The Complete Drobo Mini Review! Tests, Specifications, Photos + more!

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Drobo Mini with 1TB Drive

The Mini-est Drobo You Can Get

There has been a lot of discussion about the new Drobo Mini, most of which have been people sharing opinions. I’ll give you mine at the end, but not before we cover the cold, hard Drobo facts. So, let’s get right to it with the world’s most detailed Drobo Mini Review, complete with tests, Drobo Mini Photos and specifications.

What is a Drobo Mini? (The Mini Drobo Mini Review)

Drobo Minis are for storing your most important data. The kind that you would consider irreplaceable. Because ALL storage drives will die, as surely as every human will die. It’s just a matter of time. But by merging them together, then monitoring and managing them, you can plan for the failures and keep your data safe.

DroboWell, first let me tell you what a Drobo is in general. Drobo’s are little machines that you can load a bunch of hard drives in, and then they take the space on all the drives and combine it into one big pool of storage. It also sets some of the pooled storage space aside to use for redundancy, and if any single disk drive (or two) fails it can be replaced without any data loss.

Most importantly, Drobos are intelligent. They self-manage, which is key to getting this type of technology in everyone’s hands instead of just hard-core IT manager types. Drobos report on everything they’re doing, and you can’t even break it if you eject a drive while everything is running!

Multiple Drobo Alerts

Up until now machines that do this job were generally about the size of a small desktop computer (or bigger), but the Drobo Mini packs the same technology into a package about the size of my hand. Its the smallest device of its kind in the world at about 7″w x 7″d X 2″h and just under 4 pounds when loaded with four 1TB drives.

How to Incorporate Drobo Mini Into a Workflow

If you are a professional whose job is to create digital data – like a videographer, photographer, programmer, graphic artist, etc. – the content you create is normally irreplaceable. Even if you were forced to re-do your work, it would never be the same as before, and sometimes it can simply never be duplicated. For example, when Cali and I went to Japan and experienced Tokyo, or when I went to Mexico and photographed Scott and Wendi’s wedding.

Wendi in the Elevator

In a traditional workflow, professionals begin the creative process with some specialized equipment like a camera, or a laptop with a drawing tablet. Most of the time, data is stored on a single point of failure. Like the drive in their laptop, or worse yet – on a $20 SD or Compact Flash card.

Because of its ultra-fast Thunderbolt or USB 3 connectivity options, the Drobo Mini can be inserted into the workflow either:

  • As the primary storage drive, capturing and working directly on the device.
  • As an immediate backup / archive device, to transfer copies to the drive for safety.

Drobo Mini 2Personally, I’ve found the Drobo Mini is as fast as an internal SSD, and faster than a normal hard drive, when connected via Thunderbolt. So I import photos and videos directly onto the Mini and edit from there. This ensures that valuable data is as safe as it can possibly be while traveling.

For the ultra-paranoid, certain devices, such as the Canon 5D Mark III, can actually capture to two media cards simultaneously. So you always have a redundant copy of the data.

Drobo Mini’s Unique Features

Comparing the Drobo Mini to any other portable drive is like comparing Ft. Knox to a 2-car garage. Sure, both will hold stuff. But one is a simple no-security solution, and the other is… well, sophisticated!

Yes, the Drobo Mini is primarily a storage device. It holds your data. But it also does things that make it unique.

  1. You can mix and match any size or brand 2.5″ drives. Personally, I recommend purchasing all brand new matching drives that are the largest capacity available, but you don’t have to. Compare the Drobo to any other RAID drive where all disks must always be identical (same size, brand and model)! This is a huge deal, especially because it makes #2 possible at any time!
    Drobo Mini with Mixed Drives Installed
  2. Each drive in the Drobo Mini can be removed, replaced or upgraded at any time. Let’s say 2 years from now there are 5TB 2.5″ drives out. No problem! Take your old drives out and replace them one at a time with the new drives, and you instantly have more capacity!
    Drobo Mini
  3. The Drobo Mini itself can be upgraded! Let’s say that 3 years from now Drobo makes a newer, faster Drobo mini. You’ll be able to take the drives out of the old one, swap them into the new one, power it on, and keep running without having to transfer your data from one device to another! You can also do this if your Drobo happens to die for some reason. Stick the disks in a replacement and keep going!
  4. The Drobo Dashboard app monitors, manages and updates every Drobo automatically. If you have 10 Drobos, the Drobo Dashboard will silently monitor every drive in every Drobo, and if it detects any problems it will notify you and tell you exactly which drive to replace. You can swap the drive without even having to power down the device!
    Dashboard Drobo Mini Status
  5. Thunderbolt pass-through even while powered off. One very unique feature shared among Drobos is the ability for devices to pass through data from downstream Thunderbolt connected devices even while powered down. Other drives simply won’t do that, meaning they must stay on 100% of the time if units are daisy-chained.

