Hardware/software issues w/ hard drive test/w

October 23, 2011 at 21:47:46
Specs: Windows 7 Pro, Intel Core i3 3.2GHz / 4GB DDR3-1333mhz Kingston
Hello all competent techs!

Let me preface this problem with my willingness to pay a reasonable fee for a solution, or for consultation resulting in a successful solution. If someone solves my problem publicly in this forum, I promise that I will find a way to STILL provide that person a cash bounty reward and/or some free hardware as a thank-you! I may also be interested in paying for consultation on an alternative implementation if it's simply not possible to do what I want using the method and setup I'm attempting. However, time is of the essence.

I'm the owner of a young, generation Y eBay company out of Manchester, New Hampshire. Among other things, we sell consumer electronics and computer components, but we specialize in hard disk storage. Specifically, we're processing more than 10,000 hard drives through our facility each month, although we are still quite a small business by many distinctions. Accordingly, we are looking for a free or very very low-cost but effective solution to our hard drive processing (testing+wiping) needs.

I am in the process of building a hard drive testing/wiping station. I have decided to use multiple retail/out of the box motherboards attached to a KVM to switch between boards since I can use them in my business (if the testing station project fails as currently designed). The MAIN GOAL is to test/wipe up to 40 hard drives at once using a total of 5 motherboards. Other project goals include:

Required: Evaluation of S.M.A.R.T. drive data for health/performance and/or very-extensive read/write testing
Required: (At least) minimal drive-format demonstration
Required: Interoperability for 1.8"/2.5"/3.5" ATA/SATA/SCSI/SAS 1.5Gbps/3.0Gbps/6.0Gbps hard drive conditions (USB support optional)
Required: Simultaneous or queued drive testing and/or wiping for at least 5 drives per motherboard
Optional: drive testing/wiping reports preferred, but not required
Optional: drive hot-swap testing/wiping preferred, but not required
Optional: multiple current, security-depth testing/wiping standards/methods preferred, but not required
Optional: OS-independent software execution preferred, but not required
Required: Free or fixed-cost software to accomplish said goals

I recently stumbled upon DBAN for hard drive wiping as I was researching a custom build for a more-formidable hard drive wiping procedure than our current method of manual, Windows OS-based S.M.A.R.T. health/performance benchmarking and quick-format in Disk Management. DBAN fulfills most (if not all) of the requirements for this project. However, as I will describe, I am having trouble getting DBAN 2.2.6 Beta to wipe multiple IDE/SATA hard disk drives as specified in its feature list on the DBAN.org website and other sources.

To preface the project work and research I've done insofar, I've spent (conservatively) more than 60 hours on this project, including hardware research, hardware purchasing, hardware assembly, software research, software sampling, software comparison, and software testing. I've tested and compared more than 15 hard drive wiping programs, including:

Active Killdisk Suite
AC Forensics Multi-Wipe
DRE Hard Disk Eraser
Heidi Eraser
HDDGURU Disk Wipe Tool
HD Sentinel
MiniTool Partition Wizard
Miray HD Shredder
Jetico BCWipe
Paragon Disk Wiper
White Canyon WipeDrive

Of these software options, both paid and free, I preferred DBAN (with a few close-seconds) due to its simple but feature-rich user interface, length of time in the market, cost (free), software type (open source), record of reliability, ability to auto-wipe, OS independence, and claim for simultaneous 100+ hard drive wiping capability (see FAQ).

With that said, here is my issue. I've had to spend about 10 hours, so far, troubleshooting DBAN 2.2.6 Beta and trying to get it to register/wipe multiple hard drives. This has included hands-on troubleshooting, DBAN-specific research, DBAN non-specific research, forum-surfing, fact checking, and more. DBAN only registers a few hard drives at once, and only wipes a max of 2 at a time. Even if more than 2 drives register at one time, a single-drive wiping operation will fail when 3+ drives are installed. With only 2 drives installed and all other hardware unplugged, a concurrent wipe initiates successfully. It's very strange. I am simply unable to get DBAN to reliably and simultaneously wipe more than 2 hard drives at once with my setup.

Rather than continue to waste time on this, I have two options. Go with one of my 2nd software choices (which is not preferable), or to contact others for help. I've decided to contact others like you for a solution, and once again, I am willing to pay whoever gets me to project resolution first a reasonable fee for their assistance. As I mentioned above, however, this process is very time-sensitive, so I need a solution within the next 3 days.

Here's some more information...

Relevant Hardware in use:

Asus P7P55D-E LX mobo w/ Intel P55 Express chipset
Intel Core i3 processor @ 3.2GHz
Apevia Warlock 750w (12v rails @ 17A) ATX Power Supply Unit
Total 4GB DDR3-1333mhz RAM (Kingston w/ Elpida chips)
8 total SATA inputs (6 + 2 SATA 3.0Gbps and 6.0Gbps, respectively)
8 total USB inputs (2 + 4 + 2 USB 2.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, respectively)
1 PCI Express 2.0 x16 (currently housing low-end video card)
2 PCI Express 2.0 x1 (empty)
2 PCI Card Slots (empty)
1 CD-RW/DVD drive (ATA-based) or 1 USB 2.0 CD-RW/DVD-RW
Windows 7 Professional, 64 bit

External adapters: SYBA model SD-SATA-IDE conversion units w/ Silicon Image SIL3611 chipset (for ATA to SATA adaptation)
Cables: 36" SATA cables (max length); standard USB to Mini B cables
KVM: TRENDnet TK-1601R 16-port PS-2/VGA switch

Random Facts:

A variety of drives installed simultaneously register with no problem in Windows 7 Professional 64 bit, including partitioned 3.5" SATA drives, unpartitioned 3.5" SATA drives, IDE-TO-SATA converted drives, USB drives, 2.5" SATA drives, 2.5" IDE-TO-USB drives.

