What Should I Do Before I Sell My Surface Tablet?

So with the latest addition to our Surface family, I started thinking about what I need to do before I sell my Surface RT tablet (OK, Jo’s Surface RT).

If you didn’t see our last post, we just picked up a brand new Surface 2 LTE (1st Impressions post) and weren’t sure if we needed a Surface RT, a Surface 2 LTE, a Surface Pro, AND a Surface Pro 2 laying around when we’re only using the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro.

Ultimately, after much discussion, we decided to keep all of our Surface tablets in the family (for now, at least) but the whole thing got me thinking about people who may want to sell their old Surface tablets and what they should do.

On the surface (no pun intended) it sounds like a really simple process – you put your Surface up for sale, someone gives you money, then you give him/her the hardware.

Simple right? Not so fast….

The problem is that if you don’t think it through, you could lose important and irreplaceable documents or pictures. Worse yet, what if your identity got stolen because of data you left on your Surface before selling it?

If you’ve ever stored a list of passwords, checked your e-mail or accessed your bank account online with your Surface, it’s possible someone with nefarious intentions (and a little technical skill) could steal your info, empty your bank account and start racking up the credit card charges in your name.

Sell My Surface: Steps to take before you sell

So, to help you out if you’re thinking about selling, I put together this list of steps to take before selling your Surface tablet. The same list is valid for both a Surface RT/2 or a Surface Pro/Pro 2 but the tools may change slightly.

Backup your Data: Don’t let the prospect of a quick buck cause you to lose irreplaceable pictures or documents. Probably the easiest way to backup your files is to simply copy them to OneDrive (SkyDrive). That way you also get a chance to “houseclean” and get rid of files you don’t care about.

If you don’t have time to go through your files or you’re afraid of missing something, you may also want to follow the instructions from our earlier post on how to back up my Surface?

You will need to do this for every user of the Surface. You don’t want your S.O. losing his/her data because you forgot about backing it up. I promise you that you will never live it down.

Run a free-space wiping utility: It is possible, however unlikely, that someone could rip the hard drive out of the Surface and use drive recovery software to read the data, even if it’s been formatted.

That’s not to say it’s easy. For example, if you wanted to take apart a 1st Gen Surface Pro to get at the hard drive, you have to take out up to 90 screws and are pretty much guaranteed to destroy the tablet in the process.

If someone is really determined to try and is willing to sacrifice hundreds of dollars for the chance, they might get at the drive. The best way to prevent that from happening is to use a good free-space wiping utility.

Fortunately, Microsoft is aware of this problem and designed Windows 8.1 so you may not need to worry about this possibility:

  • If you’ve turned on Bitlocker on your Surface Pro/ pro 2 then the contents of your hard drive are encrypted so, you probably don’t need to worry about this.
  • If you are using a Surface RT/2 with a Microsoft account and admin rights then Bitlocker (or Device Encryption) was automatically turned on for you the first time you logged in.

If you happen to fall into one of the categories above, you can probably skip the free-space wipe and proceed straight to the Reset your Surface to factory settings section at the bottom. However, if you don’t or if you’re the paranoid type, then read on…

As you may know, a free-space wiper writes 1’s and 0’s to the blank space on your drive multiple times to ensure that anything left behind is just gibberish so it can’t be recovered.

There are literally dozens of free space wiping programs you can use for your Surface Pro/Pro 2 as it can run just about any Windows software. Personally, I like File Shredder for this because you want to leave the OS intact but wipe the free space. Another good choice is the drive wiper functionality in CCleaner.

CAUTION: Don’t use a full disk wiping utility on your Surface!!!

If you use a full disk wiping utility like DBAN (assuming you can get it to work on a Surface) you will completely wipe the drive and will either cause yourself or the person you’re selling it to to have to jump through some extra hoops to reload the operating system.

That’s the best case scenario as running a full disk wiping program can actually destroy the SSD. So, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Surface RT/2 is easier because if you’re the paranoid type and want to wipe it anyway then it can only run Modern apps from the Windows store. At the moment there is only one choice: Shredder 8. Unfortunately, it’s getting mixed reviews but it does seem to work as advertised, it’s just very slow.

So, regardless of the free-space wiper you choose, just follow this series of steps to make sure your data can’t be recovered:

  • Use the Search charm and look for “users”. Choose Add, delete and Manage other user account from the results
  • Tap on Add an account

  • Select Sign in without a Microsoft Account. Yes, I know it says not recommended but for this it’s fine.

  • Tap Local account

  • Fill out the required fields for making the new user. It doesn’t matter what you put in there, so long as you can remember it. Tap Next then Finish

  • Back on the main screen, select the new account and tap Edit

  • Change the Account type to Administrator and tap OK

  • Sign out of the Surface then log in with the new account and remove any other accounts that are on the Surface by going back to the Add, delete and Mange other user account area and tapping Remove then Delete account and data for each account

  • Install your chosen free space wiping software using their instructions. If you have a Windows RT/2 then go to the Windows Store and search for Shredder 8.
  • Wipe the free space on the drive according to the instructions relevant to the software you’re using

Be patient, it can take quite a while depending on the type of wipe you choose. For most folks, I’d recommend no more than 3 passes (it should be obvious in the software you’re using how to set this). Also, you should make sure you have the Surface plugged in the entire time it’s wiping. It probably won’t make it on battery, even if you started with a full charge.

After the wipe is done, it’s time to move on to resetting the Surface to factory defaults.

Reset your Surface to factory settings: The final step should be to reset your Surface back to it’s factory defaults. To do so, just follow these steps:

  • From the Search charm, look for Recovery and choose Recovery Options from the results
  • Choose the Get Started option in the middle (Remove everything and reinstall Windows)

  • It may take it a few seconds to prepare then tap Next

  • At the next screen, choose Fully clean the drive

  • Finally, tap on Reset.

It’s going to take it several hours to finish but once it’s done, it will be just like it was when it came out of the box.

Now, it’s important to note that following these steps isn’t a 100% guarantee that no data could ever be gleaned from your Surface. There is no such thing as a 100% guarantee when it comes to computer security. However, if you follow the steps above there’s a 99.99% chance that you’ll be safe.

Sell My Surface: Where can I sell my old Surface?

OK, so you’ve wiped your Surface and you’re ready to sell it. Now what? Well, here are a few suggestions. This is by no means a complete list of ways you can sell your old Surface but should give you an idea of how to do it and what you can expect to get for it.

    • Craigslist: If there’s someone local to you who wants a Surface tablet, Craigslist might be a great way to let them know you have one for sale. Since you’ll be selling locally, you don’t have the hassle of shipping and losing a cut to PayPal. This is the way I would probably do it. At the time of this writing, a Surface Pro 128 could fetch between $500 USD and $800 USD if it’s in really good condition.
    • Ebay: You already know EBay is the old-school gold standard for selling your stuff online. You never know what you’ll get for your Surface because the auction may go really well or really badly. When I took a look, Surface Pro 128GB tablets were going for between $450 USD and $800 USD in good condition (anything higher wasn’t getting bids). Of course, you will lose a cut to PayPal as well, so keep that in mind.
    • Gazelle.com: At the time of this writing, you could get about $245 USD for a Surface Pro 128GB model in good condition. Easy money and no hassles but by far the least attractive deal for your wallet.

Well, hopefully, if you’re reading this you’re selling your older Surface tablet to upgrade to a new one but even if you’re not, I hope you found this set of instructions helpful.

Please, let me know what you think in the comments section.


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