How to dismantle and if needed destroy a hard drive
You may have several reasons for wanting to dismantle a hard drive. One may be just for the curiosity of what's inside and some people have been known to use some parts, such as the platters, as wind chimes or artwork. A common reason is simply security.
Whenever you get rid of a hard drive whether because you simply upgraded to a larger hard drive and are selling your old hard drive on a place such as eBay or even if your hard drive is failing, it's very important that you securely erase it. One way to do this is through various applications available for Mac or Windows. This is important since a simple format or erase does not always remove the data from the hard drive. This is a topic for another article since this article is about dismantling and destroying the hard drive to the point that data can't be recovered.
Recently I had a complete hard drive failure on a desktop computer. I am used to replacing hard drives before they fail, often due to an upgrade to a larger hard drive. In these cases I use a program to wipe the hard drive clean but this time I didn't have that option. I had sensitive data on this hard drive that I could not risk the possibility of someone gaining access to it. For this reason I realized I had to physically destroy the hard drive. I decided to share my experience with all of the MyTechBrief readers with the hope that it may help some of you. I will explain the process below and illustrate with photos I took during the dismanting.
First, as shown below the hard drive I dismantled is a Seagate ST31000340NS. Fortunately most hard drives have similar parts and layout so the below instructions should work for most hard drives with just some slight modifications for certain brands and models. The Seagate ST31000340NS is an internal 3.5" hard drive as pictured below:
Before you get started it's best to find a good work area to work in such as a workbench in a garage, a desk, or a kitchen table. Then the tools you'll need to get are:
- Needle-nose pliers
- Flat-head screwdriver
- Torx screwdriver or either a screwdriver with Torx bits. The most common sizes used in hard drives are T6 and T8.
Note: Torx screwdrivers are used for removing star-shaped screws and bolts. They are less common than Flat-head or Phillips Head screwdrivers. You can find them at some hardware stores or at electronics or computer repair shops. This tool even though labeled Xbox is a great multi-torx screwdriver set. It has the following sizes: T5, T6, T7, T8, T9, T10, T15, T20
Now that you have your work space and tools ready start by laying the hard drive on the work surface and you should see several torx screws on the top of it. You can see the screws in the above image of the Seagate drive. In the Seagate drive that I dismantled these are T8 screws. After removing these screws try to remove the top cover of the hard drive. You may want to try placing the flat-head screwdriver in any openings on the sides of the hard drive to try to pry it open. Don't force it though and it's possible that there are still remaining screws so it still may not open. In Figure 1 below you will see how I had to remove the label on the hard drive. After doing that it revealed a foil-like covering and I could feel screws underneath when I ran my finger over it so I used the screwdriver to peel away the foil that was covering each screw. I then used my Torx screwdriver to remove those 3 screws. After removing these 3 screws I was then able to successfully raise the cover off of the hard drive.
In Figure 2 you'll see the opened hard drive. Hard drives contain two magnets and these are located in the upper right side of the hard drive as can be seen in Figure 2. In this step you remove the upper magnet. These are very strong magnets so be careful when you remove them that you don't pinch your finger or injure yourself in some other way. In the case of my hard drive there were no screws holding the upper magnet on and I simply used the needle-nose pliers to pry the upper magnet out of the hard drive. In Figure 3 you'll see where I removed the magnet from the hard drive. Keep this magnet in a safe place since during the latter part of this process you'll be using it to wipe the data from your hard drive. The magnet can be seen in Figure 4.
The next part of the process is to remove the platters. The platters are where your data is stored. This part is relatively easy. You simply remove the screws from the cap that's on top of the platters. There should be several screws and in this case I had to switch from the T8 torx screwdriver that I used earlier in this process to a T6 torx screwdriver. Figure 5 shows the process of removing the screws on the cap. In Figure 6 you'll see where the cap has been completely removed.
Next it's time to remove the platters. In my case as soon as the cap was removed I was able to remove the top platter. In some cases you may be able to remove all platters at this time. As you will see in Figure 7 once I removed the top platter there was a collar that's holding the rest of the platters in the hard drive. I had to use a Torx screwdriver to remove the collar as you'll see in Figure 8. Once this was done I was able to remove the second platter and once again under that platter there was another collar so I continued by repeating the above process for the third and fourth collar. In Figure 9 you'll see the 4 platters that were removed from the hard drive. It's hard to imagine but these 4 platters are what hold all the data that fits on the hard drive.
Now that you have the platters removed the next step is to remove the second, lower magnet. The read/write heads are located on top of them so they also have to be removed. In Figure 10 you will see the location of the magnets and heads once again. This is where we earlier removed the upper magnet. Now we need to remove the lower magnet and the heads that you see in the photo. In some cases, just like you used the needle-nose pliers to remove the upper magnet you may be able to use the needle-nose pliers to remove the lower magnet and possibly the heads. In some other cases you may see screws that are holding the lower magnet and/or heads in place and in those cases you can remove the screws and then remove the lower magnet and hard drive heads. In the case of the Seagate drive that I dismantled I needed to remove screws from the opposite side of the hard drive. As you'll see in Figure 11 I turned the hard drive over to reveal the screws on the other side that needed to be removed first in order to remove the lower magnet. I first needed to remove all of the torx screws that were holding the circuit board on the bottom of the hard drive. Once I removed the circuit board as you can see in Figure 12 I was able to get to the actual screws that were holding the lower magnet and heads in place. Like earlier in this process, I needed to use my flat-head screwdriver to remove a foil-type covering that was covering the screws. Once I removed this covering I was able to remove the torx screws. I first removed the heads which you can see in Figure 13. Once these were removed I next removed the lower magnet which was located under the heads. You can see this in Figure 14.
Next I began a process called degaussing. This is where magnetism is removed or another way of saying it is the magnetic field is neutralized. This is what you'll need the two magnets for. These are extremely strong magnets and can be used to remove the magnetism from the platters. Once the magnetism is completely removed there is no data left on the platters. As you can see in Figure 14 I'm holding one of the platters and one magnet is below the platter, the other above it. The platter is very thin so is hard to see but I'm holding it with my hand and you can see the thin platter between my fingers. By having a magnet on each side the magnetism goes through the platters and should neutralize the magnetic properties of them. Make sure you do this to the entire platter from the inside to the outside perimeter and the entire circumference. Once you are done with the first platter do it to the remaining platters.
As I mentioned in Step 6, the degaussing should have removed all of the data. This step is optional but is suggested since it'll remove any data that may have been missed in the degaussing. There are many ways that you can destroy the platters and I suggest you use whichever method you prefer. You basically want to physically destroy the platters. I started by using my flat-head screwdriver to scratch both sides of the platter. If you do this make sure you do it to both sides of all platters. You can see one of the platters in Figure 15 after I've begun scratching it. You can do this as much as you'd like and other options are to slam a hammer or even sledgehammer into them or even cut them with a hacksaw. Since by now it's unlikely that any data can be recovered this is all optional. With whatever methods you choose make sure you use complete safety measures.
Thank you for reading this tutorial. I hope you find this helpful. This should work for most current generation and many past generation hard drives. I'm not sure what changes we'll see in future hard drives but with a few possible modifications, in most cases this should work for you. If you have several hard drives you have to dismantle and destroy you can leave out the steps of removing both magnets. You will still have to open the hard drive and remove all platters. You will only have to remove the magnets for the first hard drive and then can use those magnets for degaussing the platters from the rest of the hard drives.