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Drobo 5D review

Drobo 5


A good-value, high-performance Thunderbolt DAS appliance with smart RAID and data-tiering features

Review Date: 15 Apr 2013

Reviewed By: Dave Mitchell

Price when reviewed: £522 (£626 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

We've been impressed by Drobo's innovative approach to RAID in the past, and its new 5D carries on the good work. It's the first multibay DAS appliance we've come across with both USB 3 and dual Thunderbolt ports, and it's aimed at professional Mac users who want high-performance local storage with fault tolerance.

The 5D has an internal lithium ion battery to protect against power cuts, and it supports Drobo's data-tiering system, so it can move regularly accessed data onto an optional mSATA SSD for increased read speeds. Up to six 5Ds can be daisy-chained together with Thunderbolt cables.

Drobo's mantra has always been to simplify RAID for those who want all its benefits but none of the hassle. The 5D adheres to the same philosophy: simply slip five SATA hard disks of any size into the appliance and Drobo's BeyondRAID will automatically add them to a single virtual storage pool with redundancy configured at the block level.

The 5D's front panel tells you everything you need to know about storage status. The drive indicators change from green to yellow or red if any drives need to be swapped out for larger ones, or if they've failed, and a line of blue LEDs below acts as a capacity gauge.
Similar to RAID5 and 6, BeyondRAID supports single and dual parity. Either can be selected on the fly, and Drobo remains the only vendor to allow you to return from dual to single parity.

Drobo 5

We tested using a 13in MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5, 4GB of DDR3 memory and OS X 10.8.2. Installation was simple: once the Dashboard utility is downloaded, the 5D can be connected via Thunderbolt or USB, where it's spotted immediately.

Thin provisioning is standard, so, during virtual volume creation, capacity can be set between 1TB and 16TB regardless of the number or sizes of the physical drives. Initially, we loaded the 5D with a pair of 3TB WD SATA drives and chose a single, 16TB HFS+ formatted volume.

Thin provisioning dynamically allocates blocks as they're used, and increasing physical space is a cinch. We added two 4TB WD SATA drives in succession; each time, the Dashboard acknowledged their presence and added them to the array without the need for intervention.

For performance testing, we used Intech's QuickBench 4 software. We ran it first on the MacBook's internal drive, and saw sequential read and write speeds of around 80MB/sec for 1,024KB blocks of data. Running the same test on the 5D over a Thunderbolt link saw a big hike in throughput, with QuickBench reporting average random read and write speeds of 275MB/sec and 206MB/sec. Sequential read and write rates were even higher, averaging 343MB/sec and 225MB/sec.

We also tested data tiering by installing a 60GB OCZ mSATA SSD in the small hatch in the 5D's base. Write speeds remained in the same ballpark, but average random and sequential read speeds increased to 311MB/sec and 366MB/sec.

The 5D takes all the strain out of RAID configuration and, with a diskless unit costing a shade over £500, it's good value as well. Mac users looking for a high-performance Thunderbolt DAS appliance should fetch their credit card.

Author: Dave Mitchell

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User comments

I have a one of the older units, a Drobo-S and it's saved my data a few time. Love it.

By AlphaGeeK on 15 Apr 2013


How can you have an innovative approach to RAID? There are definitions, which are to be followed. You don't have to look far to find tales of woe from customers who bought Drobo only to fall foul of this "innovation" when their Drobo box died or even following a software upgrade. Surely you're aware of this?

By JohnHo1 on 17 Apr 2013

Rebuild time?

What's the rebuild time like on these newer units? My older Drobo rebuilt so slowly that it was faster to erase it and copy from a backup rather than add a disk and let it rebuild by itself!!

By NickS on 29 Apr 2013

Nightmare kit

The Drobo 5D should be nice piece of kit. It combines multiple disk drives into a single giant drive, which can cope with a single drive failure (you just pop it out and replace it with a new one).

In reality it has cost me a fortune in additional drives, and has proven extremely unreliable. I purchased a Drobo 5D with five 3TB WD NAS drives. This is what happened:

1) The USB cable supplied with the Drobo 5D didn't work. Drobo support blamed my USB 3 card and recommended a list of expensive cards. Fixed with a new USB cable.

2) The Drobo has a “feature” whereby it cripples itself if it goes over 95% full and the transfer speed plummets to about 2MB/sec. The problem I had is that I was using an encrypted partition (Truecrypt) that can't reduce in size! I couldn't copy the data off the Drobo because it was so slow so the only solution was to upgrade my 3TB drives to 4TB drives.

3) I bought two 4TB drives (Seagate ST4000VN000) from two different sources and put them in. This gave me the space but file access speed varied enormously, some files were 60MB/sec and some were still 2MB/sec. Drobo support said my new drives were faulty and recommended some nice expensive ones to buy. I pointed out that the chances of two drives from different suppliers being faulty in exactly the same way was unlikely, and asked if there were any compatibility issues with these drives. I'm still waiting for an answer to that several months on. The Seagate drives work fine on their own in the main computer.

4) I bought three 4TB drives (WD WD40EFRX) and they worked fine for a few months. Then one day a red light appears indicating a drive has died. I reboot the computer and the Drobo recovers, but takes 2 days for it to rebuild. I buy another 4TB WD drive to replace the one which produced the red light as I no longer trust it.

5) I ask Drobo support if they think the problem was with the drive or the Drobo. They ask for diagnostics but when I send them the file produced by the Drobo they say they it has missing information and ask me to reboot the Drobo. I do that and it no longer comes up. It's now a very expensive doorstop.

6) Drobo support say that it will take 10 days to replace it as it has to be shipped to Germany, and I have to pay the postage.

So to summarise, so far I have bought a Drobo 5D and 11 large and expensive multi-terabyte disk drives - and have zero Drobo storage.

I do not recommend this product.

By NeilPawson on 10 Apr 2014

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