Today, Drobo announced that it was shipping (finally!) the new and improved Drobo Mini and Drobo 5D. Drobo has made a name for itself in the external storage industry, most notably for their devices' ease-of-use, as well as the ability to mix and match hard drives of various capacities within a single unit.
What helps to set the new storage arrays apart from the rest of the pack is that both drives use both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. Slow interconnects have been one of the only major criticisms levied against the Drobo devices, so it's with some degree of relief that the company fixed that issue. If you're one of the lucky few to have a Thunderbolt port (all new Macs, some new HP PCs, etc) - then you'll be able to get pretty stunning speeds.
If you don't have Thunderbolt, but you've bought a recent PC, chances are fair that you have USB 3.0 - which means you'll still be able to hit some reasonably quick file transfer speeds. Other drives on the market are either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt; including both on one device gives users some degree of future-proofing while simultaneously setting a standard for the rest of the industry.
The Drobo Mini is the company's first truly portable storage device. Inside of the little guy you can pack in up to four 2.5-inch hard drives (up to 9.5mm thick) or SSDs. If you choose the traditional hard drive route, Drobo has also included what they call an SSD Accelerator bay, which lets you slot in an mSATA flash card to speed up operation. Fully loaded, Drobo expects the Mini to support up to 3TB of protected video - enough, they say, for over 15,000 RAW files (resolution unknown) and 1,000 hours of HD video.
The Drobo 5D harks back to the company's earlier products, which are designed for stationary, desktop use. Fitting in up to five 3.5-inch hard drives (a minimum of one of which is used for redundancy/protection in their proprietary RAID formats), users can store up to 16TB of high-speed storage in each unit. Since Thunderbolt allows for daisy-chaining devices, it's conceivable that you could hook up 96TB of storage to one computer, using a single Thunderbolt port. An impressive solution for those who need the scratch and storage space.
Like previous generations of Drobo drive arrays, the new Drobo Mini and Drobo 5D feature a series of attractive lights on the front - one for each drive. They're used to communicate the relative 'health' of each drive in the array. If one goes down, a light will change color and tell you which specific piece of storage needs replacing; you can pull that drive out and slot a new one in without powering the unit off.
What's new for this generation, however, is a built-in battery for both the Drobo Mini and the Drobo 5D. These aren't meant to power the drives in case your lights go out; at least, not in the way you think. Designed to last for the life of each device, the new Drobo batteries ensure that if your power does go out unexpectedly, then the units will be able to finish writing transferred data to 'non-volatile storage'. What that means is that the data you're transferring won't get corrupted becase some of it was still in cache when the power went out.
Eache unit will ship with both a Thunderbolt cable (an expensive accessory to buy on your own) as well as a USB 3.0 cable, so regardless of which technology you have, you'll be able to pull the Drobo out of the box and get going without too much trouble. Shipping today, the Drobo Mini will start at $649, while its bigger brother, the Drobo 5D, will start at $849.
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