July 8, 2008

Drobo Goes Firewire

drobo-version-2.jpg

You asked for it – you got it. No this isn’t an old Toyota commercial. It’s news that Drobo has gone Firewire.

Initial reactions from photographers (including this one) evaluating the USB Drobo were that Drobo made for a great backup device. I use the USB Drobo for my Aperture Vault and have done so for months with not one issue or problem. I plan to keep it that way.

But in my original tests, the USB device was simply too slow to be a primary drive. Enter the Firewire 800 Drobo. As of this morning, Data Robotics is shipping the Firewire Drobo and boy it’s fast. The new Firewire Drobo is so fast that I plan to get another one to use as my primary storage.

Why? We did our own tests with a Beta unit in the studio for the better part of the last week. Reads AND writes were AT LEAST two times faster than before. In fact, because of internal improvements to the Drobo, even USB read/write times are faster. (You can still hook the drobo to your computer using USB.)

In several cases we found Drobo read/write times to be much faster than promised in the company’s marketing materials. When I questioned them about this, an employee said their marketing department liked to be conservative when quoting such numbers. A refreshing change I must say!

I’d like to note that we didn’t use traditional benchmarking software for these tests. In our opinion, such software doesn’t always give a clear picture of the device performance. So we copied real files that most photographers would copy. We copied RAW, PSD, TIF and JPEG files and got great results.

This new-found speed is no big deal for those of us who just wanted a backup solution. But photographers who need a fast primary drive that also offers the safety and security of redundant data can now go to the Firewire Drobo.

I’d also like to point out that while I have no fancy test equipment, I believe the new Firewire Drobo is quieter than the USB model. I never thought the USB model was too noisy. Like all hard drives, when working hard on a hot day, it’s fans would spin up. Some people (particularly those with first generation USB Drobos) thought the machine too noisy. The Firewire Drobo even makes less noise.

And now for the cool part. Data Robotics has improved the Drobo in many ways. And they have kept the price point at under $500.

Pricing is as follows:

Drobo with FireWire800 and USB 2.0 (2nd Gen)
Drobo: $499
Drobo + 2x 1TB drives: $899
Drobo + 4x1TB drives: $1299

For those of you who simply need a backup solution, the original Drobo USB 2.0 Only (1st Gen) is a great deal:
Drobo (1st Gen): $349
Drobo (1st Gen) + 2x 1TB drives: $749
Drobo (1st Gen) + 4x 1TB drives: $1075

NOTE: They have limited supplies of the USB model.

While some folks who don’t understand all the technology that goes into a Drobo, compare the Firewire Drobo to the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ with comparable capacity. The Drobo is more than twice as fast and is much less than half the price. Likewise, when compared with the LaCie Biggest Quadra, the Drobo is a bit slower but still almost half the price.

Highly recommended.

For more information visit www.drobo.com.

Please note that for two weeks Drobo was a sponsor of the TWIP podcast. At this time Drobo is NOT a TWIP sponsor.

Join the conversation! 56 Comments

  1. Wow, now I think I’m going to seriously consider this (as soon as I can afford to)! My USB HD’s are driving me crazy … I could really use some fire-wire HD action.

  2. Wow, now I think I’m going to seriously consider this (as soon as I can afford to)! My USB HD’s are driving me crazy … I could really use some fire-wire HD action.

  3. Excellent! Now I’ll have to seriously consider one of these things.

  4. great news. I passed on considering Drobo as a storage option because of the write speed. The size and quantity of files I work with made Drobo too slow of an option. FireWire could make big difference in my consideration of Drobo the next time I’m evaluating a storage option.

  5. great news. I passed on considering Drobo as a storage option because of the write speed. The size and quantity of files I work with made Drobo too slow of an option. FireWire could make big difference in my consideration of Drobo the next time I’m evaluating a storage option.

  6. Argh. I just bought the older version, just delivered two weeks ago. I spent $1075 for the Drobo plus 4 1 GB drives (it was supposed to be special pricing thru NAPP). Argh!

