A time will come when you want to delete everything on your hard drive. It might be when you sell your computer, dump your pitifully meager 500-gigabyte drive or choose to delete the drive's contents and start over. There is no shortage of hard-drive shredder programs, but if you're looking for a bargain, HDShredder, a free program for Windows PCs, will wipe out your hard drive -- including USB thumb drives -- so that even disk-recovery software can't bring back its data.
The free version is somewhat limited. Unlike the paid versions, which start at about $20, the free version will shred only complete drives. The several commercial versions, which range all the way up to $300, can shred partitions, do their job faster and offer a higher level of security. That security makes it nearly impossible for even the sharpest hacker to bring back your data. Ordinarily, deleting a file doesn't mean it's gone until another file overwrites it. HDShredder overwrites the entire hard drive.
In the paid versions, you can choose the number of passes on the drive you want to erase. The more passes over the face of the drive, the harder it will be for anyone to bring back the drive's data. Tread carefully. If you haven't backed up your crucial documents, photos and other data, including the spreadsheet your boss wants on his desk at 8 a.m. Monday, do so before you run HDShredder. And for heaven's sake, check your backup to see if your files are all there.
The program also helps you create a boot disk so you can check to see whether your hard drive truly has been shredded (not literally). And the paid versions have a stunning array of security options, including one that allows you to create the level of security you're aiming for -- but only if you know what you're doing.
The free version can be downloaded at www.hdshredder.com, where you'll also be able to compare the paid versions.