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How to securely get rid of your old PC or Mac

Steps to wipe your data before recycling, donating or selling your old device

by Irene Park

Our laptops and computers are a vital part of modern living whether we like to admit it or not.  Both a personal and professional necessity, it’s an expense many do not mind investing in especially in time for the new year. If you’re lucky enough to be gifted or purchase a brand new laptop or computer, it’s important to think about what to do with the old device.

Much like your cellphone, your computer houses a lot of sensitive data including but not limited to browsing history, financial or health records, and sensitive emails. In the throes of getting or receiving a new computer or laptop, it is easy to forget the security protocols in parting ways with the old and setting up the new.

Before you sell, recycle, or donate your old device, follow the steps below to make sure you can safely enjoy your new device without suffering the consequences of potential privacy breaches.

If you’re in the market for the perfect laptop, check out our article on Best LaptopsHow to pick the right laptop.


How to Back-Up Old Data

Backup old devices

Some users like to start on new equipment with a blank slate, which means manually transferring batches of file folders or individual files to the new device. Others prefer to restore directly from a backup from one of my favorite external hard drives – the My Passport SSD Portable drive,  or from online storage like iDrive, Dropbox, or iCloud, to replicate what they had on their old device to their new one. Regardless of your preference, you need to make sure to extract the data from your old computer or laptop so that you can not only safeguard the information you’ll need for the future but so you can use that backup to set up your new device properly.

The primary source for backups is usually the cloud or an external hard drive.


How to transfer/migrate Data to a new device

transfer or migrate data

After you back up all your data off your older computer or laptop, go ahead and set up your new device as you’d like to use it moving forward.  It’s best to make sure your data exists in multiple places in case of disk failure or data breach.  Most operating systems have a system-specific migration service that is usually complimentary.


Migrating to a new Mac

New Mac

For most Mac users, you can use Migration Assistant to transfer data directly from your old device to your new one or from a backup source. The benefit of using this option is that it allows you to transfer documents, apps, user accounts, and settings from your old Mac to your new Mac.

  • The step-by-step guide to using Migration Assistant can be found, here: How to Use Migration Assistant for Mac to Mac. Please note: even though you can directly transfer data from the old Mac to the new one, you should still have a full backup of your old device. In case anything should happen to your new device, you’ll still have all your data stored somewhere safe.
  • You can also use the Migration Assistant to transfer data from a PC to a Mac. The step by step guide to use the Migration Assistant to transfer data from a PC to a Mac can be found, here: How to Use Migration Assistant for PC to Mac
  • The other option for Mac users is to use Time Machine, which is a backup feature that comes with every Mac, to automatically or manually back up your personal data, including apps, music, photos, email, and documents. If you used Time Machine to back up your old Mac, you can open it on your new Mac and use the ‘restore from backup’ option to set up your new Mac with all the features of the old Mac.  More detailed step-by-step instructions on how to restore from Time Machine can be found here: How to Restore from Time Machine.


Migrating to a new Windows Computer

New PC

For those running Windows 7 through 10, there is a backup utility that comes with those operating systems, which lets you restore folders and files but not applications or settings. The way to restore files from your old PC to the new one is using the Windows backup feature called File History.

Instructions on how to use these backup features can be found here: How to Use File History.

Unfortunately, if you are restoring from an external hard drive backup or files transfer, please note that locally stored mail and calendar settings and files may not transfer from the backup so make sure those files are synced up to a server so it can be restored from the server during setup.


How to data wipe your old device

Delete and wipe your old device clean

After you’ve backed up your data and transferred or restored files onto your new device, you’re ready to ‘wipe’ all the data from your old laptop or computer.

The most secure way to safeguard your data is to physically remove your internal hard drive before reselling, recycling, donating, or throwing away your old device. For some models of laptops, however, the hard drives are smoldered onto the motherboard (the main circuit board) which would render your old device useless.


If physically removing your hard drive is not an option, follow these steps:

1) Deactivate and sign out of all your programs or online accounts as a) you don’t want people being able to recover data on your device and be able to log in to those accounts and b) some programs or accounts only allow a certain number of logins from different devices. For programs or apps that require a license, make sure you have the serial numbers and other pertinent data saved offline.

Many Mac devices are linked to iCloud to sync certain information such as ‘Contacts’ or ‘Find my Mac’ so make sure to turn that feature off and log out of iCloud in System Preferences. Make sure to deauthorize your account in iTunes and log out of iMessage as well.

2) After backing up your browser history, and login and password information, delete that information on all your browsers as well as clear the cache and download history.  Some browsers, such as Chrome, allow you to sync bookmarks, search history as well as logins and passwords. You can set it up to sync information off of your old browser then make sure all the information has been updated to the browser on your new device before deleting all the information off your old browser in the old device.

3) Delete access to your network both wired and wireless (wifi account info)

4)  Unpair all Bluetooth devices like headphones/earbuds, displays, keyboards, mice.

5)  Reset factory settings:


Best ways to get rid of your device

Sell, recycle, or donate old devices

Now that your old computer or laptop has been ‘wiped’ clean, you’re ready to sell, recycle or donate your old device.

Best way to sell your old device

Decluttr – Sell Your Old Tech

If you are like me and accumulated tons of new tech but now have old unused tech lying in your drawers that you don’t know what to do with then this top tip is definitely for you.

Decluttr is one of the easiest and fastest ways to sell used tech, including cell phones, your unwanted MacBooks, tablets, game consoles, but also CDs, DVDs, games & books too.

Decluttr pays 30% more on average compared to Apple/Samsung buyback programs for smartphones.

You can see what they would pay for your old tech online before committing to selling it here on Decluttr.

Best way to recycle your old device

Because most computers and laptops contain hazardous materials such as heavy metals, you cannot simply throw it away. It must be disposed of responsibly. Many computer companies, electronic stores, and other organizations have recycling or donation programs at no cost to you. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of donation and recycling programs, here: Environmental Protection Agency’s Electronics Donation and Recycling page.



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1 comment

Patrick Klos January 30, 2022 - 9:10 am

In the “How to data wipe your old device” section, you wrote “For some models of laptops, however, the hard drives are smoldered onto the motherboard (the main circuit board) which would render your old device useless.” First of all, what is “smoldered”?!?! And secondly, how does that render your old device useless?? If you’re trying to say the hard drive is permanently connected to the motherboard, the device is still quite useful, but the disk needs to be properly (and securely) erased.

Keep in mind that simply “reset”-ing a system does not necessarily mean that all data is ERASED. When a file is deleted by the operating system, the data isn’t overwritten, but the directory entry to the file is simply modified and the allocation table is updated to indicate that the space that the file was using is now available for another file to use. If you don’t create a new file, the data from the old file is still readable on the disk.

You also don’t recommend the easiest and most secure way to “wipe” their disk drive (AFTER they’ve backed up everything they needed from the original disk), which would be to do a “secure erase” of the entire disk. There are several tools (most of them probably free) that will completely rewrite the entire disk making it impossible to read any of your old data. This page (https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-wipe-pc-ssd-or-hard-drive/) seems to list some reasonable options.

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