James from Taylor, Al is looking to upgrade an old XP PC.  He writes: “If you have a older computer can the hard drive be cleaned like it was when the computer was first made and to be able to install Windows 8 or 8.1? Thank you.”

Hi, James.  Thanks for the great question.

There are two different answers here, because I think that you’re asking two different questions.  The first question is can your hard drive be wiped to a like-new condition, and the second question is how can you upgrade from XP to 8?

laptopcrop

The answer to the first question is yes, you can certainly wipe your hard drive completely.  As it sounds like you already know, simply deleting a file does not wipe it off of your drive, it merely marks it as data that can be overwritten.  In order for that data not to be retrievable, short of computer forensics, you will want to do something along the lines of a military-grade wipe of your drive.  I think of this as “nuking” your information.  The best is the “7 Pass” system, which writes nonsense over all of your information, then goes back and does it again six more times.

7-pass-system

This is EXTREMELY time-consuming, to let you know, but if you want a complete wipe, that’s the best way to do it.  There are some free data wiping programs, such as Dban, which run from removable media.  They do not run from inside Windows, of course, because if you’re nuking all of your information, that will include whatever version of Windows that you’re running.

On to your second question.  To answer the question that you didn’t ask, you do not need to wipe your hard drive in order to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8.  You can simply do it as an upgrade.  Because of differences in the structure of Windows XP and Windows 8, however, you won’t be able to retain your Windows state like you could if you upgraded from say 8 to 10.

All that you’ll be able to retain is your personal files, such as your documents.  Because of this, not only should you back up your entire hard drive before performing the upgrade (always a good idea anyway), but you should also make a list of the programs that you will want to reinstall after the upgrade is complete.

Another thing that I would recommend is to run Magical Jellybean on your computer prior to doing the upgrade.  This will locate the program keys for programs like Office, to make your reinstall much easier and faster.  The free version of this program should work fine for you, but you can review the differences between the free and paid versions at magicaljellybean.com/keyfinder.

magical jellybean

If, however, you’re not going to be using the old computer, but are going to sell it or give it away, then I would recommend running the diskwipe program on it and then letting the new owner worry about installing whatever version of Windows that they want.

I hope that this helps!

~ Randal Schaffer