A Blog by Cabel Sasser

Drobo 5D Review


drobo-fixAt 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?

The Good

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:

Drobo 5SThat’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.

Other notes:

  • 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 Bad

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.

tinyicon-amazonThe Drobo 5D is available at Amazon for around $849.00.

Leave a Reply

  1. Ivan Kowalenko

    Those read/write speeds are pretty impressive! For comparison the write/read speeds on our SAN via Fibre Channel are 269/376, so that’s not too far off.

    Good heads-up on the KEXT thing, but unfortunately that makes it a 100% deal-breaker for me, since I’m running OS X and Windows with a dash of random Linux and FreeBSD servers, and the need for special software means I can’t be 100% positive it’ll ever work with all of those. Though I wonder, does it need the KEXT for USB 3 use, or is it just for Thunderbolt?

  2. Erik Pounds

    Hi Cabel… this is Erik at Drobo. Thanks for giving the Drobo 5D a shot and I’m glad you decided to keep using it. Thunderbolt is a great technology for maximum-performance connectivity to you primary environment. For quickly connecting the Drobo to a different computer (Mac, Windows, etc.) and access some files, you can use the USB 3.0 port, which does not require the installation of Drobo Dashboard. No driver necessary for USB.

  3. jcburns

    Cabel, aren’t you accessing this drive over the network as often as not? I get that when you’re playing media locally you’re getting those sorts of speeds, but if you’re on another machine connected to it over Ethernet or wifi, the throughput is likely to be…different, right?

  4. I'm wondering how long a name should be to see if it truncates or wrap. Yep, that's an interesting question.

    “What will happen when Mac OS X 10.9 comes out and the Drobo .kext inevitably breaks?”

    Why would it _inevitably_ break?

    Apple has been providing KPIs for a long time now and unless the processor architecture change, as long as the Kernel Extension is not making wrong assumptions, code that works on 10.8 will work on 10.9 (and 10.7 and 10.6 and 10.5, etc.)

  5. Tom

    Hi Cabel, I was wondering what hard drives you are using in the Drobo 5D. Thanks, Tom

  6. Kenny Klatt

    Did the Drobo 5D have a cache card? I put 5 Western Digital Red 3TB drives and a 128G sshd for “hot cache” in mine. Times were better than yours listed, but don’t know when & were in the tests yours were recorded. Running on a I-7 Mac mini, 16G ram. Test suite was taking 1.5 (about) of the chipmunks on the I-7, the others were playing cards.

  7. Bill Matthies

    Erik Pounds, care to respond to the question about compatibility with 10.9?

    I have the FW800 4 bay Drobo and just upgraded to a 27″ iMac only to find it’s now Thunderbolt. If you can’t tell already, I’m a layman with more knowledge than many, maybe most average consumers, but not when it comes to this sort of thing.

    I bought the Apple adapter cable and while things work, it does take some time for Drobo to spin up, which it apparently needs to do for many things I wouldn’t have thought necessary. For example, accessing websites. I have 2.4 TB of video and about 250 GB of photos and music on Drobo and while I expect it working then, not at other times. Is that normal?

    My other question is, how much faster will the Thunderbolt product be and will it be affecting operation as the FW800 product has done? I don’t need to buy another Drobo so if anyone has suggestions for other 4+ bay Thunderbolt product that will address these issues, I’m open to that as well.


  8. Josh Kerr (@joshkerr)

    My Drobo mini does not work in 10.9 but works fine in 10.8. So Mavericks inevitably broke the Drobo driver. I haven’t tried USB yet.

  9. Unsoluble

    Can anyone with a newer model wring any info out of Drobo Support on the Mavericks issue? I’m hitting a brick wall because my Gen-2 is “outside the support window”.

    (Not wanting to hijack the review thread, Cabel, but this is the only recent google result for “drobo mavericks”, and will probably get a lot of people looking for the same answer today 🙂

  10. Unsoluble

    Welp, looks like it’s actually working fine now. For what it’s worth: If your Drobo disappears after the Mavericks install, and rebooting / disconnecting / reinstalling drivers doesn’t help, try cutting the power to the Drobo entirely, then booting it back up. That did the trick for me!

  11. Verne Arase

    Nice of Drobo to finally include an on/off switch.

  12. Sam

    I have a Drobo S. I upgraded from an iMac 24 to an iMac 27 in the Spring. I could never get USB (2.0on the 24 or 3.0 on the 27) to work. I plug it in and nothing. It does not appear ing Finder or Dashboard. Si I used the Firewire 800 interface into the 24 and bout a Firewire to Thunderbolt converter for the 27. However, since I upgraded the 27 to Mavericks the firewire connection drops every time the screensaver kicks in or the screen goes to sleep which make the connection useless. So now i have 10 TB sitting here without being able to use it. I have been on with Apple and still working with them but have not come up with a solution. Has anyone else had these issues? Any solutions?


  13. Major Graff

    There are firewall issues with the new Drobo software/hardware. I haven’t figured out everything yet (wrestling with USB 3.0 card from Caldigit, and what seem to be inconsistent USB 3.0 cables) but did have some improved success with enabling the necessary options in the Firewall option in System Preferences under Privacy and Security.

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