days, most mainstream laptops have 13- or 14-inch screens, which are measured diagonally. This form factor is the place to go for general business use, and is usually small enough and light enough to be really portable. At this size, the touchscreen is sometimes useful, and it’s usually not an expensive upgrade.

As I found out, 16 and 17 inch laptops are not very portable and usually command a high price tag. Dell’s new XPS 17 laptop, for example, weighs 4.87 pounds with a non-touch screen and goes up to 5.34 pounds (at an extra cost of $300) if you select a touchscreen. This model is remarkably light for the class. (Your shoulder may vary.) These devices are generally designed for graphics professionals who use them as an alternative to a desktop and sometimes need high-end graphics work on the road.

Due to its size and the fact that most graphics editing tasks require a mouse, the touchscreen on a bulky laptop is pretty much a waste of battery power and money. For your use case, I’d suggest looking at a 15-inch laptop, like the Dell XPS 15. And if you’re going to use it as a desktop replacement, connected to a docking station with a keyboard and mouse most of the time, skip the touch screen; Choose a less expensive non-touch screen and invest the savings in a discrete GPU.

also: Best 2-in-1 Laptops: The Best Flexible, Hybrid & Convertible Laptops

Send your questions to [email protected]. Due to the volume of requests placed, we cannot guarantee a personalized response, but we promise to read every letter and respond here to messages we think our readers will be interested in. Be sure to include a valid email address in case of follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.

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