Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

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Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:46 pm

Hi everyone!

I'm putting together a machine for doing data recovery at the small computer repair shop I work at. It doesn't need to be extremely fast but it should be reliable and support the latest standards (SATA3/USB3). I put together a list after a small amount of research, but it's been a while since I built a system and I'm sure there are a couple areas where I could improve it or cut costs.

Data Recovery Workstation:
ASUS P8H67-V (REV 3.0) LGA 1155 Intel H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131783R

Intel Core i3-2120 Sandy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115077

G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231314

Seagate Barracuda Green ST1500DL003 1.5TB 5900 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5"
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148725

ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827135204

Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129066

Antec EarthWatts EA-500D Green 500W ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131783R

Total cost: $525.93

Questions
1) I might add an SSD for the OS drive, as I will probably be turning it on and off again a lot to swap out drives and components. Are the cheap SSDs such as OCZ Agility reliable enough for this?
2) Do I need 8GB RAM? It seemed like the sweet spot for price/performance but I could probably shave a little off the cost going down to 4GB.
3) Any other case recommendations? I want something solid that is simple to open and work in, and has quality front I/O ports.
4) Should I add a cheap dedicated GPU for increased performance?

Any help is appreciated. Thanks!
fixietech
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:14 pm

Have you ever done any data recovery? If so then you know what you need because you know what you do and how you do it. When I've done data recovery, the first thing I do is Image the damaged drive on to another drive (I want to budget lots of spare drives of a variety of sizes to image to) so that I'm not actually working on the original. The less time spent imaging the less time is wasted waiting and the better it is so data i/o speed is critical. I'll need mount drives into something be it cases, or carriers but almost ideal is e-sata where I don't have to mount the drive at all but merely plug it into the back of the machine. If I can't deal with E-SATA then I want a case with as many external bays so I can have lots of drives imaging at the same time since it typically takes quite a while to do a raw image. Since I want lots of bays and carriers or E-sata, I need lots of SATA ports and since I want it done as fast as possible they need to all be 6Gb SATA though it is not necessary that they all be on the MB. Since inevitablly you'll have to do a SAS drive at some point it would actually be preferable that they be 6Gb SAS ports since SATA is just a subset of SAS. Don't forget you should be using 6Gb carriers too. Getting lots of 6Gb SAS ports invariably means getting a RAID card and running it in JBOD mode (just a bunch of disks) and that means $$$. If you are doing USB drives or firewire drives then you'll just pull the drives out of their carriers and mount them natively on SATA/SAS because native interfaces are faster and you don't want to have to worry about the data conversion issues from whatever external format to the HD's native format. You'll need both 3 1/2" and 2 1/2" carriers because both desktops and notebooks drives are likely to need to be imaged. This is just a sample of the type of thinking you'll need to make an optimized build.

Once you have your optimum build, then you can make some conscious cost cutting tradeoffs to make it fit within a specific budget knowing that it will cost you time later when you are actually doing the data recovery. For example skipping the SAS raid card in favor of multiple E-stata slots knowing that SAS drives are not going to happen all that often you may choose to get a single E-SAS card and a bunch of PCI-E 6Gb E-sata cards and a MB with lots of PCI-E slots to put them all into as a totally valid cost saving tradeoff. Another possible tradeoff would be to buy a MB with lots of SATA ports and only a couple of 6Gb SATA ports knowing that doing multiple drive imaging simultaneously isn't going to happen all that often but still get as many E-SATA interfaces so you don't have to mount everything into the case or into carriers.

Really optimizing a machine for a specific task is not just about buying a reliable home machine which is what you designed. You really need to know the task that you are going to be doing. Sorry, I don't believe that you know that task at all if for no other reason than question 4) "Should I add a cheap dedicated GPU for increased performance"? What on earth are you going to use a GPU for during data recovery unless while you are waiting for the drive imaging to complete you're playing video games.
Put those spare CPU/GPU cycles to good use - Folding@Home
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P5-133XL
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:45 pm

Why a Barracuda Green and not a 7200 rpm drive? You're after capacity? Get a 7200 rpm one as your primary one, then a 'scratch' drive where you can copy system images and files from the recoveries. Less risky all around.

