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The Drobo 5C’s performance, from a budget conscious perspective.

There’s a new box on the block! It is a whole lot more affordable and all of what we’d expect in terms of quality from Drobo.

Bottom Line: The 5C is an affordable, super simple and easy to use, expandable, directly-attached storage device that can hold up to five 3.5″ drives of various brands and capacities for computers that may or may not use USB-C.

This magic black box is purposefully featuring a USB-C port for all those who are early adopters, but also features backward compatibility with USB 3.0 over USB-A as well as many other fantastic features found on the popular 5D, specifically referring to hot-swappable drives during failure, as well as expansion, battery backup in case of power failure, a wonderful user interface, and ease of plug and play that simplifies the management of the Drobo. Compared to a traditional RAID box, you’ll save a lot of time and prevent headaches that would cause IT technicians headaches– and most of us aren’t as skilled as a technician, so imagine the migraines that you may save yourself.

The best part about this for photographers and videographers, the absolute best thing, is that the capability of expansion. Previously, you’d have to copy the files from one drive to another large drive, or in a traditional RAID box, copy the data off so you can replace the drives. Drobo makes this easy, you remove the smallest sized hard drive and replace it with a larger one! During that whole time you’re still able to access your data and keep working on it. I can’t tell you how many ridiculous hours this alone can save you!

For $349, you get the Drobo 5C, power supply, and a USB-C to USB-A cable. If you already have a USB-C ready device, you’ll have to purchase your own USB-C to USB-C cable or use an existing one.

drobo5c-back-big

The Scenario

Since I’m a crazy tinkerer, I set up the 5C with different drive configurations that may simulate how a photographer on a budget may experience performance. I ended up using two different benchmarking utilities to help you get an idea of the speed of the data-saving storage box.

  1. Performance with two 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM drives
  2. Performance with two 3TB Western Digital RED drives
  3. Performance with the combination of the 4 drives and an additional 1TB Seagate 7200RPM drive

 

I did it in these specific groups for all you who are out there who can’t think of just dropping $900 on a full set of five 4TB drives– like me. The joy of the Drobo is that you can build the storage as you need to. With that in mind for you, I started with two affordable, standard issue, 1TB 7200RPM drives from Seagate. If you have a little bit more money to spend on storage initially, I’d recommend jumping to a NAS drive for reliability, or a gaming/performance hard drive for speed. I tested it with the two 3TB Western Digital RED drives that I chose specifically for longevity instead of performance– after all, this drive is to help you keep your data with the long term in mind. Finally, I combined all the drives and added another 1TB drive I had removed from an old external hard drive enclosure, which turned out to be another Seagate. I’m sure that many of you have accumulated quite a few external hard drives over the years. Adding them into a Drobo is a great way to repurpose those drives.

My Test Machine

  • 2016 MacBook with Retina Display
  • 1.3Ghz Intel m7 processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • Turbo Boost disabled
  • Anker USB-C 3.1 cable

 

I wanted to provide an idea of base performance that one would expect from a setup with one of the slowest possible USB-C laptops. So, for the sake of this benchmark, I disabled Turbo Boost on this Mac, allowing it to only run at a steady 1.3GHz, and connected the Drobo 5C to the MacBook via a USB-C 3.1 cable from Anker that I got off Amazon for $15. Other USB-C cables may only be USB 2.0, so be aware when you purchase one. If you install one of those in for the Drobo or have a processor that’s faster than what I’m using, I’m sure you’ll get a pretty good performance jump.

I tend to do a lot of synthetic benchmarking with two different programs that have been used over the years. Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test, and another one called Quick Bench. In case people were are wondering about settings, I used a 5GB stress test to see the max bandwidth we can get from the device. in Quick Bench, I chose an extended test that reads and writes files in different file size increments, from 20MB to 100MB, and then had the software repeat itself 10 times to get an average for the final results.

Performance with two 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM drives

I started off with the basics, two everyday Seagate drives. These are just standard drives that everyone can pick up for roughly $47 each or so at B&H. These are just great starter drives, so I figured I’d test them out as an example of a starting point for people out there.

drobo-5c-seagate

seagate

 

Performance with two 3TB Western Digital RED drives

These made-for-NAS drives are drives that are meant to be running for a long time. They’re not technically the fastest performing drives but they provide a good amount of performance and durabiity over the long run, while saving some power and running quietly and efficiently.

drobo-5c-wd-red

wd-red

Performance with the combination of all the drives

Over time, you’ll eventually fill up the Drobo 5C slots with hard drives that you’ll need. With mismatched drives, I wanted to see how the performance would be affected.

drobo-5c-combodrives

combo

 

Analysis

To me, the performance of this Drobo isn’t surprising to me, as my Drobo 5D also performed similarly as I started off with it. It’s been a great simple box to play with. I’d expect it to work as well as my 5D as time goes on. Drobo recommends that for the best performance, have all 5 drives in. The benchmarks clearly show a drastic improvement in write speeds with all 5 drives in compared to just 2.

There’s are differences between the two brands of drives that were running. In a real world scenario, I personally doubt that anyone would really see a difference in transfer times between these two brands drives. They aren’t specialized performance drives, but at least you can expect at least this much speed out of it– which is more than enough for offloading and holding your images in Lightroom like I do.

The Drobo 5C, with a nice budget entry level price of $349, does miss out on one feature that I enjoy from the 5D, which is the mSATA accelerator card–used as hot cache for all the transfers back and forth. The 5D can be had for $599, which has both two Thunderbolt ports and USB 3.0 connectivity as well.

 

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