Want to set up your laptop or desktop PC to sell it, give it away, trade it in, or for recycling?
It’s good to take precautions. Most of us have something on our computers that we don’t want others to know about – passwords for websites and personal data for example – that should be backed up and then erased completely. We’ll look at each of the steps involved in preparing a PC for a change of ownership.
First of all, there are some items that you’ll need to do by hand. Web browsers and laptop utilities have gotten so good at remembering website passwords for us that you might not have thought about which specific passwords you’ve used at various websites for quite some time.
Back Up Your Website Passwords
You can access the list in Firefox 3 by going to Tools, Options, clicking on the Security tab, and clicking on the “Saved Passwords” button. The default is not to show passwords in the Saved Passwords list, but you can click “Show Passwords” and confirm it to include passwords.
Did you find more saved passwords and websites in the list than you had imagined? Wondering what to do with this list? The free Firefox add-in Password Exporter is one solution that works well.
Password Exporter adds an “Import/Export Passwords” button to the Security Tab. The images below show what happens when you click on Import/Export Passwords and then click on “Export Passwords.” Note in the third image, the default is to save the passwords to an xml file. You may want to change that to .csv (to view in a spreadsheet application) before clicking “Save.”
Please click the images to enlarge.
And remember, just as easily as you accessed the password list, so too can anybody else that gets access to your PC. You might want to consider securing your password list by setting a master password under Tools, Options, Security tab, “Use a master password.”
Internet Explorer does not have a built-in saved-password viewing or exporting feature. In fact, a minor cottage industry, mostly dubious in nature, has sprung up to service this problem. I checked out several and gave Kaspersky anti-virus a workout. One product that I found and tested is the simple “IE Password Revealer” by WellTek Software. It’s available for $6.99 from their website.
It’s not an automatic tool. To recover a password, you must first open Internet Explorer and navigate to a website that will display asterisks for the login. This could well mean logging out and back in if the website logs you in automatically. The trial version only shows the last character of the password, but that is enough to verify that it’s working.
Yes, using IE Password Revealer is some work, but it’s a way to recover all your passwords one-by-one, and I didn’t get any virus or malware from visiting their website.
Back Up Your Important Data
Once you have saved your password list for your browser, you next want to back up any information that you want to preserve from the PC. An easy way to do this is by purchasing an external USB hard drive. This makes moving entire folders a drag ’n drop affair. Try to get one that’s bigger than the hard drive in the PC because you will probably want to use the external drive to backup your next PC.
Don’t forget to grab the big ones – pictures, music, and documents. Most will be found under C:/Users/Username, although some data may be saved in other places like your desktop or in program folders under C:/Program Files. Thoroughly examine your entire hard drive, and if you’re in doubt that you’ll need something later, go ahead and err on the side of caution and grab it anyway.
Next: Planning by Intention, Rescue and Recovery, and the Professional Approach
What Do You Intend?
The next thing to consider is what you plan to do with the computer?
If passing it on to a relative or selling the computer, you probably want to wipe (erase) the hard drive and provide a minimal, but complete and running operating system for the next user.
I’ve found that “recycling” has two meanings. For some, it means turning the old laptop or desktop in to be repaired and distributed to schools and charitable organizations. For others, it means literally turning the computer in to a company that will try to distill it for its parts and elements.
If the latter, you may just want to wipe the drive and leave it that way.
Restore and Recovery
If you want to keep the computer operational, and it’s relatively recent, it probably came with a recovery partition on the hard drive that contains Windows. This makes restoring the operating system easy.
However, there’s still a little risk involved. When you delete a file in Windows, it’s not immediately erased. Instead, the reference to the file in the hard drive’s file allocation table is removed. The file actually remains until another file overwrites it. (This is how file un-delete tools are able to work.)
If you want to securely erase the drive before running the restoration utility, I suggest using an application called “Eraser” by Heidi Computers, Ltd. It’s not really easy to learn, but it’s powerful.
Erasing an entire hard drive involves mounting the drive in another computer system. This is because operating system files and executable files that are in use are locked and cannot be erased. Eraser does include a utility program that can be run from DOS, but not many computers have floppy drives anymore.
Be sure to read the extensive help section in Eraser (shown in the third image).
Sound like more than you want to get into?
Your computer may already be designed to erase and format the operating system’s partition when you do a system restore. My suggestion is that you try that first, then use Eraser to securely erase (one-pass pseudo-random write) all the free space on the hard drive. Then run Windows update and the computer will be ready to give away, sell, or recycle for other users.
How does one run a system restore? It depends on the computer. On one HP computer I have, pressing F1 during boot-up starts system recovery and restore. On a ThinkPad notebook, a big blue button does the same thing. Your computer will most likely tell you in a boot-up message what to press to start a recovery operation.
A More Professional Approach
Want to take more control, or think you’ll often be preparing computers for recycling or for resale? You might want to invest in a special tool for preparing hard drives. [email protected] Boot Disk by [email protected] Data Recovery Software would be a suitable tool, and it offers a ten-day free trial. The software needs to be registered because it includes a tiny, licensed version of Windows Vista (WinPE), and the trial version does not create a bootable CD.
[email protected] Boot Disk contains a veritable Swiss Army knife suite of applications for troubleshooting and repair. (It reminds me of using Norton Utilities back in the DOS days.) It is not inexpensive, but for the functionality it provides, the price of $79.95 for personal use or $99.95 for commercial use is quite reasonable. (Please watch for a complete follow-up review of [email protected] Boot Disk.)
The best part of using [email protected] Boot Disk in preparing a laptop or desktop for transfer of ownership is that starting the PC from the CD-ROM has the same effect as mounting the hard drive in another PC - you can access and manipulate the PC’s hard drive from the environment the boot disk creates. One of the included utilities is even called “KillDisk.”
Next: Conclusion and Further Reading
If you’re selling, giving away, or contributing your laptop, the afore mentioned action plan makes a lot of sense. Backup your needed data and then wipe the hard drive by running rescue and recovery, or by mounting it inside another system and using Eraser to “zero out” the drive, and then run rescue and recovery.
Password Exporter, free for Firefox, or IE Password Revealer ($6.99 for Internet Explorer) will help you find your saved passwords for websites, and an external hard drive that you can also use to backup your next PC will make preserving your important data easy.
If the PC is to be destroyed or disassembled, and you’re lucky enough to have a floppy drive, starting Eraser from a floppy will certainly erase the drive in unrecoverable fashion.
If you’ll be doing this often, or if you find yourself frequently troubleshooting other computers, investing in a heavy-weight tool like [email protected] Boot Disk would be a good move. Having [email protected] Boot Disk would also make preparing a PC for new ownership quicker and easier.
Thanks for reading this. We hope you are enjoying reading and learning at the new Bright Hub.
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