  7. Argh. I just bought the older version, just delivered two weeks ago. I spent $1075 for the Drobo plus 4 1 GB drives (it was supposed to be special pricing thru NAPP). Argh!

  8. Great just bought the orig. 4 weeks ago.

    Bryan

  9. Great just bought the orig. 4 weeks ago.

    Bryan

  10. @Lisa @BK yeah I was bummed when I bought my new car, drove it off the lot and found out it was worth thousands less two minutes later. Unfortunately, that’s the way it will always be. I just bought a new Nikon D3 for $5000. I know it’s already obsolete. I could wait for the next one and the next one and the next one and never have anything.

    You actually got a very good deal. Thousands of people paid closer to $1500 (with four one TB drives) to buy the Drobo when it first came out in January.

  11. I just ordered Drobo 1. Its on a UPS truck right now. No matter what I save money returning the original to amazon un-opened. I think I have been Leo’d

  12. I just ordered Drobo 1. Its on a UPS truck right now. No matter what I save money returning the original to amazon un-opened. I think I have been Leo’d

  13. As far as I’m concerned the Drobo is overhyped and overpriced, i.e. unreasonably expensive. Granted, the Firewire is a great (and overdue) add. But I would have liked to see eSATA and Ehternet on the main unit.

    When you compare the Drobo to a ReadyNAS unit, you have to make it Ethernet capable first. And currently the Ethernet addon for the Drobo is a whopping $185. Onehundredeightyfive bucks for an Ethernet card???

  14. As far as I’m concerned the Drobo is overhyped and overpriced, i.e. unreasonably expensive. Granted, the Firewire is a great (and overdue) add. But I would have liked to see eSATA and Ehternet on the main unit.

    When you compare the Drobo to a ReadyNAS unit, you have to make it Ethernet capable first. And currently the Ethernet addon for the Drobo is a whopping $185. Onehundredeightyfive bucks for an Ethernet card???

  15. Woohooo! Finally a FW version Drobo. While it’s not necessary for backup of my Aperture Vault, it would be great as a video drive for Final Cut or even backup for my internal client drive. While the FW800 is no problem for me, some may need to get a FW800 to FW400 adapter cable for those with older Macs. Glad they kept the price point the same. I hope to add a Drobo to my studio this year. Thanks for the update Scott!

  16. Woohooo! Finally a FW version Drobo. While it’s not necessary for backup of my Aperture Vault, it would be great as a video drive for Final Cut or even backup for my internal client drive. While the FW800 is no problem for me, some may need to get a FW800 to FW400 adapter cable for those with older Macs. Glad they kept the price point the same. I hope to add a Drobo to my studio this year. Thanks for the update Scott!

  17. Excellent news – i’ve been buying SATA drives ready for my drobo and now I can get the faster one.

    happy day

  18. Excellent news – i’ve been buying SATA drives ready for my drobo and now I can get the faster one.

    happy day

  19. This is great but where the heck is eSATA? Every large external drive on the market by Western Digital, Seagate, Acomdata etc has versions with USB, eSATA or Firewire or a combination of the three.

    Drobo is really behind. eSATA is even faster than Firewire.

  20. This is great but where the heck is eSATA? Every large external drive on the market by Western Digital, Seagate, Acomdata etc has versions with USB, eSATA or Firewire or a combination of the three.

    Drobo is really behind. eSATA is even faster than Firewire.

  21. @Hubert I am curious about your comment. Now if you spend $185 on Droboshare, the Drobo is still more than TWICE as fast as ReadyNAS and less than half the cost. So I can only surmise that if you think the Drobo is overhyped and overpriced, you think the same of ReadyNAS?

  22. [...] Bo. I’m not drooling as much as these guys, but if I had $1300 to blow on one of these things, it’d be gone already. Sorry [...]

  23. [...] Bo. I’m not drooling as much as these guys, but if I had $1300 to blow on one of these things, it’d be gone already. Sorry [...]

