At the center of my digital storage universe is the house Mac mini, hooked up to a big ol’ external drive that holds all of the e-things: our music, our photos, old work, emulation collections, etc.
(As a side note, this drive is manually backed up monthly onto another drive — a 4TB Seagate Thunderbolt — which I take into the office and place in my drawer for extra-safe fire-keeping. Backup your backup, mang!)
I decided to try the new Thunderbolt-based Drobo 5D as my vault. Did I keep it?
Drobo’s best feature — that you can swap out drives at any time to semi-infinitely expand your capacity — works, and works well. It’s always mentally nice not having to worry about ever running out of room and having to clone over large volumes all the time.
And it’s fast. Much faster than my previous Drobo.
That older model, a Firewire 800 Drobo, got a sadness-inducing 20.1 MB/s write and 22.2 MB/s read. By comparison, a LaCie Thunderbolt 2big in a software mirror got 111.2 MB/s write and 114.1 MB/s read.
Here’s the Drobo 5D, connected via Thunderbolt:
That’s around 193 MB/s write and 184 MB/s read. So, it’s almost ten times faster than the Firewire 800 Drobo it replaced.
- You can dim the many front lights, which is nice for media cabinets.
- The metal enclosure is substantial and feels valuable.
- It’s surprisingly quiet.
The Drobo 5D will not mount until you install the Drobo software. (See here.) The Drobo software includes, among other kernel extensions, DroboTBT.kext, Drobo’s “SCSI Thunderbolt Controller”.
It’s almost a dealbreaker. Every external hard drive I’ve ever used will mount easily without special software. Requiring software not only makes it a pain to hook the drive up to someone else’s computer, but the drive will only keep working in the long-term if the specialized software is well-maintained. (It’s one thing to trust Apple to update their software, which I do, but another thing to expect this maintenance from third parties.)
What will happen when Mac OS X 10.9 comes out and the Drobo .kext inevitably breaks? I’ll have to wait for Drobo to ready an update? How soon will that be ready? You can understand my concern.
But in conclusion, here’s the only review score metric that really matters:
Did I Keep It?
I kept it. Still using it. For now. It’s fast, holds all my stuff, and feels solid. But we’ll see what happens when 10.9 comes out.