Your friends are right if you have two hard drives, the terminology "master" and "slave" refer specifically to IDE (PATA) hard drives as SATA does not use these anymore. All SATA drives are masters on their own channel.
Always have backups of your important files regardless...
If you only have one hard drive then you will need a specific tool to do it... The Windows XP disc has the format option as part of setup (as does Vista/7 discs). If you aren't reinstalling though, you can use Gparted
, a simple tool that runs from the CD. You can use this for formatting and adjusting partitions.
Another method is to use the manufacturer's diagnostic disc for the hard drive. For example if you have a Seagate hard drive you want to format, download and burn a Seatools diagnostic disc which will let you run full diagnostics on the drive as well as wipe it etc...
If you really just want to make sure the data is gone gone gone
, try looking up DBAN - Darik's Boot and Nuke
Edited by Troy, 19 April 2010 - 12:59 AM.