-Even SATA hard drives register in DBAN as "ATA"
-2.5" IDE-TO-USB hard drives registers in DBAN as "SCSI"
-Bootable "HDShredder" and "Total Wipeout" software seems to accomplish multi-drive, simultaneous wiping properly where DBAN does not
-Hardware being used for this setup is all brand new and has all -been troubleshooted for basic flaws using industry-standard techniques
-BIOS properly recognizes all hard drives in SATA ports, and up to 2 hard drives in USB ports

Details on attempted troubleshooting:

-Extensive research/testing into DBAN 2.2.6 Beta limitations was completed (feedback on this software is limited, but many have indicated such problems with the resulting "DBAN finished with non-fatal errors" message relating to "/dev/sda (process crash)." The consensus is as follows: DBAN 2.2.6 Beta general works properly for 1-2 drives; the program may or may not have USB functionality issues; unrecognized media devices (specifically "card readers" may or may not cause program instability; BIOS bootable devices may or may not be a factor in issues; BIOS boot/device priority settings may or may not be a factor in issues; the 2.2.6 Beta version of DBAN may or may not be a factor in issues; program compatibility with SATA may or may not be a factor in issues)
-Minimal research into possible faulty power supply (2 separate Apevia Warlock 750s were tested; unsure as to whether peak amperage requirement could cause issue, but unlikely since even 1 drive cannot be wiped using DBAN if 3+ drives are installed)

Other highlights for attempted troubleshooting:

-Tested using multiple USB drives only, no success
-Tested using multiple SATA drives only, no success
-Tested using alternate (same-model) motherboard, issue still present
-Tested boot using both USB and IDE CD-ROMs, issue still present
-Attempted wiping different hard drives recognized in DBAN while 3+ drives are installed, no success
-Attempted enabling and disabling all drive-related BIOS features and settings one by one, no success

Troubleshooting to-do list ideas:

-Re-burn DBAN 2.2.6 Beta Boot CD
-Re-burn DBAN 2.2.6 Beta Boot CD at 24x or another slower speed
-Re-burn DBAN using alternate versions
-Troubleshoot the result of various BIOS hardware manipulation settings
-Purchase high-quality 1000w PSU and re-test
-Test using shorter SATA cables
etc. etc. etc.

Final comments:

Can anyone assist? I would first and foremost like to complete this setup using DBAN. If DBAN options have been exhausted, I would like to consider suggestions for other formidable software or software-related solutions. If software options have been exhausted, I would like to consider suggestions for hardware or hardware-related solutions. Any input at all would be helpful. Again, I seriously PROMISE a cash (PayPal) or hardware reward for whoever helps me to resolve this…post here with assistance, or contact me directly if you'd prefer helping on a consultation-only basis. Thank you.


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October 24, 2011 at 01:11:23
I don't know if Microsoft ever fixed the design of windows. Up through IDE the drive interface did not support independent concurrent seeks. In fact some motherboards had only a single pipeline to the write cache.

They use to have machines for formatting and writing multiple hard drives.
10,000 drives/mo = 500/day = 25 to 75 per hour. 8 stations give approx 6 minutes each.

Your using 8 drives per machine means you must do 8 at a time. I would do a max of 2 drives per cpu. Computers are cheap - 200/250 each or less.. man/hour costs are greater the $15 per hour in the US. Embedded machines running Linux is a possibility.

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October 24, 2011 at 05:16:54
You may be correct about that Windows thought--every Windows-based wiping application I've run into does wiping 1 at a time, the most advanced software only queueing multiple drives up. Well, there's one piece of software that may do Windows OS concurrent wipes: Miray HDShredder 3.8. I know the bootable version supposedly handles multiple drives at a time (called "multishred" in the program), and the Windows version is nearly identical. I haven't been able to confirm multi-wipe in either the boot or the Windows versions, though, because that feature is disabled in the free trial version. It's my second choice (after DBAN), so I will post the results if I end up buying it.

We actually only test around 5000 per month, as some of the drives are pre-tested with certifications or information stored is non-sensitive (for example, the hard drives came from cable company DVRs). However that still leaves 250 per day on average.

You're right about the manpower cost. And also about that they used to have testing machines. They still do, but for a 40 drive-at-a-time unit, it would set me back $50,000-$75,000 depending on the features I require. I don't make enough on the drives to justify that right now, and it's only 40 drives at a time so I would still eventually have bandwidth issues company-wise.

Can you elaborate on the idea of embedded machines running Linux? Thanks. Nick

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October 25, 2011 at 05:02:52

You can easily download a Linux distribution and install it on any hard drive and that will get you around any limits Windows has, but you will need to search for similar programs made for Linux. So look here:
With a quick Google search with the correct key words added. I leave it up to you to read them and try it out. It does make sense that if the limit is with Windows and the program is available for Linux, that it will be worth testing though.
Good Luck. Let us know.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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