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Drobo’s Fast New Thunderbolt 3 Enclosure

Today, Drobo is shipping their newest model of protected storage device, the 5D3. It’s a 5 bay enclosure that has two of the newest Thunderbolt 3 ports as well as a USBC port for desktop attached storage (DAS.) The 5D3, like all Drobos, is super easy to set up. Open the box, connect the 5D3 as shown in the quick start guide. Download and install the current version of Drobo Dashboard. Turn on the new 5D3. Drobo Dashboard updates the unit’s firmware. Add at least two hard drives of any size and it’s ready to go.

What’s new?

The 5D3 has an improved processor for faster throughput and increased internal speed. This will allow the 5D3 to be up to twice as fast as the award winning 5D it replaces. The two Thunderbolt 3 ports support up to six daisy chained Thunderbolt devices and still provides power to run a laptop. The 5D3 also has a USB-C port. Like its older brother the 5D3 has an mSata slot on the bottom that provide on-the-fly caching of data to speed throughput. During a conversation with Drobo Chief Technology Officer, Rod Harrison, I learned that the 5D on my MacPro would have a throughput of 10Gb/s while the 5D3 would sport 20Gb/s. Gb/s is gigabits per second. Convert gigabits to gigabytes by dividing the bits by 8. (8 bits make up one byte.) 10Gb/s is 1.25 gigabytes per second. 20Gb/s is 2.5 gigabytes per second. A computer with a Thunderbolt 3 bus will yield up to 40Gb/s. In layman’s terms: “smokin’.”

Drobo’s protected storage

differs from RAID 5 (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives) devices in that it can handle any size or any speed SATA hard drive or SSD. Since size doesn’t matter, Drobo is a versatile solution. Protected storage, in simple terms, is a way of guardining against the failure of one or optionally two hard drives at the same time with no data loss. When a drive fails, Drobo displays a red light on the enclosure next to the bad disc. Drobo Dashboard sends notifications and if configured, email regarding problems. The failed drive can be replaced by another one while the Drobo is still running. As soon as the old drive is pulled, Drobo flashes the drive lights from green to amber continuously. Replace another drive only after the remapping completes.

Drobo Dashboard shows the time remaining until the remapping completes. While it’s underway, the drive lights on the enclosure and in Dasboard flash yellow / green.

In a minute or so Drobo will recognize the new drive and begin remapping the data from the others onto. While remapping takes place, all of the data on the Drobo is available. New data can be written to the Drobo as well. Writing new data is not as fast while remapping. Remapping can take a while depending on drive speed and the amount of data on the unit. Initially, the number of hours is outlandish. When I moved the RAID pack from my Drobo 5D to the 5D3, the progress bar started at 170 hours. In the span of an hour, however, it was down to a very reasonable 24 hours to remap.

My experience

I’ve had an early production 5D3 for a few weeks now. I added a Samsung 250gb mSata card in the bottom for the “Hot Data Cache.” I have a MacPro (late 2013) that has Thunderbolt 2 ports and USB-3 but no Thunderbolt 3 or USBC. Thunderbolt 2 is much faster than USB-3. I used and Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor plugged into the 5D3 and then with a Thunderbolt 2 cable to the MacPro. The first thing that I noticed was the Drobo 5D3 felt faster while it was remapping the drives from my older 5D. Once the remapping was finished it was faster, much faster even though my computer only has Thunderbolt 2. Finder folders reveal quicker. A folder containing hundreds of images populates almost immediately. Lightroom is faster too. I have over a million photos cataloged in Lightroom. My 5D with an mSata card was OK. Upon calling a folder of photos it would take a while to populate the Grid mode in the Library module. The 5D3 isn’t instant by any means. It is a lot faster. My work flow is flowing faster now thanks to the speed bump. Hey, two times faster is really good. I expect it will be even faster on a Thunderbolt 3 computer. I am really happy with the 5D3. I recommend it without reservation. If you already have a 5D or 5C, the 5D3 will be faster. Use the older enclosure to backup the 5D3.

Migrating the drive pack

from the 5D to the 5D3 was super easy. The first thing to do before migrating a set of drives from an older model Drobo to a newer one is to update the firmware. Drobo Dashboard does this work painlessly. As a matter of fact, when an update is available Dashboard tells you. When you OK the install it asks if you want to restart the Drobo to complete the update. The really good thing is that it doesn’t have to be restarted immediately. Dashboard will remind you. The restart of the Drobo to complete the update can be done when it’s convenient. There is a full set of migration instructions on Drobo.com/support.

Pricing and availability

The Drobo 5D3 is available now on DroboStore.com for $699.00, the same price as its predecessor the 5D. Current owners may receive a $50.00 discount through July 11, 2017 on the DroboStore. US customers will receive a limited edition Drobo skin during that time.

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