  24. I just pulled the trigger I am planning to soley use this as a backup so the USB 2.0 is fine for me and at $349 there is no secong guessing myself. IMHO it should really be at this price point

  25. I just pulled the trigger I am planning to soley use this as a backup so the USB 2.0 is fine for me and at $349 there is no secong guessing myself. IMHO it should really be at this price point

  26. Argh, another guy here who got Leo’d as I bought the drobo1 less than a month ago :( Normally there is some sort of price protection to prevent you from being completely screwed over if you buy something just before the new version is released :( :( *sigh*

    I wonder if there’s any sort of firmware update coming to improve the USB 2.0 speed on the drobo1 (hoping it’s just bad coding that made it slow not hardware). Also does the droboshare get an update for firewire as well, or do you only get the magical fw800 speed with it directly attached to a host? Not that 3x the original usb2 speed is anything to sneeze at (though I’m pretty disappointed it was that slow originally… sounds like some poor decisions were made for the original drobo1) :(

  27. Argh, another guy here who got Leo’d as I bought the drobo1 less than a month ago :( Normally there is some sort of price protection to prevent you from being completely screwed over if you buy something just before the new version is released :( :( *sigh*

    I wonder if there’s any sort of firmware update coming to improve the USB 2.0 speed on the drobo1 (hoping it’s just bad coding that made it slow not hardware). Also does the droboshare get an update for firewire as well, or do you only get the magical fw800 speed with it directly attached to a host? Not that 3x the original usb2 speed is anything to sneeze at (though I’m pretty disappointed it was that slow originally… sounds like some poor decisions were made for the original drobo1) :(

  28. @Roger, the speed advantage of eSATA is not having to convert the signal from SATA/IDE to USB/Firewire, which a single disc eSATA enclosure doesn’t have to do. This isn’t single disc though. The multi-disc controller shows up as *one* disc, so the same conversion still has to happen (twice, actually) so the overhead is even more. Besides FW800 is more than fast enough for what you can get from a four disc 7200rpm setup.

  29. I just ordered a Drobo two days ago! *headdesk* I’ve asked to initiate the 30-day return policy.

  30. I just ordered a Drobo two days ago! *headdesk* I’ve asked to initiate the 30-day return policy.

  31. @Scott – I’m not saying the Drobo is the only overpriced item out there.

    Converting a Drobo into a NAS device costs you $685. You get a decent RAID card for $100-$125 these days. If you already have a server/spare PC you can use for backup, establishing a RAID on this machine is way cheaper than either a Drobo or ReadyNAS. Even if you don’t have such a machine standing around, for $560 (i.e. $685-$125) you can buy a far better barebone server than the 500MHz Linux machine that the Drobo really is.

    The primary cost factor, the money you spend on the harddisks, is the same for either approach.

  32. @Hubert if you configure a standard RAID you don’t have the same sort of protection you have with Drobo and not everyone has the skills to set up a RAID in any event.

    And you really should understand there’s more to the Drobo than a 500 MHz Linux machine. There’s about 100k worth of software in there too.

    In your first comment you compared the Drobo to the ReadyNAS and my response was based on your original comparison.

  33. @Hubert if you configure a standard RAID you don’t have the same sort of protection you have with Drobo and not everyone has the skills to set up a RAID in any event.

    And you really should understand there’s more to the Drobo than a 500 MHz Linux machine. There’s about 100k worth of software in there too.

    In your first comment you compared the Drobo to the ReadyNAS and my response was based on your original comparison.

  34. @Hubert – not a fanboy here, but the drobo works on the apple principle… it’s simple and easy and elegant and more expensive, and while you could do about the same thing plus a bunch more stuff by rolling your own, it won’t be as simple or as elegant. Same thing as the BMW vs my 10 year old honda beater… they both get me to the same place, one does it with more style, and you pay for that. Or something like that. Note that I rolled my own fileserver for a few years using linux + raid + lvm + evms on a home server before moving to a drobo (well, technically augmenting with a drobo, I still have the filserver running, but I have 3x the room I used to have in a *much* smaller footprint).

