It has been a while since we reviewed a Drobo device but the newly revised 4-bay array with USB 3.0 was worth a look.
Drobo is frequently referred to as ‘the Apple of external storage products’. They got this name because their products go for the simplest possible out-of-the-box experience. Despite their simplicity, the BeyondRAID concept these units employ remains extremely robust and highly resistant to data loss in even the most extreme cases of drive failures and data loss. I reviewed the DroboPro 8-bay unit over 5 years ago and was so impressed by it that I continue to use one to this day (and it has never lost data, despite occasional hard drive failures).
Over those past 5 years since our review of the DroboPro, Drobo (then known as Data Robotics) has also had a bit of an Apple story. Their original CEO started the company but was ousted by the board in late 2009. He then started Connected Data in 2011, quickly growing to the point where they merged with Drobo in 2013. This was not just a merger of companies, it was a merger of their respective products. The original Transporter was only a single drive unit, where Drobo’s tech supercharged that personal cloud capability to scale all the way up to corporate environments.
Many would say that for that period where their original CEO was absent, Drobo’s products turned more towards profitability, perhaps too soon for the company, as the products released during that period were less than stellar. We actually got a few of those Drobos in for review, but their performance was so inconsistent that we spent more time trying to figure out what was causing the issues than completing a review we could stand behind. With their founder back in the CEO chair, Drobo's path was turned back to its roots – making a good, fast, and low cost product for their customers. This was what they wanted to accomplish back in 2009, but in many ways the available tech was not up to speed yet. USB 2.0 was the fastest widely available standard, aside from iSCSI over Gigabit (but that was pricey to implement and appeared in the DroboPro). Nowadays things are very different. USB 3.0 controllers are vastly more compatible and faster than they used to be, as is SATA controller hardware and ARM microcontrollers. These developments would ultimately enable Drobo to introduce what they wanted to in the first place:
This is the third generation 4-Bay Drobo. The 4-Bay model is what started it all for them, but was a bit underpowered and limited to USB 2.0 speeds. The second gen unit launched mid 2008, adding FireWire as a faster connection option, but it was still slower than most would have liked given its $500 price tag. This third generation unit promises to change all of that.
USB is once again the only connectivity option, but this time it’s USB 3.0. There have previously been other 5-bay Drobos with this as an option (Drobo S, S gen 2, 5D, Mini), but many of those units saw compatibility issues with some USB 3.0 host controllers. We experienced some of these same frustrating incompatibilities first hand, and can confirm those frustrations. Drobo is putting that behind them with a revised chipset, and today we will put it all to the test.