General Question

guywithanaccountnow's avatar

Without its original hard drive, can your computer's info be viewed by its new owner?

Asked by guywithanaccountnow (313 points ) July 28th, 2012

Google didn’t help answer this question, so here I am.
Sorry if it sounds like a question with a totally obvious answer, but I just need to make sure I know what I’m talking about. Better safe than sorry.

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15 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

The computer’s “original” hard drive is unimportant. If there are any stored media: CDs, solid state hard drives, floppies (they’re still around, and they still work), tape drives or any other backup media (including USB sticks, aka thumb drives or jump drives), then that information can be viewed.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’m not sure what you mean by “original hard drive”. If you took the physical hard drive out of the computer and replaced it with another drive, then the new hard drive would have nOTHING on it, and the one you took out would have your pictures (but it wouldn’t be useful if you don;‘t have it in a computer)

You can also download any number of programs that will “wipe” the original hard drive – meaning that it deletes everything and overwrites the hard drive with lots of zeros, making it impossible to ever get anything off that drive.

It depends what you really want to accomplish.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Depends, if you talking about info that was saved to the HARD DRIVE then no, otherwise yes. Such as music, videos, and pictures stored to the MEMORY UNIT of the computer. If you need to get rid of a bunch of info and you backed up your computer and have backups of all the files you want to save, then get a powerful electromagnet, put it on you computer, then turn it on. It will totally wipe the computer. Then reinstall the computers system. WARNING: THIS MAY CAUSE IRREPRABLE DAMAGE TO YOUR COMPUTER. However it WILL wipe it totally . You’ll never have to worry about it again. I take it that you mean that you are selling the computer and took out it’s hard drive and haven’t used it since.

blueiiznh's avatar

I am a bit unsure what you are trying to state.
If the hard drive is replaced with a fresh unformatted one or you simple pull the hard drive (assuming you pull all the removable San, CD, etc), then there is nothing there to find. The memory does not retain the information once powered off on a PC.
Server class machines have cache batteries, but I suspect you are safe.
@Mr_Paradox A powerful electromagnet will not render a disk drive completely safe from reading old information

Mr_Paradox's avatar

@blueiiznh the effort to reconstruct what little remains is impractical. No one is going to spend a week trying to get two seconds of a video off of a computer.

jerv's avatar

The TL:DR answer is no.

The slightly more complete answer is that the hard drive is the only place where it stores info permanently. Now, some computers have multiple hard drives, but once it/those are removed, the computer has none of your stuff on it any more.

@Mr_Paradox Memory unit? Y’know, I’ve been into computers for over thirty years, and that is a new one on me. @blueiiznh is not the only one who is unsure what you are on about.

blueiiznh's avatar

@Mr_Paradox you would be suprised how much data you can get off a drive with the correct tools. Even data that has been written over several times. I too have never heard of memory unit

jerv's avatar

@blueiiznh I would not though, but I am a bit surprised how much professional recovery places charge. I mean, I can understand $1,000+ for a job that requires disassembly in a clean room, but $50–100 to simply run Recuva… I think I’m in the wrong business!

Mr_Paradox's avatar

@jerv many custom computers now have them.

jerv's avatar

@Mr_Paradox Are you referring to SSDs? If so, those are storage, not memory.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

I was trying to keep it simple. That isn’t exactly common knowledge.

jerv's avatar

@Mr_Paradox While I applaud the effort, you actually muddied the waters with that. While SSDs use memory, they connect to the same data connectors as a hard drive, perform the same function as a hard drive, show up on the desktop as a hard drive, etcetera.

Over the years, I have spent many an hour trying to explain how clearing out a hard drive (storage) won’t fix problems with insufficient RAM (memory). Put another way, having a big storage locker won’t change the fact that your Geo Metro isn’t big enough to stuff into when it comes time to move. It also doesn’t change the fact that the Geo Metro is not the storage locker.

See where I’m coming from?

Mr_Paradox's avatar

I get where you are coming from. They still have the same BASIC purpose, to store information until it is needed. They just do it in different ways. SSD’s remember the info, while hard drives stor info. So a better example would be that the SSD is your brain while the hard drive is a filing cabnet. Right?

jerv's avatar

@Mr_Paradox Actually, both store the info.

But one (the hard drive) uses moving parts that means that you have to go to where the info is and physically access it while the other (the SSD) stores it in a non-physical form that requires no moving parts and no physical action to retrieve info, making it quicker. Note also that it is quicker and cheaper to build a filing cabinet than a brain.

The confusion between SSDs and RAM may arise from the fact that both use memory chips, but they usually use different types of chips; one is fast but loses data once the power is shut off, while the other is slower, but non-volatile.

kdrinehart's avatar

Without the original hard drive, your personal documents, pictures, videos, etc. are not accessible. Any files that are associated with the operating system are stored on the hard drive as well. If you are referring to your personal information, you are safe if you remove the hard drive.

If there is more than one hard drive in the machine, make sure that you take that out as well if you are planning on giving the machine away or concerned about personal data.

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