  35. @Hubert – not a fanboy here, but the drobo works on the apple principle… it’s simple and easy and elegant and more expensive, and while you could do about the same thing plus a bunch more stuff by rolling your own, it won’t be as simple or as elegant. Same thing as the BMW vs my 10 year old honda beater… they both get me to the same place, one does it with more style, and you pay for that. Or something like that. Note that I rolled my own fileserver for a few years using linux + raid + lvm + evms on a home server before moving to a drobo (well, technically augmenting with a drobo, I still have the filserver running, but I have 3x the room I used to have in a *much* smaller footprint).

  36. Well, I got my USB Drobo 2 weeks ago as well but I not that bothered about the new firewire version. For me the Drobo works in the background and is connected via my Airport Extreme (so firewire wouldn’t connect there anyway). I’m more interested to hear the new version isn’t so loud -wonder how they did that?

  37. Well, I got my USB Drobo 2 weeks ago as well but I not that bothered about the new firewire version. For me the Drobo works in the background and is connected via my Airport Extreme (so firewire wouldn’t connect there anyway). I’m more interested to hear the new version isn’t so loud -wonder how they did that?

  38. I purchased the USB-based Drobo 12 days ago. Had the Firewire version been available I would have purchased that. I went to the Drobostore.com site and NONE of the policies work. So they don’t have a return policy? So I called them. The woman on the phone confirmed that they do not have any policies in place, took my information and said someone would contact me. I followed up with an e-mail via their support form. I found out this morning that they will not exchange it.

    Most retailers have either a 14-day or 30-day return policy. I find this to be poor customer service. Especially since they don’t have a written policy online.

  39. Al,
    I am sorry to hear your story. I looked into your case and it seems that you spoke to our customer support who directed you to sales to discuss your eligibility to return your Drobo.

    Data Robotics return policy is this: you can return for full credit, or exchange unopened items purchased from drobostore.com within 14 days. Drobos purchased elsewhere are subject to the policies of such reseller.

    Mark Fuccio
    Sr. Director
    Data Robotics Inc.

  40. Al,
    I am sorry to hear your story. I looked into your case and it seems that you spoke to our customer support who directed you to sales to discuss your eligibility to return your Drobo.

    Data Robotics return policy is this: you can return for full credit, or exchange unopened items purchased from drobostore.com within 14 days. Drobos purchased elsewhere are subject to the policies of such reseller.

    Mark Fuccio
    Sr. Director
    Data Robotics Inc.

  41. I have the same issue. Ordered on 6/30/2008. Opened it on 7/7/2008. Called on 7/8/2008, Drobo sales said they had no policy for upgrading and would check it out. Today, I e-mailed and was informed I cannot exchange it as I opened the box. I would not have even ordered it if I had known about the Drobo 2. Am not awaiting a response for a possible refund of the difference between what I paid and what the Drobo 1 now costs. I would prefer to exchange it. (I feel like Leo Laporte.)

    This doesn’t look like good business practices for Data Robotics, Inc.

  42. I have the same issue. Ordered on 6/30/2008. Opened it on 7/7/2008. Called on 7/8/2008, Drobo sales said they had no policy for upgrading and would check it out. Today, I e-mailed and was informed I cannot exchange it as I opened the box. I would not have even ordered it if I had known about the Drobo 2. Am not awaiting a response for a possible refund of the difference between what I paid and what the Drobo 1 now costs. I would prefer to exchange it. (I feel like Leo Laporte.)

    This doesn’t look like good business practices for Data Robotics, Inc.

  43. Bought mine from Amazon in the UK on 23 June 08, would really have like a FW800 model, but that’s life. I am the UK Leo Laporte really, bought a G5 iMac weeks before the Intel iMac, a Meade ETX telescope before they brought out the model with the computer controller. :-(

    The only luck I have had with getting any update is where there is no hardware involved, for example new maps that come out for TomTom a week after I bought the hardware, but I can’t see many firms being willing to exchange hardware for a newer model.