I guess the takeaway is that a Drobo Mini can combine 4 cheap consumer grade hard drives to deliver enterprise grade reliability. Pros have that in their office, but they also need it in the field.

Next up, Specifications.

Drobo Mini Benchmarks and Specifications

Kill-A-Watt CloneTesting is one of those areas that needs a lot of documentation in order to ensure it’s possible to replicate results. So here are the details regarding the testing I performed on the Drobo.

Keep in mind that if you were to use older hard drives, for example, they might be louder and hotter. Or without an mSSD the drive might be slower. Testing in a lab or quiet room might also deliver different results, which is why I did it at home to simulate an environment “on the go”.

Specifications

  • Number of drive bays: 4 2.5″ drive bays + 1 mSSD drive slot
  • Drive capacities: All 7mm or 9mm 2.5″ drives for the primary drive bays, any mSSD drive for the accelerator slot
  • AC Input: 100-240VAC~2.5A, 50-60Hz
  • DC Output: 12VDC 4.16A & 50W Max
  • Power Consumption: 1.5A @ 12V (18W)
  • Operating Temperature: 50-95 degrees F
  • Non Operating Temp: 14-140 degrees F
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds (without power supply)

And now, the Tests.

Performance Measurements

I’m sure these numbers can vary wildly, but I ran three passes with the Mini connected to my MacBook Air, and these are the averages I saw. Speed testing was with XBench.

  • Average boot time: 79 seconds (3 passes)
  • Average shutdown time: 5 seconds (3 passes)
  • Max Read via Thunderbolt: 180 MB/s
  • Max Write via Thunderbolt: 140 MB/s

For comparison’s sake, here the output from a test of the Drobo Mini, while running off the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini battery:

Results 54.20
System Info
Xbench Version 1.3
System Version 10.8.2 (12C60)
Physical RAM 4096 MB
Model MacBookAir4,2
Drive Type Drobo Mini – TB
Disk Test 54.20
Sequential 32.67
Uncached Write 289.39 177.68 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 155.10 87.76 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 9.18 2.69 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 273.71 137.56 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Random 158.99
Uncached Write 92.81 9.83 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 284.98 91.23 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 219.74 1.56 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 158.11 29.34 MB/sec [256K blocks]

And here is the internal SSD on my laptop:

Results 359.45
System Info
Xbench Version 1.3
System Version 10.8.2 (12C60)
Physical RAM 4096 MB
Model MacBookAir4,2
Drive Type APPLE SSD SM256C
Disk Test 359.45
Sequential 226.57
Uncached Write 439.33 269.74 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 336.77 190.54 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 99.22 29.04 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 429.12 215.67 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Random 869.18
Uncached Write 791.01 83.74 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 602.01 192.72 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 1755.46 12.44 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 903.29 167.61 MB/sec [256K blocks]

The Mini isn’t as fast as an external RAID based drive with full sized 3.5″ drives, but it’s still very fast thanks to the Thunderbolt port. And if size wasn’t an issue, I’d go with the Drobo 5D and get the faster full sized 3.5″ drives.

Operating temperatures:

The Drobo Mini seems to be exceptionally well cooled. I started a transfer from a USB 2.0 GConnect and measured the temperature of both units after over 1.5 hours of transfer.

Drobo Mini Transfer Time

There was only about a 2 degree maximum difference between a USB bus powered single 2.5″ drive, and a 110V powered 4-drive Drobo Mini as measured with an infrared thermometer. At other times, both drives were within 2/10th of a degree of one another.

  • 4 disk drives at idle: 93.5 f
  • 4 disk drives at load: 96.3 f
Drobo Mini at 96 degrees after 1.5 hours of continuous data transfer.

Drobo Mini at 96 degrees after 1.5 hours of continuous data transfer.

GConnect at 94 degrees after 1.5 hours of continuous data transfer.

GConnect at 94 degrees after 1.5 hours of continuous data transfer.

Operating volume:

Typically we would measure loudness at a distance of 1 meter, and for the sake of reference at 1 meter with the Drobo Mini at idle in my home it measured in at 26 db, which according to the US Government is quieter than a whisper.

However, since people would typically be sitting next to a Drobo Mini, for example in a hotel room or a small office I measured the loudness with a Sound Level Meter from less than 6 inches away – which is obviously much closer than your head should ever be.

  • 4 disk drives at idle: 31 db
  • 4 disk drives at load: 35 db

Drobo Mini Loudness Measurement

I should also note that what we’re measuring is not just the Drobo Mini, but the combination of the MacBook Air, the GConnect, and the Drobo Mini – making the result all the more impressive.

