Drobo Mini Photo

Drobo Mini

(Disclosure: Drobo is a sponsor of Photofocus)

Some of you may remember that last month I reviewed the new Drobo 5D. (You should refer to that review because some of the information there is also applicable to the Drobo Mini.) This month I’m going to review the Drobo Mini. This is a very different animal than the Drobo 5D. In fact, it’s a very different animal than anything else out there. But if you’re in the market for fast, portable, redundant storage, you should read on.

The Mini holds up to four 2.5″ SATA I/II/II drives and one mSATA SSD. This is in effect a fusion drive (similar to the technology used in the new iMacs from Apple and the same fast cache arrangement offered in the Drobo 5D.)

The connectivity on the Mini is provided using both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. Cables are included. (I love that – wish Apple would listen up.) As far as I know, there is no other device (besides the Drobo 5D) that offers both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt transfer rates are very fast. Using USB 2.0, we transferred 210 GB photo folders that took almost 11 minutes to move from place to place. It took 20.02 seconds using Thunderbolt on the Mini.

The BeyondRAID technology allows for redundancy, meaning if you have one drive go bad, you can replace it and the unit will self-heal with no data loss. There is also a battery backup built into the unit. This is impressive. Drobo has assigned this battery backup technology to both of its new products and you would pay big bucks for this from most any other manufacturer.

Like we did with the Drobo 5D, we torture tested the Mini. We pulled and added drives during reads and writes with no problem. We pulled the power with no problem. The Drobo Dashboard software (free) helps you keep track of the drive bay (and installed drives) health and makes it easy to format and configure. Gone are the days where you needed to hire an engineer to configure RAID arrays.

The Mini doesn’t self-heal quite as fast as the Drobo 5D but it’s fast enough and faster than any other RAID (or RAID-like) device we’ve tested with the exception of the much larger and more expensive Promise Pegasus R6.

The Mini is very thin compared to the Drobo 5D. It is easily portable. It comes with a special cable that recognizes that the use case for this device is on-the-go, portable storage. You have to insert the cable like a key – turning from left to right so the power cable doesn’t accidentally get pulled out.

Some reviewers (one prominent reviewer in particular) should have egg on their face since they based most of their negative review of the Mini on the fact that the cable kept coming out of the back of the unit. Well – if you don’t take time to RTFM that’s what happens. There’s also a clear diagram on the back of the unit (for those who didn’t read the manual) that indicates how the cable should be installed. Sigh. I guess anyone on the Internet can say anything without concern for accuracy. For the record, properly installed the cable will NOT come out of the back of the Mini.

I have also read reviews claiming that the unit is noisy. Maybe I got lucky but considering the speed, power and size I think the noise is minimal. It’s quieter than the big RAID drives I used to keep on my desktop.

As to the performance, I installed four of the Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 32 MB Cache 2.5 Inch Solid State Hybrid Drives (and bought a fifth as a backup.) The drives are $130 a piece. I also installed a 64GB mSATA solid state drive in the Drobo Accelerator Bay. This cost $75. You don’t have to install more than two drives and the mSATA is optional but if you’re going swimming you might as well get yourself totally wet and fill the whole unit. (I should note that there are 1TB 2.5 inch drives but I always like to wait until something like that has been out for a while. I opted for 750GB and have a total of just slightly more than 1.5 TB of useable space after redundancy. Also note you can mix and match drive sizes and brands. Drobo doesn’t care, as long as the drive is on the list of those they support.)

The reason to buy the mini over the Drobo 5D is its portability. And portable it is. The whole thing (loaded with drives) weighs in at just under three pounds. It’s light and small and would easily fit in a briefcase.

The Drobo Mini isn’t for everyone. Seriously. If you don’t need portability you probably don’t want one. It’s not the super fastest unit in the world, but it’s still plenty fast. It’s not cheap, but there’s nothing else like it. And for those who want redundancy on the road, fast and reliable data transfer, battery backup all in a small case this is your choice. If you don’t need the portability and have the space on your desk buy the Drobo 5D. If you want something that simply says “COOL” and fits in a small space, get the Mini.

The unit sells for $605 on Amazon. Add four drives like I did at $130 each and you’re up to $1125. Add the mSATA card and you just top $1200. For that you get Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 connectivity, fusion drive, peace of mind, redundant data, battery back up, speed, sleek design and extreme portability.

I understand the objections to price on this unit and to a degree I’d say they are warranted. Could it or should it be cheaper? Probably, at least a little bit. At least Drobo could throw in the portable case. But there is no doubt that if you need this type of setup – you won’t be discouraged by the price. Why? Because the price discussion has to be had in the context of “Compared to what?” And that’s where the cookie crumbles because there IS nothing that compares. Thunderbolt, and USB 3 fusion drive that would fit in a ladies large purse?

Highly recommended.

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