    I remain pleased with the USB2 Drobo 1 – it serves as my backup using Time Machine and also a depository for other files that I do not need cluttering up my main hard drive. I may consider a Firewire Drobo 2 later as I require more space for photographs.

  44. Bought mine from Amazon in the UK on 23 June 08, would really have like a FW800 model, but that’s life. I am the UK Leo Laporte really, bought a G5 iMac weeks before the Intel iMac, a Meade ETX telescope before they brought out the model with the computer controller. :-(

    The only luck I have had with getting any update is where there is no hardware involved, for example new maps that come out for TomTom a week after I bought the hardware, but I can’t see many firms being willing to exchange hardware for a newer model.

    I remain pleased with the USB2 Drobo 1 – it serves as my backup using Time Machine and also a depository for other files that I do not need cluttering up my main hard drive. I may consider a Firewire Drobo 2 later as I require more space for photographs.

  45. Data Robotics offered me another $50 if I submit a rebate form. While this is nice, it really is a poor compromise. Did use the TWIP code to get $50 off. However, I did it to support TWIP and because I hate the whole rebate process. Now I am forced to use the rebate or be $50 poorer. Data Robotics wins because they still have a sale. TWIP wins, because I used their code word. I do not feel the win.

    Received 3 requests to complete a Data Robotics customer survey. If Data Robotics had made 3 requests on how they might help me, then I might have a different opinion. I keep buying stuff from Amazon.com, NewEgg.com and Apple because they treat me better than the competition. It is doubtful I will make another purchase from Data Robotics.

  46. It looks like there are only two possible answers to the problem of buying something right before an upgrade…

    1) We can just tell companies that they should never, ever, under ANY circumstances upgrade, improve or otherwise do ANYTHING that might improve their products because it’s impossible to guarantee that some customer won’t have recently purchased their products.

    2) Users can never, ever, under ANY circumstance buy ANYTHING. That way, users will not be disappointed if there are upgrades after a purchase.

    While I understand the buyers’ remorse that attends finding out you just bought something that’s been improved, what’s the cutoff? 10 days, 14 days, three months? No matter which you pick there will always be someone who’s one day outside that limit who will be mad.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t expend any energy trying to make people with buyer’s remorse happy. You can’t win so why bother trying?

  47. It looks like there are only two possible answers to the problem of buying something right before an upgrade…

    1) We can just tell companies that they should never, ever, under ANY circumstances upgrade, improve or otherwise do ANYTHING that might improve their products because it’s impossible to guarantee that some customer won’t have recently purchased their products.

    2) Users can never, ever, under ANY circumstance buy ANYTHING. That way, users will not be disappointed if there are upgrades after a purchase.

    While I understand the buyers’ remorse that attends finding out you just bought something that’s been improved, what’s the cutoff? 10 days, 14 days, three months? No matter which you pick there will always be someone who’s one day outside that limit who will be mad.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t expend any energy trying to make people with buyer’s remorse happy. You can’t win so why bother trying?

  48. Hubert, maybe you don’t understand because you’re such a hardcore techie that you couldn’t comprehend why a RAID-in-a-computer approach is not for everyone. I think most people would be done a disservice listening to a person that can’t comprehend the plight of a non-techie. A person that likes to take pictures might not be a person that wants to tinker with a computer to make the drive array work right.

    First, RAIDs take more work to set up, and demands all drives be the same size, or else every drive is treated the same size as the smallest. With Drobo, you can set up 2x 750 and 2x 400 and it will treat it as 1.5GB of protected storage. With a RAID 5, that’s 1.2GB of protected storage. There aren’t any NAS boxes that are like that that I’ve heard.

