While there’s nothing to stop you selling your PC with the contents of its hard drive intact, it’s a very bad idea. Apart from the fact that you’ll be giving the new owner access to all of your files and other personal information, you’ll also be selling any software that’s still installed. Even if this was legal (which it usually isn’t), that means you won’t be able to install the same software on your new PC — not without breaking the law, anyway.
So the solution is to wipe your PC and restore it to a factory fresh state, with nothing but the Windows operating system installed. This, incidentally, is something you might also want to do when you want to reinstall Windows from scratch to give your computer a new lease of life — getting rid of years’ worth of old stuff can work wonders. This process has changed a bit with the arrival of Windows 10 and there are two ways to do it, depending on what you want to achieve. We’ll cover both.
Step 1: Backup your files
Windows 10 can ‘refresh’ your PC without affecting your documents, but we still recommend backing them up before trying it — just in case.
When you wipe your PC, on the other hand, everything on it is lost, so you’ll need to backup any files and documents you want to keep.
The easiest way to do this is to drag the contents of your Documents folder (and any others you want to save) onto an external storage device, such as a hard drive or USB flash drive. Alternatively, you can use cloud storage such as BT Cloud. Copying to and from cloud storage will be much slower than using an external hard drive, however, so think twice before using it for more than a few gigabytes worth of files.
Step 2: Save your software serial numbers
Any installed software will also be lost when you wipe your PC (whichever method you use), so you’ll need to reinstall it afterwards. So review what’s currently installed, and dig out the corresponding install discs and serial numbers.
Most relatively recent software can usually be downloaded, too, but you’ll still need a valid serial number or activation code to use it. If you don’t have these, a free tool like Belarc Advisor will list all software installed on your PC and any corresponding serial numbers — just click Software Licences in the left of its results windows to see yours.
Step 3: Download any drivers
While Windows 10 should detect all hardware in a relatively new PC and install its own drivers, it’s risky to rely on that happening. If nothing else, you should download the necessary driver for your computer’s Wi-Fi or network adapter, then at least you’ll be able to get online afterwards to download any other drivers you might need.
You’ll need to refer to your computer’s manual or its manufacturer’s web site to see which driver you need — and best sure to save it on a removable drive, not the hard drive you’re about to wipe.
Option 1: Reset this PC
Windows 10 has a built-in method for wiping your PC and restoring it to an ‘as new’ state. You can choose to preserve just your personal files or to erase everything, depending on what you need.
Go to Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery, click Get started and select the appropriate option. Then follow the on-screen instructions to restore Windows 10 to a factory fresh state.
Option 2: Securely format the PC
If you’re selling or giving your PC to someone else, it’s a good idea to securely erase the hard drive before reinstalling Windows 10 to prevent any old data from being recovered. This is rather more involved than Option 1 and the exact steps to reinstall Windows afterwards depend on how Windows 10 was supplied.
If you don’t have a Windows 10 install disc of some sort, you’ll need to follow Steps 1 to 6 of our How to perform a clean installation of Windows 10 guide, but don’t go any further than Step 6 for now.
1. Download DBAN
2. Boot your PC with the DBAN disc
Boot your PC using the DBAN disc and press the [Enter] key to continue from the first menu screen.
When the main DBAN screen appears, use the [J] and [K] keys to highlight the hard drive partition you want to erase (if there’s more than one) and select it by pressing the [Space bar].
3. Securely erase your hard drive
Then, when you’re ready to proceed, press the [F10] key to begin the secure erase. This will take some time and the process cannot be interrupted.
4. Reinstall Windows 10
When the secure erase has finished and you see a ‘Blancco’ ad, eject the DBAN disc and reset your PC. You can now reinstall Windows 10 by following Steps 7 to 11 in our guide.
Have you recently bought a second-hand laptop? What was the experience like? Let us know in the Comments section below.