How to Erase a Hard Drive & Not the Operating System

by Jeff Kaleth

Erasing a hard drive while keeping the operating system may be necessary if you are transferring ownership of your computer or if you are just looking to cleanup your system. In a default setup in Windows XP and Vista, user accounts have specific directories tied only to that account that contain all the user's documents, videos and music. The quickest and easiest method to clean up a hard drive is to delete and recreate the user accounts. Once that is compete, a defragmentation can be run to optimize performance.


Back up any user account data you would like to keep. This can be done with an external USB hard drive or it can be burned to CD or DVD. Copy the following directories to you backup device: \"c:\Documents and Setting\%user account folder you want to back up and delete%\" Do this for all user account data you would like to keep. Right click on each directory to copy and select \"Copy.\" Right click on the backup device and click \"Paste.\"


Create a new user account. Click \"Start\", \"Control Panel\", \"User Accounts.\" Click \"Create New Account.\" Enter a user name. Click \"Next.\" Select \"Computer Administrator.\" Click \"Create Account.\"


Log off of your current account and log in to the account you created in Step 2. Click \"Start\", \"Logoff.\" Select \"Logoff account.\" Now Log in with your new account. At the login prompt enter the new user name and password and click \"OK.\"


Delete the user account folders you backed up in step 1. The location is \"c:\Documents and Setting\%user account folder you want to delete%.\" Right click on the folder and select \"Delete.\"


Right click on the \"Recycle Bin\" and select \"Empty Recycle Bin.\"


Click \"Start\", \"All Programs\", \"Accessories\", \"System Tools\", \"Disk Defragmentor.\" Click \"Defragment.\"


  • close 1. Unless you have a system restore point set up on your computer, once you delete a user account all data will be lost.
  • close 2. When creating the new account in step 2 you MUST select \"Computer Administrator\" or you will lose administrative access to your machine after deleting accounts.

Items you will need

About the Author

Jeff Kaleth has been working as a corporate technical writer and computer engineer since 2008. He has experience developing procedural and task documentation, as well as translating technical needs into end-user documentation. Kaleth holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Indiana University.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera computer image by from