You may or may not skip the 4GB module, since they're pretty cheap nowadays. Most OSes and workloads work pretty nicely with anything at least 3GB.

You may want to consider adding IDE capability in there. Lots of 'normal' people are still on machines that can exceed four or even five years, and those can still come equipped with IDE. Get an add-on card for that. Be prepared for other legacy users as well. After all, you'll never know when the next floppy/Zip/Jaz drive user will come in :wink:

I'm not exactly sure what your target demographic is, but I imagine this is just a small time operation catering to home/small office users and not to enterprise outfits, e.g. data recovery due to unrecoverable/unrepairable virus infection, intermittently failing hard drive before RMA send-off, etc. That being said, you may want to invest in relatively fast add-on cards instead of directly plugging/replugging drives onto your mainboard. Get a high quality esata dock as well since this will make your life so much easier, and save your motherboard's ports, too (SATA connectors also have rated MTBF numbers, you know) Also, USB alone won't cut it since USB does not have support for the low level diagnostics tools that the hard drive makers provide (Mostly DOS based, like SeaTools, Drive Fitness Test, WD DataLifeGuard, etc)

Which reminds me: why get a case? Why not get a open cart/case? :P Get something similar to what these guys have on offer: http://www.highspeedpc.com/ Makes accessing your board and everything else easier.

You may also want to invest in a couple of fast flash drives for shuffling data around and creating boot disks that'll be faster than something on optical media. It'll be nice if you could get at least a couple or so, since you may want to devote one as a purely DOS toolkit of sorts, while the other boot disk for more mundane uses. Don't do away completely with optical media, though, since they're best for creating antivirus discs (they're not writable, unlike most flash drives nowadays. It's rare to find one with a physical write protect switch.)
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k00k
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:36 pm

P5-133XL wrote:Have you ever done any data recovery?


I'm not a data recovery expert by any means, but I do a lot of basic recovery work for my job. We're just a small repair shop and we get a lot of customers that can't afford professional services but still want their data back. I just need a robust workstation, for imaging a drive or two at a time, I don't need expensive raid cards or SAS, hence the word "budget." I appreciate all of your advice but maybe I shouldn't have been as specific with the title of the build, I mainly wanted some feedback on the parts I picked out.

P5-133XL wrote:Sorry, I don't believe that you know that task at all if for no other reason than question 4) "Should I add a cheap dedicated GPU for increased performance"? What on earth are you going to use a GPU for during data recovery unless while you are waiting for the drive imaging to complete you're playing video games.


I asked this because I've heard people say that onboard video takes some resources from the CPU. I don't know if this is the case with modern Intel CPUs or if it's even an issue at all, as it's been a while since I put together a build.


k00k wrote:Why a Barracuda Green and not a 7200 rpm drive? You're after capacity? Get a 7200 rpm one as your primary one, then a 'scratch' drive where you can copy system images and files from the recoveries. Less risky all around.


Yeah it's just for storage, we have some spare drives around the shop I can use for the OS, or I might get an SSD.

k00k wrote:You may want to consider adding IDE capability in there.


We do work on IDE drives, but I already have a couple older machines that i can use for them, along with an IDE-SATA converter.

k00k wrote:I'm not exactly sure what your target demographic is, but I imagine this is just a small time operation catering to home/small office users and not to enterprise outfits, e.g. data recovery due to unrecoverable/unrepairable virus infection, intermittently failing hard drive before RMA send-off, etc. That being said, you may want to invest in relatively fast add-on cards instead of directly plugging/replugging drives onto your mainboard. Get a high quality esata dock as well since this will make your life so much easier, and save your motherboard's ports, too (SATA connectors also have rated MTBF numbers, you know) Also, USB alone won't cut it since USB does not have support for the low level diagnostics tools that the hard drive makers provide (Mostly DOS based, like SeaTools, Drive Fitness Test, WD DataLifeGuard, etc)


Yeah you have the right idea, we're a very small time operation and we send all the complicated/critical recovery jobs to Drivesavers. We do have a thermaltake HDD dock but it's on the fritz and I'm currently looking for another one. I'm aware of the limitations of USB as well.

k00k wrote:Which reminds me: why get a case? Why not get a open cart/case? :P Get something similar to what these guys have on offer: http://www.highspeedpc.com/ Makes accessing your board and everything else easier.


