Nucleic acid separation is an increasingly important tool for molecular biology. Before modern technologies could be used, nucleic acid separation had been a time- and work-consuming process based on several extraction and centrifugation steps, often limited by small yields and low purities of the separation products, and not suited for automation and up-scaling. During the last few years, specifically functionalised magnetic particles were developed. Together with an appropriate buffer system, they allow for the quick and efficient purification directly after their extraction from crude cell extracts. Centrifugation steps were avoided. In addition, the new approach provided for an easy automation of the entire process and the isolation of nucleic acids from larger sample volumes. This review describes traditional methods and methods based on magnetic particles for nucleic acid purification. The synthesis of a variety of magnetic particles is presented in more detail. Various suppliers of magnetic particles for nucleic acid separation as well as suppliers offering particle-based kits for a variety of different sample materials are listed. Furthermore, commercially available manual magnetic separators and automated systems for magnetic particle handling and liquid handling are mentioned.