What to do before you sell your laptop

Selling your laptop

Selling a laptop means parting with any number of your most precious documents and photos, not to mention the device through which you access you bank account, online shops, emails and a host of other services.

In short, before parting with your laptop it’s essential to get your digital house in order. Read on to find out how.

Best buy laptops – the laptops at the top of their class

Please note that the following guide is designed for Windows laptops, though the principles are the same for MacBook owners.

Backup your laptop

If you’re selling your laptop, the first thing you’ll need to do is backup any files you’d like to keep. These could be anything from documents and images to photos and videos. The easiest route is to buy an external hard drive, connect it via USB and transfer everything you want to keep.

If it turns out you only have a few docs and photos worth saving, an online cloud storage service such as Dropbox (2GB of free storage) could do the job just as well.

How to backup your data – our free advice guide

Log out of your accounts

For safety’s sake it’s well worth logging out of any programs and accounts you regularly access through automated passwords. This could be anything from your email account to services that register your PC as an active device, such as iTunes.

Make a note of your installed programs

If you’re selling your PC then there’s a good chance you intend to buy a new one. If this is the case, it’s worth spending time going through your PC’s installed software to find out what you’ll want and need on your new PC.

To do so, go to Control Panel then click on Programs followed by Programs and Features. This shows everything on your PC and, if you sort it by Installed On, you’ll be able to see the exact order in which programs were installed. Simply take a screen shot or note down everything you might want to have again to remind you to re-install the programs when you buy that new laptop.

Laptop security

For total peace of mind it’s worth using a program such as DBAN to wipe your hard drive completely before you sell

Format your hard drive

Now that you’re happy you’ve taken everything of note from your old laptop, the next stage is to format it. This will remove Windows entirely, so it’s worth locating your Windows installation disc (that should have come with your laptop) beforehand so you can install a clean version of Windows afterwards.

You can now format in confidence, though it’s worth running a specialist formatting tool such as DBAN to accomplish this. Otherwise there’s a realistic chance that that anyone who subsequnetly buys your PC could run a data recovery tool to find ‘deleted’ files.

Simply download DBAN, burn the file to a CD or DVD and run it – the automated process will take care of the rest, just be sure to select the correct drive. A three-way pass – which means DBAN will fill and empty your hard drive three times – should be enough to eradicate files completely.

It’s also worth noting that, if you want to be 100% sure no personal data is left on your hard drive, the only thing to do is destroy it. Just beware that to get the best price for your laptop you might want to replace it with a cheap blank drive.

Re-install your copy of Windows

Now you’ve got a thoroughly blank laptop in front of you, it’s time to bring it back to life. Simply pop in the Windows installation disc you found earlier, reset your PC and follow the instructions.

Windows can take rather a long time to install but once it’s up to the log-in screen you don’t need to take the process any further – in fact it’s better if you don’t, as the chances are that the lucky new owner of your PC will want to tailor the setup of the PC from that point on.

More on this

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Restore and recover a Windows PC – our guide to backing-up your PC

Categories: Laptops

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One reply

  1. Some backup programs can be a bit too selective in terms of the pllaces from which they will actually copy data. To avoid any risks from this – and the subsequent need to wipe the hard disc – a simple method is to keep your hard disc and replace it with a blank new or used disc instead.

    You’ll still need to re-install an OS on to the laptop you are selling but you will have ensured that all of your old data has been removed and that you still have all of the files in your possession.

    The above may may be readily possible in all cases – on small machines like netbooks, partial dissassembly may be required before you can remove the hard disc.

    In some cases, it may even be possible that you can simply just use your old OS disc as the system disk on your new PC. If you use Windows, this will depend on the nature of the software licences that you have and the degree of compatibility between the old and new hardware. When this does work, it can save the bother of having to re-install your software and may also avoid the need to buy new licences.

    In the past, I have used the above kind of arrangement with Windows XP and Vista; I have not had the opportunity to try it with Windows 7 or 8. It also works with Linux, where are (usually) no software licence restrictions to impede the process.

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