I was considering getting one of those, but we don't have a whole lot of space and I'm not sure how it would be more useful than a standard case with eSATA dock.

k00k wrote:You may also want to invest in a couple of fast flash drives for shuffling data around and creating boot disks that'll be faster than something on optical media. It'll be nice if you could get at least a couple or so, since you may want to devote one as a purely DOS toolkit of sorts, while the other boot disk for more mundane uses. Don't do away completely with optical media, though, since they're best for creating antivirus discs (they're not writable, unlike most flash drives nowadays. It's rare to find one with a physical write protect switch.)


Yep I've already set up a great USB flash drive toolkit, along with a bunch of useful bootable CDs. Thanks for the tips :)
fixietech
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:01 pm

Intel's Sandy Bridge integrated graphics doesn't really use any CPU cycles. In any event, you'd be fine either way. Just for basic drive imaging and recovery tools you'd be more than covered with that configuration.

As far as SSDs go, there are many drives which would do nicely. Intel's X25-Ms and 320 series are great. So is Samsung's 830 series. There are plenty of others but those will do for starters. For a Win7 install with just the tools you'll need you could easily get by with a 40GB or 64GB drive with room to spare. Just turn off hibernation. And you won't really need to turn the system off and on all the time. I just hotswap drives.

Also, if you wanted to save a couple bucks and get the Earthwatts 380W instead of the 500W PSU, you'd be fine. Really, for an i3/H67 you'll idle at ~35w and the max power usage minus HDDs would be like 60w to 70w.
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Tue Mar 06, 2012 12:16 pm

I would cut back to the 4GB RAM configuration, and I wouldn't worry one bit about using the integrated graphics. Most of what you're doing will be bound by disk I/O, unless you have undisclosed plans to also use this system for graphics editing or gaming when the Big Boss is out.

For the case, consider some variation of an Antec Sonata (the Proto model is only $65) as it includes the quick-remove side panel and side-loading hard drive caddies. (The Newegg link doesn't show internal pictures for the Proto, but here is a GIS search.) Both features will probably be useful when you need to load and unload customer drives for long scanning or backup sessions.

I would skip the SSD unless you really think it's going to add to your productivity. Yes, it will speed up your reboot times, but since a relatively bare Win7 installation can boot in under a minute on a mechanical hard drive, will the savings actually pay for itself? The main advantage I can think of is: this machine will come into contact with lots of disturbing things, so you may need to frequently re-image the entire boot drive from a clean backup. That might definitely go quicker if you can figure out how to have both the source image and the destination drive on some sort of high-speed FLASH media.
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Tue Mar 06, 2012 12:52 pm

As someone who does lots of cloning and recovering, I have just a few recommendations.

1)Buy multiple extra hard drives to have on hand, since you always want to have a blank drive handy to clone to if need be, or to drop an image to, etc...
Sometimes you only get a few more boots of the dying drive, and cloning it ASAP lets you get a back up and actually perform the recovery from the healthy drive, and not the one dying.

2)To prevent errors, I do a lot of my recovery by using a optical boot disc, regardless of which software I use, so I don't make any mistakes on which drive I am working on.

3)I bought a Thermaltake V9 BlacX Edition, for the sole reason of the two built in SATA docks, and front USB 3.0 port.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6811133183

All that makes my work SO much easier.
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Re: Building a budget Data Recovery workstation.

Postposted on Wed Mar 07, 2012 5:04 pm

Dposcorp wrote:As someone who does lots of cloning and recovering, I have just a few recommendations...


Great advice, thank you! That sounds pretty close to how I handle data recovery. I boot from the System Rescue CD (http://www.sysresccd.org), then run ddrescue to image the failing drive. I also noticed that Thermaltake has a non-gamer oriented case with the dock built in for slightly less money, I might go for it: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811133186.
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