It’s the age old question since we’ve started to shoot digital. How can I make my workflow faster? More efficient? Or more importantly, how can I get more free time and peace of mind? Well, here’s where I hopefully can help out a little. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the DROBO 5D with a couple of Seagate 2TB SATA HDD’s to do some long term testing for my photo and video production workflow…and the short answer to the question? As much as we can get our hands on!

Drobo HD Details

The Nitty Gritty / Tech Details

The Drobo 5D is a USB3 and Dual Thunderbolt, (this is great if you have limited ports since you can daisy chain up to 6 Drobo 5D’s together!), port Direct Attached Storage Device (DAS) with five 3.5″ bays for Hard Drives giving a max capacity of 64TB with the latest firmware. While similar to many of the previous models from Drobo, this unit has added support for both HDD and SDD drives, an increased/additional Memory, faster processor, and a battery backup. This unit was designed with Media Creatives in mind, knowing their need for high capacity, and high performance. So much so that a mSATA SSD (128GB or 256GB ) bay was added (not included by default) to cache critical & frequently used data for improved performance.

Drobo Hero Shot


One thing that stood out to me compared to my MUCH older RAID arrays was this unit was completely tool-less! No screwdrivers required. It’s a solid black metal enclosure with a built in cooling fan to help keep the unit cool no matter the stress you put it through. The other components are made out of plastic to help reduce weight and increase the cooling performance, and well, keep the cost down ;)


Drobo Rear


A vented magnetic door covers the front of the device giving the HDDs room to breath and providing easy access when needed, (hot swapping), and i’ve got to say, this was one of the most painless setups for a RAID device i’ve EVER used.


Drobo FrontDrobo Front 1



The back of the device is entirely vented with just the 2 thunderbolt ports, the USB3 port, power connection, and switch near the bottom. The interesting little clip on the very bottom of the device is where you’d install the optional mSATA SSD to boost the devices performance. Fort the purpose of my tests, this was NOT included/used…so keep that in mind. Also i’m only running with 2 drives installed. As Mykii says in his article (linked below), the performance improves noticeably when you have all 5 drives installed and in use!


Drobo - mSATA


Technical Specs;

  • Connectivity
    • 2 x Thunderbolt ports; second port for daisy chaining (Mac OS X only)
    • 1 x USB 3.0 port
  • Capacity
    • Up to 5 x 3.5″ SATA II / III hard disk drives or solid state drives (sold separately)
    • 1 x mSATA solid state drive (sold separately)
  • BeyondRAID Features
    • Thin Provisioning
    • Instant Expansion
    • Mixed Drive Size Utilization
    • Automatic Protection Levels
    • Dual Disk Redundancy
    • Virtual Hot Spare
    • Data Aware
    • Drive Re-ordering
  • Management
    • Drive bay indicator lights, capacity gauge, status lights
    • Drobo Dashboard version 2.3 or later
  • Operating System Support
    • Mac OS X 10.7.x Lion
    • Mac OS X 10.8.x Mountain Lion
    • Windows 7 SP1 32 and 64 bit
    • Windows 8 32 and 64 bit
  • File System Options
    • Mac OS X: HFS+
    • Windows: NTFS
  • Hardware Features
    • Carrier-less Drive Bays
    • Power Fail Protection
    • Kensington Lock Port for Security (lock not included)
  • Additional Software Features
    • Data-Aware Tiering
    • Drive Spin Down
    • Dim Lights
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 5.9″ (150.3 mm) x 7.3″ (185.4 mm) x 10.3″ (262.3 mm)
  • Weight: 8.5 lbs (without hard drives and power supply)
  • Power and Cooling
    • External Power Supply: AC Input – 100-240VAC~2A, 50-60Hz; DC Output – 12V, 12.5A, 150W max
    • Single, fixed, variable speed cooling fan
  • Acoustics – Normal Operation: 24 dBA
  • Standard 2-year warranty; extend to 3 years and enhance support with DroboCare


Drobo Details

Testing and Opinion Time!

There are several other articles on Photofocus regarding the setup, installation, and operation of the Drobo units, so I won’t dive into those territories at all (i’ll include links in the bottom). For this, I’ll just talk about the performance, and specifically pertaining to my older 2012 MacBook Pro using just USB 3 and/or thunderbolt for Photo and Video editing.

Some base testing with the USB3 and Thunderbolt showed only a slight improved performance using Thunderbolt so for the majority of my tests, I stuck with the USB3 (keep in mind, my machine is older….hahah). And instead of using the standard “send 1 – 5g file and 10 – 1g files you always see online, I wanted to hit things the real photographer way! So I started by copying an entire client catalogue for Lightroom including RAW files, video files, and a mess of audio.  and using USB3 I was given about 150 megs a second of write speed, and 208 megs a second for read which is pretty incredible, especially when compared to a NAS system. Switching to Thunderbolt gave about a 10% performance increase over the USB3 connections also.


BlackMagic Speed Test-USB3


Aja Speed Test - Drobo


The issue i’ve always faced was Preview Loading times with Lightroom/Capture One, and then actual render times within Photoshop. The Drobo 5D was able to increase the performance speed of my workflow by at least 10% if not more! Frankly, I got so lost in my seamless editing that I forgot to stop/start the clock a few times haha.

Lightroom Drobo


I’ll be honest…going into this test blind, having only read the not-so-positive reviews of Drobo, I was a sceptic expecting the worst out of the DAS unit I was testing. However, after months of rigorous testing and day to day usage, I was shown my preconceived worries were wrong. The Drobo 5D definitely delivers an easy to use quick and intuitive drive installation with a straightforward management dashboard. With the option to mix and match Solid State and Regular SATA Drives, as well as the optional mSATA addition, the Drobo 5D is a very high capacity and responsive Direct Access Storage Solution. Running a 100 Gig+ Lightroom catalogue worth of RAWs, JPGS, Videos, and Photoshop files stored on my Drobo provided me with very fast and responsive experience where my only real limitation was from the Software Products themselves…but that’s a whole other article on its own haha. The speed tests above (while confusing to look at without a lot of digging into), basically show that the Drobo can provide a faster and smoother working experience, (that improves with more HD’s chained), than when working with just your local drive alone! So, throw in the added security of the redundancy of RAID, the Drobo 5D provides MORE than enough speed AND security for a working Photographer/Videographer in todays market! The only bottle neck I could encounter was the software itself used in my workflow.  At an entry price point as low as $279 (on sale) for the Enclosure, and configurations available for whatever you need, this unit can more than handle ANYTHING you throw at it.

How much speed does a photographer need?  When you’re on the clock and turnaround time on your projects is tantamount, you can count on the Drobo 5D to deliver for all of your needs!


Here are some other fantastic articles related to the Drobo on Photofocus;