The drive is so quiet, even during a 2-hour file transfer, that planes passing overhead and cars driving by in the street generated much more noise and interrupted my testing.

Power draw:

Given the fact that the Drobo Mini is purpose built to be small and portable, it’s important that it not suck up too much power so it can ultimately be used with batteries while on the road. Drobo’s official specs claim that the Mini requires 18W. That makes sense for an empty unit given my results with a fully loaded one.

  • Plugged in, power off: 4 W
  • Plugged in, power off, external drive on: 10 W
  • 4 disk drives at idle: 26 W
  • 4 disk drives during file transfer: 26 W
  • 4 drives idle + external drive: 32 W

The plugged-in power consumption is a little high, but I’m guessing that is to support the Thunderbolt passthrough capability while the drive is turned off. I found it rather amazing that the Drobo Mini could be turned on and off without disrupting an externally connected Thunderbolt drive. I’ve never seen that before, and it’s awesome!

Drobo Mini Allowing Thunderbolt Passthrough

Drobo Mini Allowing Thunderbolt Passthrough

I’m aware of at least one company who is currently developing a travel battery for this device, and I can’t wait for it to be released, but in the meantime I tested the Drobo Mini with a Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini battery with great results.

Drobo Mini Running on Vagabond Mini Battery

Drobo Mini Running on Vagabond Mini Battery

I worked on the MacBook Air with the Drobo Mini plugged into the Vagabond while editing images and running a movie (Ford Fairlane) simultaneously. After 75 minutes the Vagabond finally reported that the battery was somewhere around 1/2 full, meanwhile my Air was down to 33%. At the end of the movie, the Vagabond had dwindled to 25%. So you’re probably looking at around 2-2.5 hours of life on a charge per Vagabond.

I was able to finish the movie, but I had all but killed the Air battery while the Vagabond was still going strong. That means if you want to take the Drobo Mini and your laptop into the field to do edit work I highly recommend getting the HyperJuice 2 battery so your laptop can keep up with the Drobo Mini.

Where to Get a Drobo Mini

You can order a Drobo Mini direct from Drobo here, or if you prefer to get stuff from Amazon you can get it here.

Drobo Mini Final Comments

So, the Drobo Mini is a tool that’s small enough to fit in a backpack, fast enough to easily edit video off of, redundant enough to suffer one or two simultaneous hard drive failures, smart enough to tell its owner the status of every individual component inside it, and efficient enough to run off an external battery while I use it on the go.

Hopefully that was everything you ever wanted to know about the Drobo Mini – even things you didn’t know you wanted to know about it! :-) But if there are other questions, just drop a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Oh, the BEST way to show me you appreciated this review is to share it on Twitter (I’m @JohnPoz and on Google+ where you’ll find me as John Pozadzides!

I always love to hear that somehow, in some small way I managed to make a difference.

Finally… the Gallery.

Drobo Mini Photo Gallery

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. Christopher Ehren says:

    Hi – I have been trolling around the web looking for some Drobo advice and you seem to be a man who could provide. I have a 3 year old DroboPro (that I desperately want to love) that has been giving me fits with its sporadic unmounting and rebooting when copying large files, or large numbers of files. I took it off of the iSCSI connection and went to FireWire 800. Still got some errors saying “..some data cannot be read or written.” Now, it’s on USB and has been copying large (15 GB) files for hours and hasn’t even hiccuped. I’m wondering, could it be that I’m using a 2006 Mac Pro 1,1? Or, is it time to look into a Promise or Glyph RAID?

    Any advice / direction-pointing will be greedily implemented…

    • Michel says:

      Hi Christopher,
      I’m not the author of this blog, but allow me to give you an advice, I got help from this best blog-review I saw about the Drobo, (Yesterday I just ordered a Drobo Mini – at around half the price it was one year ago). I have a Mac Pro 2006, upgrade it with a CalDigit USB3 card and it’s working nicely with a Drobo 5D. I recommend to quit FireWire and SCSI…. that’s really too old technology and to slow. Or put a SSD like the Crucial m4 256 or 512 in your MacPro to boost the performance, after 8 years of use, it’s a big boost for applications and Mac OSX.
      Today with a MacBookPro Retina and SSD, my current configuration, you are quicker than a 2006 Mac Pro quad Core Xeon from 2006, plus you have now Thunderbolt. So anyway, my advice is that you replace your MacPro with anything else recent with thunderbolt and USB3 and eventually update your Drobo with a 5D who has Thunderbolt and USB3 and you can maybe even use your current HardDisk within your MacPro into the new Drobo 5D.
      Best,

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