If you’re a professional photographer or video editor, chances are that you value your storage. It’s not uncommon to see single images starting from 50MB, or videos that easily start at 4GB. Sure, you can invest in a NAS to back up everything that you need, but a lot of the times you’d much prefer to have a faster storage solution than that, especially for on-the-fly editing. In these kind of scenarios, a Desktop Attached Storage (DAS) is a good solution to look at, especially if you’re not really bothered with network shares or accessing the data remotely. This week we looked at the Drobo 5Dt, a DAS that can offer users an incredible amount of storage.
The Drobo 5Dt looks like most drive bays, with a sleek metal design and a plastic cover in the front that lets you access the five drive bays. The cover is held in place magnetically, and easily pops off the front. Once removed, you’ll see the five drive bays that each support 3.5” drives. You can install 2.5” drives, but you just need to get an enclosure to make it work. Drobo does recommend you get a metal enclosure when using 2.5” drives, just as they’re more durable. It’s important to note that if you install a mix of HDDs and SSDs, the Drobo 5Dt will automatically limit the SSDs so that they match with the speed and performance of the HDDs.
There are LED lights against each drive bay, which light up to show the health of each drive and to warn of any problems. At the bottom there is a row of small blue LEDs which indicates the amount of storage you’ve used, so it’s a quick way to figure out if you need to install larger drives. Around the back you’ll find two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and a single USB 3.0 port. The Drobo 5Dt supports daisy-chaining other devices, so if you’re using a monitor via Thunderbolt or other devices, this will work just fine.
Setting up the Drobo 5Dt takes a little bit of time, but isn’t too complicated. Once you’ve connected the power and cables for either Thunderbolt or USB, you simply slot in as many drives as you’ll need. The Drobo 5Dt will then detect each drive, and once the bay light has turned green you’ll be able to access or initialize the drive.
After physically setting up the Drobo 5Dt, you’ll need to download the Drobo Dashboard app. This app is essential for configuring your Drobo, and easily displays individual disk health and drive capacity. You can choose to format your volume as either NTFS for Windows or HFS+ for Mac. It’s important to remember that you’ll need to install at least two drives in order for the Drobo 5Dt to properly manage your data and provide some sort of backup.
The Drobo 5Dt features the company’s ‘BeyondRaid’ solution, which handles drives a bit differently. Traditionally, once you’ve chosen a particular RAID configuration, resizing or changing the RAID requires you to destroy and rebuild the RAID again from a backup. With the Drobo 5Dt’s BeyondRaid, the system automatically adjusts the RAID array to maximize storage as well as security. This means a drastically reduced time when expanding or replacing drives, and generally makes for much smoother drive management.
What is slightly puzzling however is that when connected to my PC, the Drobo 5Dt doesn’t actually report what capacity is installed or how much space is left. That information is only displayed in the Drobo Dashboard app, so in My Computer I only saw a drive that said ‘64TB available’, which was bizarre. You can also create a backup volume from any number of installed disks, which then shows as an additional drive on your computer. Lastly, there’s a sneaky 128GB mSATA drive tucked away at the bottom of the unit, which is used extensively for file caching, so commonly accessed files are written to or read even faster.
We setup the Drobo 5Dt with four 2TB WD Red HDDs and let the system initialize itself. We then had about 3.76TB of space to play around with, which was more than enough for testing purposes. On a Windows PC we got read speeds of about 102 MB/s, and write speeds of about 98 MB/s for a folder with mixed file sizes. Read speed bumped up to 112 MB/s when we accessed the same 1.2GB video file, showing that the mSATA drive really does make a difference for frequent file usage. We saw write speeds of 121.4 MB/s and read speeds of 146 MB/s when using Thunderbolt on a Mac (reformatted to HFS+). That’s really good for working with large files, especially high-resolution video footage or large images – our test video files didn’t stutter or lag during editing, which is what you’re looking for with a setup such as this. The Drobo 5Dt is also relatively quiet, even under constant use, so even if it’s located nearby on your desk you aren’t going to notice much noise.
The Drobo 5Dt can also be used for backups such as with Time Machine for Mac, and this is where the system suddenly seem to freak out. After choosing the drive as a backup for Time Machine, my Mac completed one Time Machine backup, and then refused to see the drive afterwards when I wanted to do a restore. There was another instance when my Mac could see only the backup volume in Finder, and not the main volume where files were stored. Things were a bit smoother on Windows, but it’s alarming that these sort of bugs popped up when connected to my Mac.
If you’re looking for some hard-core storage that not only serves as a repository for your files, but also an actual drive that you can work directly off of, then the Drobo 5Dt is actually worth looking at. It’s very easy to scale according to how much space you’ll need, and the fact that you don’t have to wait an eternity as the RAID readjusts is definitely a bonus. I would still recommend getting a secondary device to back up the Drobo 5Dt anyway, just so you’ve covered all your bases. The only thing to keep in mind is the price tag – at $869 without any hard drives, this is one expensive drive enclosure.