    With a RAID card like the one I bought, the computer needs to be reset in order to get to the RAID BIOS to tell it to rebuild the RAID, and the computer needs to be shut down in order to replace the drive. Drobo only requires the user to pop in a new drive, even with the enclosure on and in use, and it will automatically rebuild. Typical computers require messing with cables and popping the side panel off to mount or replace a drive, where the Drobo only requires sliding the drive in the front face, no shutdowns, no rails, no screws, no screwdrivers, no cables.

    If minimal administration, minimal fuss, and minimal to no down time has little or no value to you, then Drobo is isn’t for you.

  49. Hubert, maybe you don’t understand because you’re such a hardcore techie that you couldn’t comprehend why a RAID-in-a-computer approach is not for everyone. I think most people would be done a disservice listening to a person that can’t comprehend the plight of a non-techie. A person that likes to take pictures might not be a person that wants to tinker with a computer to make the drive array work right.

    First, RAIDs take more work to set up, and demands all drives be the same size, or else every drive is treated the same size as the smallest. With Drobo, you can set up 2x 750 and 2x 400 and it will treat it as 1.5GB of protected storage. With a RAID 5, that’s 1.2GB of protected storage. There aren’t any NAS boxes that are like that that I’ve heard.

    With a RAID card like the one I bought, the computer needs to be reset in order to get to the RAID BIOS to tell it to rebuild the RAID, and the computer needs to be shut down in order to replace the drive. Drobo only requires the user to pop in a new drive, even with the enclosure on and in use, and it will automatically rebuild. Typical computers require messing with cables and popping the side panel off to mount or replace a drive, where the Drobo only requires sliding the drive in the front face, no shutdowns, no rails, no screws, no screwdrivers, no cables.

    If minimal administration, minimal fuss, and minimal to no down time has little or no value to you, then Drobo is isn’t for you.

  50. so what sustained read and write speeds do you actually get? i get +100MB/s out of a single eSATA drive easily on my old P4 system and need a quantifiable comparison. just being “twice as fast” as something that’s really slow won’t cut it! yes, i know that not everyone will get the same speed. that’s why you include a system description, state the speed you get, and we can judge for ourselves whether we can expect to see the same.

  51. so what sustained read and write speeds do you actually get? i get +100MB/s out of a single eSATA drive easily on my old P4 system and need a quantifiable comparison. just being “twice as fast” as something that’s really slow won’t cut it! yes, i know that not everyone will get the same speed. that’s why you include a system description, state the speed you get, and we can judge for ourselves whether we can expect to see the same.

  52. Ditto to the comment from Expectation Maximization. Are there any published read and write speeds? Will it keep pace for HD editing on an IntelMac or G5? If so, how many realtime streams at 720p or 1080i? How does it compare with other RAID systems?

  53. Ditto to the comment from Expectation Maximization. Are there any published read and write speeds? Will it keep pace for HD editing on an IntelMac or G5? If so, how many realtime streams at 720p or 1080i? How does it compare with other RAID systems?

  54. Does anyone know if using the Droboshare over the USB interface causes a throughput bottleneck when hooking into a gigabit ethernet network? As in, I know 1 Gbps is theoretical, but USB is only 480 Mbps theoretical, and not knowing fully what the true hard drive throughput is, am I essentially loosing half the potential throughput of my gigabit network when talking to these drives? I currently have several external USB 2.0 harddrive enclosures hooked into one of the computer on my network and was hoping for a cleaner (which Drobo definitely is) and faster (my key question here) home for these drives.
    Thanks much for the tech help!

  55. Does anyone know if using the Droboshare over the USB interface causes a throughput bottleneck when hooking into a gigabit ethernet network? As in, I know 1 Gbps is theoretical, but USB is only 480 Mbps theoretical, and not knowing fully what the true hard drive throughput is, am I essentially loosing half the potential throughput of my gigabit network when talking to these drives? I currently have several external USB 2.0 harddrive enclosures hooked into one of the computer on my network and was hoping for a cleaner (which Drobo definitely is) and faster (my key question here) home for these drives.
    Thanks much for the tech help!

  56. [...] Drobo Goes Firewire – This Week in Photography (TWiP) [...]

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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