Miscellaneous Aspects and Concluding Remarks

The single 120mm fan is a reasonable solution to balance the need to cool down five SATA hard drives while also maintaining an acceptable noise profile. We noticed many reviews online indicating fan noise to be an issue in the Drobo 5D. However, we had no such issues with our review unit.

One of the advantages of the Drobo 5D / BeyondRAID is that users can start off with just a single drive in the unit, and add more drives down the line. The RAID expansion / migration process is seamless and without data loss. The progress of this process can be monitored with the Drobo Dashboard. Similar to our NAS reviews, we first started off with one 2TB drive in the unit, and added a second one after some time. Since the unit was configured in single-disk redundancy mode, the unit took some time to ensure that the second disk could act as a protection disk. However, due to the nature of BeyondRAID, the addition of new disks (3 through 5) resulted in immediate expansion of usable capacity. We also tested out moving to a dual-disk redundancy configuration once the five disks were in the unit. This took some time similar to the shift from one disk to two disks inside the unit. The power consumption of the unit was also tracked in the course of this evaluation routine. The numbers are summarized in the table below. These numbers are without a mSATA drive in the cache acceleration bay.

Drobo 5D - BeyondRAID Migration and Expansion
Operation Time (hh:mm:ss) Power Consumption
BeyondRAID SDR (1D) - 22.97 W
BeyondRAID SDR (1D to 2D) 01:08:52 30.96 W
BeyondRAID SDR (2D to 3D) - 38.15 W
BeyondRAID SDR (3D to 4D) - 44.37 W
BeyondRAID SDR (4D to 5D) - 51.48 W
BeyondRAID SDR (5D) to DDR (5D) 00:38:32 50.79 W

Coming to the business end of the review, we must first give credit to Drobo for creating a really simple and easy-to-use product for the average consumer. The whole operation (from installing drives, to actually mounting the volumes on a computer) is very easy, and can be managed even by folks who are not particularly adept with computers. The mSATA SSD acceleration is very helpful for multimedia editing directly off the Drobo 5D, particularly for read operations. The effectiveness was brought out by using real-world storage benchmark traces from Photoshop and similar programs. The dual-disk redundancy configuration benefits more from the SSD acceleration compared to the single-disk redundancy configuration.

There are a few points that could help Drobo expand the reach of units such as the Drobo 5D:

  • Thunderbolt support in Windows (if not for the 5D, at least for future products which integrate Thunderbolt support)
  • Support for data recovery by the end-user

To expand upon our second suggestion, it is well known that disks making up RAID volumes in commercial off-the-shelf NAS units can be mounted on a PC to access the data. We would like Drobo to provide a software program that can mount Drobo volumes if the disks used in a Drobo device were to be connected directly to a PC. This would go a long way in clearing the air of distrust that many tech-savvy consumers have when considering proprietary data protection schemes like BeyondRAID.

The Drobo 5D is currently available on Amazon for $615. The price is not a surprise, given that the product's features (Thunderbolt support) and operation make it attractive to people in the Apple ecosystem. As a Thunderbolt / USB 3.0 device with a novel and easy-to-use data protection scheme, the pricing is reasonable. However, from the viewpoint of a PC user, it is just a USB 3.0 device. There are many hardware RAID solutions with a USB 3.0 port that provide much better performance. But, there is definitely a segment of the market that doesn't mind paying a premium for Drobo's simplicity and 'it just works' aspects.

Direct-Attached Storage Performance
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  • tuxRoller - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    Plug and play.
    If you're at all willing to learn a bit, there are many guides that will walk you through getting the same feature set for less (and the big advantage of not being locked into a proprietary format which is a big reason why software raid is preferred in data centers).
  • Derjis - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    Ugh. Drobo is THE WORST.
    I picked up a DroboFS around 5 years ago. It was abysmally slow compared to similarly-priced competition (QNAP, Synology). It was extremely buggy --- I had not one, but TWO separate, non-concurrent updates render the box completely useless within the first year and a half; I managed to rollback the updates, and am still running an ancient version of the dashboard. I have absolutely zero faith in their ability to code... Drobo's support was TERRIBLE, too; I remember it being some of the least-helpful official tech support I'd even encountered. They featured "DroboApps" quite prominently in their marketing as an "easy" way of expanding the functionality of the box. It turned out that the "DroboApps" were all third-party, and were not officially supported by Drobo; if you needed help figuring out how to set up/configure/troubleshoot them, Drobo's official line was "*shrug* sorry, you're on your own". Sorry, what? I downloaded these apps directly from your microsite, and you won't even help he figure out how to properly INSTALL THEM!? Adding insult to injury, most of the DroboApps were absurdly complex for a layperson (Drobo's target demo) --- a lot of the DroboApps required you to have moderate-to-advanced experience with SSH and command-line.
    On the positive side, the Drobo community was legendary. There was one guy (Ricardo, IIRC...?) who took it upon himself to pickup all of the balls that Drobo had dropped, offering proper tech support (he was the guy who helped me restore functionality to my FS after the botched updates), detailed instructions on how to deal with the DroboApps; he even wrote or modified a bunch of Apps. Also on the plus side, the FS is still working --- I replaced it with a Synology box a few years ago, but am still using it as a target for Synology backups.
    In fairness, it's possible that a some of those issues with quality, support and corporate culture may have changed over the past 5 years...

    tl;dr F*** Drobo. They're the worst. Run away from their products as fast as you can.
  • jjunos - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    I had a droboFS....I have to agree, it wasn't the best iteration. But the next version the Drobo5N is actually a great piece of hardware. I love both of mine, and they are simply great for the home.

