More and more of us are working from home, many in a single room with no machine room where we can put our noisy and hot gear, it’s all in the same space. I’ve been on an ongoing mission to try and create a one-room ‘silent’ studio, regular readers of the blog will have seen my other efforts to achieve this, such as replacing the fan in my Avid Omni interface, hard drives are another area where noise can emanate.
I’ve been a listener of the ‘Mac Observer’s Mac Geek Gab Podcast’ for several years. One product they have been waxing lyrically about for several years is the Drobo. I’ll let the Drobo people explain how it works.
In a nutshell the Drobo connects to your computer or network and provides redundant data protection without the complexities of traditional RAID. Dynamically expand storage any time. Drobo currently holds up to 36TB, depending on the model, using any combination of 3.5” disk drives or 2.5” drives for the Drobo Mini. The Drobo family offers Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, Ethernet, iSCSI, and other connectivity options, so you get the data protection you need along with the speed and interface you want.
Through a series of upgrades and other buying decisions I’ve found myself with 3 2.5” SSD drives and so I decided to see how the Drobo Mini would work in my studio environment. In short the Drobo Mini is a 4 bay 2.5” drive host with Thunderbolt and USB3 connectivity, so it seemed the ideal Drobo for me to test. In addition to the 4 drive bays in the front the Drobo has a 5th mSATA SSD drive bay on the base where you can install an mSATA SSD. Drobo call this the ‘Accelerator Bay’ and claim it can give the Drobo a further speed boost.
Setting Up The Drobo Mini
I got it out the box, then I popped open the front cover and pushed and clicked the drives into place, no tools required. One thing to note, once you push your drives into place then as soon as the Drobo starts up for the first time it will format them, so make sure you’ve got all your data off any existing drives before you do this. Then I plugged in the external PSU and had a small battle to line up the PSU (it’s one of those one’s similar to the one used on the UAD Apollo Twin that locks in place) and getting them in can be a bugger. This was in fact the hardest part of setting up the Drobo.
Then I downloaded the Drobo Desktop software and installed it on my Mac.
I connected the Drobo to my Mac Pro ‘Trash Can’ via Thunderbolt and then powered it up. After a cool little light show the Drobo lit up with the Green surround lights and blue legend at the bottom to tell me that all is well, and hey presto it showed up on my desktop.
Best of all it was running and super quiet - giving my ultra-quiet Mac Pro a run for its money in the silence stakes.
Drobo Mini In Use
Early use of the Drobo was temperamental, it kept dropping off my Mac and a lot of my applications seemed to be taking an extremely long time to open and save anywhere on my Mac, bugger I thought. However rather than jump the gun and write the Drobo off I decided to set up and new user account on my Mac to see if the Drobo was the source of my woes. It seemed not and with a new user account the Drobo, as well as my other apps has run trouble free for a week now. It seemed that my Mac was throwing a wobbly that coincided with the introduction of the Drobo, but actually had nothing to do with it. A lesson for all of us when having issues and throwing a wobbly at the wrong product and the company who made it - especially in the modern world of social media ‘vomit rants’, it is always good to get our facts straight before we end up eating humble pie.
So a week later the Drobo has been running like charm.
Is The Drobo Mini Up To The Speed We Need?
So does the Drobo, which is to all intents and purposes a RAID, suitbale to use as a media drive? So here’s the Black Magic Speed test running at a 5gb file load on both the Drobo Mini and a LaCie 3TB d2 Thunderbolt 2/USB 3.0 Hard Drive, both have Thunderbolt and USB3 connectivity. The Drobo Mini is running 3 x Crucial SSD drives and the LaCie a single 7200rpm HD. Let’s be clear the SSDs will add a speed boost, but the drive speed is only part of the equation, the interface is another part of that equation. The speeds you will get on a Drobo Mini will be slower if you use HD instead of of SSD, but what this test shows is that the Drobo Mini is more than cable of dealing with the speeds required for media creation.
A week in and the Drobo Mini seems to be working out very well and helps me on my mission for a silent same-room solution for media work.
I’ve used it on both complex Pro Tools sessions as well as intensive Final Cut video projects, it has kept up fine. At no point has Pro Tools fallen over or Final Cut started throwing up dropped frame massages, that’s working at Full HD, 25fps content. There’s also an interesting article on the Drobo blog giving one users account of the Drobo Mini with Pro Tools, you can read it here.
The Drobo Mini is not the cheapest solution on the market, coming in at around £280 plus the cost of the drives, but if you want something quiet, fast, flexible and also easy to take on the road, then the Drobo is worth serious consideration.
- 2 x Thunderbolt ports; second port for daisy chaining Thunderbolt devices (Mac OS X only)
- 1 x USB 3.0 port
Drives and Expansion
- Up to four (4) 2.5″ SATA I/II/III hard disk drives or solid state drives – 7 mm and 9.5 mm in height (sold separately).
- One (1) mSATA solid state drive in the Drobo Accelerator Bay for increased performance (sold separately).
- Drives of any manufacturer, capacity, spindle speed, and/or cache can be used. No carriers or tools required. Click here for drive recommendations.
- Expandable by adding drives or hot-swapping drives with larger ones. Use the Capacity Calculator to estimate available storage in various configurations.
- Thin Provisioning
- Instant Expansion
- Mixed Drive Size Utilization
- Automatic Protection Levels
- Single – or Dual-Disk Redundancy
- Virtual Hot Spare
- Data Aware
- Drive Re-ordering
- Drive bay indicator lights, capacity gauge, status lights
- Drobo Dashboard version 2.3 or later
Operating System Support
- Mac OS X 10.7 and higher
- Windows 8/8.1 32 and 64 bit
- Windows 7 32 and 64 bit
File System Options
- Mac OS X: HFS+
- Windows: NTFS
- Carrier-less Drive Bays
- Power Fail Protection
- Kensington Lock Port for Security (lock not included)
Additional Software Features
- Hot Data Caching
- Drive Spin Down
- Dim Lights
- OS X Time Machine Support
One (1) year warranty in the US or outside the EU or two (2) year warranty in the EU.
Size and Weight
Desktop Form Factor
Width: 7.3 in (187.2 mm)
Height: 1.8 in (44.6 mm)
Depth: 7.1 in (180.0 mm)
Weight: 2.2 lb (1 kg) without hard drives, power supply, or packaging
Power and Cooling
External Power Supply:
AC Input – 100-240VAC~2A, 50-60Hz
DC Output – 12V, 4.16A, 50W max
Dual, fixed, variable speed cooling fans