Drobo 5N

A five-bay net­work stor­age box with hot-swap­pable drives

Mac Format - - APPLE CHOICE - Re­viewed by Kenn y Hem­phill

£474 (en­clo­sure only) FROM Drobo, drobo.co.uk fea­tures Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net port, five SATA disk bays, one mSATA bay NEEDS OS X 10.9 or higher, router with a spare LAN socket

Drobo has built its busi­ness on stor­age sys­tems that al­low you to mix and match disks of dif­fer­ent speeds and ca­pac­i­ties and from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers and hotswap them when you need to add ca­pac­ity or re­place

a fail­ing disk. The Drobo 5N pro­vides these fea­tures and many more.

First the name: the ‘5’ is a ref­er­ence to the num­ber of hard drive bays and the ’N’ to the fact that this is a net­work stor­age de­vice. To that end, the Drobo 5N has a Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net port that en­ables you to con­nect it to your router – or di­rectly to your Mac if you want to copy lots of data at the fastest pos­si­ble speed.

The 5N has one ad­di­tional stor­age slot, into which you can fit an mSATA SSD to use as a cache of the files you use most of­ten, in a sim­i­lar way to Ap­ple’s Fu­sion Drive. If you want, you can fit SSDs in the other five disk bays too, but this is much more costly than us­ing hard disks, pro­hib­i­tively so for most of us, and un­nec­es­sary. The con­fig­u­ra­tion of the SSD/hard disk ar­range­ment, like that of ev­ery­thing else in the 5N, is au­to­matic.

The 5N has built-in re­dun­dancy, so if a disk fails the stor­age ar­ray is au­to­mat­i­cally re­con­fig­ured to avoid us­ing that one and re­build the stor­age plus re­dun­dancy setup us­ing the re­main­ing disks. You can then whip out the failed disk, slot in a re­place­ment and the drive re­builds the ar­ray to in­clude it.

Set­ting up is straight­for­ward enough – hard disks and SSDs are easy to slot into po­si­tion. We ex­pe­ri­enced one or two hic­cups while the Drobo Dash­board soft­ware was con­fig­ur­ing the 5N, how­ever. It seemed to take an age to find the drive on the net­work and then it in­sisted on up­dat­ing the firmware. Once done, the 5N restarted au­to­mat­i­cally but again took sev­eral min­utes to be ‘found’ by the soft­ware. Once the unit had been dis­cov­ered, the man­ual prompts users to set up an ad­min pass­word, but doesn’t men­tion the need to wait 20 min­utes for the 5N to con­fig­ure it­self.

Once set up, the 5N worked like a charm. It took six min­utes to copy 24GB of data from our iMac, and we were able to re­move one hard disk and add two more with­out any in­ter­rup­tion to the copy­ing process.

A drive of many tal­ents

As with many net­work drives, there are a num­ber of apps you can in­stall on the 5N. These en­able you to host a Word­press blog, use the drive as a DLNA or Plex server, down­load us­ing BitTor­rent, or back up your data to Crash­plan, for ex­am­ple. There are also iOS apps that en­able ac­cess to the 5N while away from your lo­cal net­work, and to sim­plify mov­ing and ac­cess­ing pho­tos and videos from an iPhone or iPad to and from the drive.

We have only two mi­nor qualms about the Drobo 5N. One is the noise it makes. It’s not ex­ces­sive, but sit­ting on a desk next to you, you’ll no­tice it. The fan is nois­ier than the two-bay Synol­ogy NAS we reg­u­larly use.

The other is price. At a shade un­der £500 for the en­clo­sure alone, the 5N is sig­nif­i­cantly more pricey than four-bay NAS en­clo­sures. You pay for the con­ve­nience of mix­ing and match­ing drives and be­ing able to hotswap them, as well as the ex­tra bay. If that’s im­por­tant to you, the 5N won’t dis­ap­point. If not, you may be bet­ter look­ing else­where.

There’s also a slot for an mSATA SSD to use as a cache, in a sim­i­lar way to Ap­ple’s Fu­sion Drive

The Drobo 5N has five SATA hard disk bays and a slot for an op­tional mSATA-con­nected SSD.

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