Laptop with thermite self-destruct mechanism

Caleb sez, "I wanted to try making something in the style of "Q" from the James Bond movies. My idea was to make an emergency self destruct system for laptops and portable hard drives. It turned out pretty well, it is always fun to watch stuff melt!"

I wanted to implement thermite as a self destruct mechanism inside the device. To do this, I had to come up with a way to ignite the thermite. This stuff is very difficult to light. You have to get it really really hot. The easiest way is to use magnesium, which itself isn’t the easiest thing to light.

What I finally landed on was an ignition system that uses model rocket igniters, gun powder, and magnesium to light the thermite. The model rocket igniter can be set off from the 12v line inside your computer. However, it isn’t hot enough to light magnesium shavings, much less thermite. To get it to work, I needed to add some gunpowder. A small amount of gun powder would get hot enough to light the magnesium shavings, which in turn were hot enough to light the thermite. I had to be careful though, because too much gunpowder would cause a rapid expansion, blowing the thermite everywhere instead of lighting it. You can actually see some red thermite being blown out of the external hard drive and the laptop as the gunpowder ignites.

Laptop vs Thermite: Slow motion destruction (Thanks, Caleb)


  1. There’s always been a lot of interest in self-destructing spy equipment on the interWebs.  Mostly from fans of the Mission Impossible TV show.  Here’s a complete list of every A/V device that blew up at the start of the show and a disassembly of  one of the more popular mini-reel-to-reels used
    The latter’s channel  is a treasure trove of videos on Old School AV.

  2. Some device to degauss the hard drive/memory and/or punch nails through those components might be a better route.. and less likely to destroy anything in the vicinity of the laptop.

    I will grant that such solutions are not likely to be any easier to engineer.

    1. I kinda got the impression that “do it awesome” was more important than “do it easy”.

      1. I can’t help but think of the old Rubbing The Pencil On The Hotel Room Notepad gag from old detective movies.  Someday some bright kid in Forensics will be able to detect which pixels were last lit in which way, and the game will be up.

        “Someday” I said?  Jeez, probably years ago.

        1. Old detective movies?  I saw the pencil trick used on an episode of ‘Longmire’ (2012) last night.  Groan!

          1. I routinely write weird ‘secret agent’ messages on hotel notepads, hoping whoever stays after me tries this trick to read it.

            “The money is in the bushes behind the Denny’s on Route 1″
            “I left the stash at the bus station in locker number 23. The key is hidden above the dining room doorway”

          1. Yeah, that is one scary hardware vulnerability.  These days I keep all my secret sins in my head.  Nothing else I own is even remotely secure.  And I don’t even trust my head all that much.

    1. Self-destructing thermite hard disk, with ejector mechanism. It just needs more rockets.

  3. This would be so much cooler , well hotter actually, if you used one of those Panasonic toughbooks made from magnesium.

  4. Has anyone notice youtube performance issues?  They appear to be dropping pings.

    1. I actually share 4 covers each week on my personal site,! I have hundreds! Those on the wall behind me are just a tiny fraction.

      1. I hate/love you. I guess I’ll just have to get eaten by the grue while I check them out. I have a few from the 70’s.

  5. No one would accidentally press the self destruct button and melt their hard drive. Right?

  6. An excellent video, but he still has to put the laptop on the side to ensure the HD gets roasted, a flaw that an opposing agent could surely exploit! Although it makes for an interesting plot device, the person wanting to destroy the evidence has to keep the laptop on it’s edge and out of the hands of their attacker for a certain time period

  7. This must be Micro$ofts new used game strategy. Insert used game disc and the XBone self-destructs taking your house and all your new games with it.

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