    But, if I had to choose, I would go with a Synology over the drobo. I might love my drobo5N, but my Synology 1815 will be in my hands until the day I die. Great software, lots more support I find in forums, better apps, everything.
  • Derjis - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    Absolutely! I've got an 1813+, and absolutely LOVE it.
    I can't think of a single reason why anyone would buy a Drobo instead of, say, a Synology or a QNAP...
  • jasonelmore - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    that's a unfair comment. Your qnap is not gonna let you mix a 1TB drive with a 6TB drive, and another 3TB drive.
  • vnangia - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    I can't believe I had to scroll down this far to find a critical comment. I had a Drobo 5D and it was the single worst purchase I have ever made in my life, bar none.

    It would routinely just drop the connection, particularly if you were copying data over. That in turn would make it decide it needed a scrub, which would take any where between 8 hours and 9 days, no matter how empty the volume was. The Drobo Dashboard would lockup routinely, and also impose a system modal freeze whenever you attached or detached anything to a USB port. If you were unluckily plugging in while it froze, your system was dead and a hard reboot was required. It marked six drives failed - drives which are working flawlessly in my post-Drobo box, with not a single SMART error.

    But the absolute worst was the "Customer Support". I came back to a completely dead Drobo after a short trip with lights flashing on it. I called, was told that despite the fact that it said 1 Year Phone Support, it was really 90 days, and that I was out of that, so I could pay to speak. I submitted an email, had a reply a week later, submitted a reply instantly, had a reply which clearly had not read anything two weeks later, repeat - UNTIL THEY RAN OUT THE WARRANTY.

    Fuck Drobo. Worst products in existence, and Anandtech should be ashamed to put their name on a review of a company as horrific as them.

    PS - those of you saying "oh Drobo allows you to combine multiple volumes, nothing else does" ... BULLSHIT. On Windows you have Storage Spaces, Drive Bender and Drive Extender. On OS X you have O3X pools. On Linux you have btrfs and zfs pools. You want a NAS that does it? Get a ReadyNAS x02 series and enjoy your btrfs pools. All the benefits of Drobo, none of the wrist-slicing shit, open standards and bitrot protection.
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    You did read the concluding paragraph, right? I specifically mention what they need to do to gain the trust of tech-savvy users.

    Before writing a review, I do look at various forums to see what issues are being faced by users (particularly if the product being reviewed has been around for a long time). It appears that the Drobo 5D indeed had firmware issues, but Drobo has fixed them in recent releases.
  • vnangia - Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - link

    You mention exactly two things: TB support under Windows and end-user data recovery. You do not address Drobo hardware or software stability, you do not address the absolutely despicable customer service, you do not address Drobo's eagerness to mark drives as faulted even when there are no faults, or even the inability of Drobo to recover from the simplest of errors. And god forbid you want two volumes on your device. You cannot have done more than a cursory glance through the web on the basis of what your writeup contains. I even ended up buying a second Drobo (a third generation 4-bay) thinking that I got unlucky with my first but no - the lockups and dickish CS remain problems, and it took complete wipes of all the computers to get them running again.

    Moreover, you do not mention even once the fact that Drobo the company is functionally bankrupt and running on vapor. Your suggestion to even consider this is akin to a responsible car journalist recommending a Saturn - the product is unsupported, defective and unreliable and you should withdraw the review, or begin by stating that it isn't fit for use.

    Drobo is a marketing-based fear-seller: they prey on your fear of losing your data, encourage you to get locked in to a proprietary and broken system that doesn't allow for recovery and then make you pay for their fuckups. To add insult to injury, it isn't even a backup because it protects against literally only a single failure mode - catastrophic disk failure - which a single external drive will protect against as effectively.
  • tarasis - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    You've certainly had bad luck, I've not experienced anything like you've had with the Drobo; neither dickish CS reps or lockups. I've certainly not had it mark disks as faulty when they aren't. Anytime it has marked a disk as problematic I've stuck it into another PC and run the HDD providers disk test tool and its proved to be the case (the basic test might have passed on a couple, but then extended tests would always fail).

    Do you have a link to anything to backup your claim that they are functionally bankrupt? I've not heard that anywhere.
  • SirGCal - Monday, April 25, 2016 - link

    What is the deal with all of these other 'RAID' techs out there? Sorry, but for the price they could use legit RAID hardware or even ZFS platforms. I'm not a fan of the newer Un-RAID and BeyondRAID systems. I prefer the proven flavors.

    I myself have two RAID boxes, both 8 drive. One Hardware RAID6 and one RAIDZ2 (ZFS). Both are faster then I have network for (even with 4x1G teamed lines although one does have a 10G connection also) and as NAS boxes work wounderfully and cost a heck of a lot less then this on both counts. I just don't get these.

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