Though geeky, and only for Windows 32-bit or DOS, hdderase.exe allows you to invoke your hard drive or SSD’s secure erase function for super-secure wipes that don’t tie up your system.
If you want to re-use a hard or solid state drive, but want to make sure that possibly sensitive data from its previous life isn’t still hanging around, the easiest way to do it is invoke the ATA secure erase command—a feature built into every drive manufactured since 2001. Utilities from drive vendors now do this, but you can also employ a free, old-school, command-line utility from the data experts at the University of California San Diego called HDDerase.exe.
There are several possible flies in the hdderase.exe ointment. One is that the NSA sponsored its development. Yes, those guys get around. How they could back-door a utility like this is beyond me, but I’m putting it out there. Also, if your drive’s security is in a frozen state (most these days are to prevent access by malware), then hdderase.exe won’t work. You’ll need to hit up your vendor for a tool, or check out Parted Magic and its DriveEraser utility. You can also boot with a Linux distribution with hdparm installed and use that command-line utility.
Hdderase.exe will run under any 32-bit version of Windows, but as a 16-bit program, it won’t run under 64-bit installations. To erase a 64-bit installation you’ll need to run it from a bootable flash drive, CD, or floppy. A .ISO file is included in the Web download, but you need to add the DOS on your own.
Windows will create DOS-bootable floppies, a free utility called Rufus will do the same with USB flash drives, and there are a number of DOS boot CDs available from www.allbootdisks.com as well as Freedos.org. Copy the files from the .ISO to the boot disc (using an .ISO editor such as the free WinISO 5.3).
Using hdderase.exe is easy. In most instances, where ATA drive security is not used, all you have to do is type “y” in answer to the “don’t blame us” questions, type the ID of the drive you want to erase (all are listed), and hit enter. Then wait a few minutes if it’s an SSD or a couple of hours if it’s a hard drive and re-take possession of your pristine drive.
If all that seems like a lot of fuss, it is. You’re much better off with your drive vendor’s utility or Parted Magic. But if you’re old-school and really like the command line, hdderase.exe might do the job.
Correction 1/14/2015: This article was edited to correct a mistake in grammar.
Jon Jacobi is a musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time computer enthusiast. He writes reviews on TVs, SSDs, dash cams, remote access software, Bluetooth speakers, and sundry other consumer-tech hardware and software.