Tip of the Day: Secure Erase an SSD within Windows: The only way to get an SSD to work as well as it did when it was fresh out of the box is to have it running with flash that has absolutely no information on it. This is because flash needs to be erased before it is written to, and if it is nothing but ‘zeroes’ this step is skipped.
If you are troubleshooting or benchmarking and SSD, you will want your drive to be in this state unless you are specifically testing for steady state performance, something we do in all our SSD reviews.
The problem is, not all SSD manufacturers provide an easy way to secure erase a drive. Some drives, like the Intel 335, Samsung 830, and OCZ Vertex 4 come with Windows-based secure erase programs. Others from Kingston, Crucial, and other manufacturers do not, so you are on your own if you need to secure erase it. Another issue is SSD Security Lock, which is set in the BIOS, and prevents drives from being secure erased once the system is booted up. To get around this, the application will tell you to power cycle the drive right then and there, by unplugging the power cable momentarily. Obviously this isn’t going to be convenient to do when the drive is installed in a case.
Aside from these apps, other alternatives have been to use HDDErase, an old DOS program that only works in IDE mode, and
doesn’t work at all in many systems including most Z77 motherboards Update: Apparently you can get it to work by using two different versions of the software… See the comment below. It can also be very picky about which SATA port a drive is plugged into, and other issues (including the secure lock issue described above). You could also manually write zeros to the flash with a program like HD Tune, but this takes a long time, especially on larger drives, and wastes flash endurance cycles.
The purpose of this article is to show you how you can secure erase an SSD easily in Windows without having to use any applications at all – just Windows Disk Management. This also works in Windows 8.
The key to this tip is that you are making use of TRIM, something that is built into the OS, and supported by all SSDs these days. What TRIM does is zero flash in the background when it finds out the data is no longer needed. When you empty the recycle bin for instance, the flash that held that data gets trimmed. If you format a drive, the TRIM function is run first, which is how this tip works.
To secure erase an SSD in Windows, first run the Windows Computer Management application, and go to Disk Management (in Windows 8, simply right click the bottom left corner in Desktop mode, and start Disk Management).
Find the drive you need to secure erase, and delete all partitions from it:
Simply right click the partition, click “Remove Partition” and it will warn you that the data will be wiped. The drive will now look like this:
The next step is to recreate a new partition. Right click on the unallocated space, create a new “Simple Drive” and follow the steps. Default settings are best.
Your drive is now fully trimmed, and filled with zeros!
Putting it to the Test
To make sure this secure erase method is working, let’s put it to the test. First, we’ll secure erase a Samsung 830 256GB using the included utility. In this case, Samsung’s excellent Magician Software (we had to use the USB boot disk to secure erase in this case, since the drive wouldn’t unlock with a power cycle. A perfect example of why this method is better even when Secure Erase Windows software is available). Once that is complete, we’ll run HD Tune to confirm fresh state performance:
Performance is right where it should be in this test. Next we’ll put the drive into a steady state – actually much worse than that, this is more of a ‘worst case scenario’ and had the Samsung 830 running at 47 degrees Celsius by the end – by hammering it with 4K random writes at a queue depth of 32 for 2 hours in IOMeter. After that, the flash is fully saturated with garbage data.
As you can see, write performance suffers due to the drive having to erase blocks of data before writing.
Now we do the format method described above, and run the test one more time:
Performance is right back where it should be. This confirms that using TRIM to secure erase your drive is effective, and the easiest method to do so.
Be sure to check out our SSD Reviews to find out which SSD is best for you.