June 21, 2012
Data Robotics Announces the Drobo 5D and the Drobo Mini

drobo-5dmini-image.png I’ve been a fan of Drobo for a while, and was lucky enough to jump on an invite to a webinar yesterday when @drobo tweeted a call for bloggers to listen in on a webinar where they made a couple of announcements. I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the recent PR kerfuffle, but I thank them for letting me in :)

Anyway, there are two new products that they talked about which I’m able to share here today.

The short version is there are two new Drobo units, the Drobo 5D, a prosumer level storage unit and the Drobo Mini, a, well, “mini” version of the Drobo for people on the go who want to bring their data along with them.

Read on for full details and images of the new devices.

The Drobo 5D

Lets be honest, the Drobo is no longer the revelation it was when it was first announced. Even Data Robotics acknowledges that it’s known as being slow, loud and why the heck isn’t there a Thunderbolt version? Well, they heard and responded with the Drobo 5D.

No, it’s not ripping off the Canon camera, the 5 stands for number of drives, D stands for Direct attached device (ie: no network connection natively, but more on that in a second). Here’s the rundown in point form:

  • Completely redesigned from the ground up to be…
  • Quieter
  • Faster
  • Completely redesigned BeyondRAID technology makes it…
  • Up to 5 times faster
  • Dual Thunderbolt and USB3 connections and will include a Thunderbolt cable
  • Data tiering between Solid State Disk drives and Hard Disk Drives
  • Mini-SATA port for even more speed improvements

The only thing that you might think is a bit new here is the last point, the mini-SATA port. Honestly I’ve never heard of mini-Sata before, but it’s basically exactly what you think. A tiny little electronic chip that is in essence a high performance flash drive.

The new Drobo 5D uses this if it’s present to act as a high performance caching system, and will move data on and off it intelligently to get maximum performance.

Here are some images of the 5D (click for larger (opens in a new window)). As you’d expect it looks great, has the expected ports and the typical look and feel.

Drobo 5D Front

Drobo 5D Back

Drobo 5D Glamour shot

Drobo 5D The bottom SSD Bay (more on that later).

Other Details

  • Cost is not set, but is expected to be under $850
  • Shipping approximately mid-July

So that’s pretty cool right, a new Drobo unit, and the only one with both Thunderbolt and USB3, but lets be honest, it’s sort of an expected next step, right? But then they dropped a bigger (well, smaller) bomb.

Drobo Mini

This is particularly exciting for myself as a photographer is something that I’m hoping could help myself and others in my position for the “on the go” workflow, the Drobo-Mini, which will let you travel with a drobo in a much simpler setup. It’s still the same power of the new 5D, with 4 hot swappable drives, but a way smaller form factor.

Here are the specs:

  • 4 Drive Bays
  • Dual Thunderbolt and USB3 ports and will include a Thunderbolt cable
  • Same solid state drive Mini-Sata
  • External power supply (bleah) but very small (yay)
  • Custom carrying case (keeps people from hacking their Pelican cases up to travel with their Drobos)
  • Disks have a system for easy snap in and out

Here are the press release images:

Drobo 5D Front

Drobo 5D Back

Drobo 5D Glamour Shot

Drobo 5D Comparison Size

Drobo 5D Inserting the drive (not as dirty as you think)

Drobo 5D Looking sexy with a Mac setup

Looking at the images, the front of the unit has been redesigned with a better LED display and I can’t wait to see it in action.


  • Expected cost will be under $650
  • Shipping approximately mid-July

Other Thoughts and Notes

More About SSD and Caching

The new version of BeyondRAID will continue to do the data tiering that their current higher end units, do. If you only put in a single SSD drive to the array it will act as a caching unit, and intelligently store data on it so it can seamlessly act as a cache and give you a speed boost. However if you only have one SSD drive it won’t use it for additional storage, so this is a perfect opportunity to grab a cheap 60G SSD unit (they’re under $50 these days) and use it for a performance boost.

It sounds like the wear on the SSD drive in this scenario will be done smartly to reduce “SSD wear”, and cold data eviction will be done in large chunks to avoid reading and writing tiny bits of data all the time. To help manage this the percent of remaining life of the SSD will be displayed in the new version of Drobo Dashboard as well.

The new system will also be smart enough to detect a stream of data (for example an image ingest from your camera or a backup) and send them straight to the HDDs in the system (which are good for streaming data operations like this). If it looks to be more random, then the SSD will be promoted as the primary data store. This is especially important for small IO operations, so even a small (ie: 60G) SSD can greatly improve the experience with the Drobos

Other Performance Notes

In a bit of an unusual show, Drobo will be showing off actual performance numbers, something that as I noted above, has plagued them in the past. They’ll show up closer to the shipping date though. I assume this means that they are much more confident about the performance of their new products.

Having more internal memory means that in the event of a power outage any unwritten data will be flushed to disk. A nice touch, though I haven’t had this affect me before, but I’m sure that customers who have been bitten by data loss will appreciate it.

Drobo claims that the 5D will be fast enough to store and work with a Lightroom catalog directly from the unit. As someone who tried doing this off of the original 4 bay Drobo I say, “bring it on”.

Better performance for if you were to use just a pure SSD solution? Yes. Does it make sense from a cost/performance basis? Probably not. Best bang for the buck seems to be a single solid state drive.


Neither the 5D or the Mini are compatible with the DroboShare, but this isn’t surprising as the DroboShare unit has been mostly eclipsed by newer FS units.

The upgrade path sounds like you can more drives from your Drobo 4S directly into either the 5D or the Drobo Mini unit. I believe they mentioned that they were wanting to be able to move from the Drobo 4 bay version 2 to the two new units, but weren’t ready to commit 100% to that just yet.

The USB3 ports are, of course, USB2 compatible.


The units will ship with a Thunderbolt cable, which is a minor thing, but they feel that the cost of the unit and the benefit of having a great “out of box experience” it’s worth it. And frankly who wants to get their brand new toy tool only to find you have to go out and buy yourself another $50 cable before you can use it.

It looks like Drobo is making a fair commitment to Thunderbolt, not 100%, but fair. It’s not going to be going across all units, but you will see it become standardized (along with USB3) for their prosumer units, leaving eSata for the higher end top tier business units.

Warranty will be announced in July when the units are announced. They are aware that their current polices with warranty and DroboCare aren’t optimal for some users, and are looking to increase the standard 1 year warranty and make DroboCare more affordable and available to people (their current DroboCare is a bit pricey for many people so this is a good thing.

You may wonder why this isn’t my usual “CompanyA just released ProductB, here’s a link to it” post, but that’s because I’m stretching my legs as a writer and reviewer, and hope that this post is well received, so that I can continue to do more of these.

(Disclaimer: I received no compensation from Drobo for any of this outside of the information and a press kit 12 hours early.)

Posted by Arcterex at June 21, 2012 12:01 AM