CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published November 25, 2002

Delete before you donate your personal computer

Last week a reader asked: "How can I clean out data from a computer that we'd like to donate? We're reluctant to release them with our client's personal information stored inside." Good question.  Increasingly, people are donating computers or handing them down, rather than junking them altogether. Computers of the earlier Pentium flavors don't have the processing power of today's systems, but they're often more than adequate for users with basic needs for word processing, e-mail and Internet browsing.

The Pentium, or 586 Intel-style CPU should be considered the baseline for a computer with decent possibilities for a reincarnated life. A computer with this chip may be up to seven years old already (or 70 in computer years) and anything older will most likely not support today's minimum application requirements. Also the memory or RAM in these older systems is typically small by today's standards, but may be enough to accomplish essential chores, and may in fact be upgradeable. 

I have a first-generation Pentium 200MHz with 64MB of RAM running as a backup computer on my network, and it's very reliable for Internet browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and e-mail. Realize this is three generations behind the latest and greatest CPU which is the Pentium 4 running at speeds in excess of 3GHz. Suffice it to say, these new computers are fast and powerful, but such muscle is often lost on the average user, hence the value in passing down older computers that still have some kick left.

To find out what kind of a system you have, double-click on My Computer and then right-mouse click in an empty area of this window. Choose Properties to view your processor type, operating system and amount of RAM installed.

Ridding your computer of personal information is essential before giving it away. In a perfect world, you should reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system, however this process can be fraught with glitches that a more seasoned user can usually negotiate. Additionally, you'll lose any programs that you may want to pass on for word processing or spreadsheets, for example.

 From the My Computer window, right-mouse click on the C: hard drive to see how much data is already stored on the system. This is your benchmark to track how much free space you gain by deleting programs and files. Win98+ users should start with the Disk Cleanup utility in this same window. This tool will find any temporary or extraneous files that can be safely deleted. 

Assuming you've backed up all your data files, next remove any unwanted programs using the Add/Remove utility in the Windows Control Panel.  Don't expect that this will eliminate your data files, however. The Add/Remove utility often leaves the directory structure intact and these folders need to be manually deleted.  Choose Start | Programs | Windows Explorer to start the file manager. Browse the folders in the left pane until you find folders that are no longer needed, and then delete. Caution! Do not delete any folders that you're unsure of. These may contain instructions critical for the system to function properly.  

Delete all the data files in the My Documents folder and if you have personal documents in other folder locations, follow this same process. To insure you've deleted all sensitive files, use the Search utility in Windows Explorer to find files matching specific text parameters, such as client's names or account numbers. You can then delete files directly from the Search results window. Don't forget to empty the Recycle Bin once you delete the files, because they're not truly gone until the Recycle Bin is empty.  

Remove any online account information, including dial-up access and e-mail logins. You don't want the next owner tapping into your online network. The location of this account information will differ vary depending upon which programs you're using, but should be readily located using the Help utility.  

Lastly, perform a Scan Disk and Defrag to insure the hard disk is operating optimally. Both these utilities can be found from Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools. 

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.  


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