Drobo 5D Five-Bay Direct Attached Storage Review

The 5D from Drobo offers always-on data protection within a sleek Thunderbolt DAS. Let's dive in and take a close look at it.

Manufacturer: Drobo
8 minutes & 8 seconds read time


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The Drobo 5D is a rather unique storage solution, and for the longest time, I myself wanted to get my hands on one. The 5D is a five-bay direct attached storage appliance or DAS for short, which offers both USB 3.0 support for Mac OS X and Windows operating systems, but the real magic is found within the dual Thunderbolt ports, which at this time only work within Mac OS X.

The Drobo 5D was designed around creating a storage solution that was easy to use, offered data protection, and the performance creative professionals need and demand. The Drobo 5D does this by offering the latest in BeyondRAID technology coupled with SSD caching to increase performance. BeyondRAID is a rather unique feature that Drobo has went all in developing.

In traditional RAID arrays, when you want to change RAID levels say from 5 to 6, you would have to dump the data and reinitialize the array and move your data back. With the technology of BeyondRAID, if you need to add storage capacity, you just pull a drive and replace it with a larger one and the Drobo recognizes and adds the new capacity to the storage pool, without any user interaction. If you want additional redundancy similar to what a RAID 6 offers, it's the click of a button and the Drobo takes care of it.

The Drobo 5D has an included two-year warranty, which then can be extended to three years via DroboCare. The five-bay Drobo 5D is available is available in both 6TB and 15TB capacities with prices ranging from $1099.99 to $1699.99, and in addition to this, Drobo offers the 5D in a diskless solution for $699.99.

Software Features

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The Drobo Dashboard controls all facets of the 5D's operation. After launching the application, it will then search for all connected Drobo storage solutions connected.

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Setting up a volume through the dashboard is rather simple. Here you can see there are options laid out within a slider and the thought behind this is you select how much storage capacity you would like to have in the foreseeable future.

For instance, if you have five 1TB drives in the Drobo, but think you may want to upgrade to 4TB drives in the future, you would select a large volume size such as 16TB, this works similar to Thin Provisioning, where you would only have in reality 5TB of capacity, but you are looking to the future where you will have that 16TB you designed the storage pool around.

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The status menu shows you the health of each drive within your storage pool. Additionally, you can see what interface the Drobo in connected through.

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Within the capacity menu selection, you can see the layout of the storage volume. Here you can see we have single drive redundancy enabled and is using 950GB for protection.

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The tools menu allows you to turn the lights on or off in addition to renaming, formatting or shutting your Drobo down.

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On to Drobo settings where you have the option of adding additional drive redundancy by ticking the dual drive redundancy box. You can also enable the drives to spin down to save power.

Packaging and the Drobo 5D

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The Drobo 5D comes in a rather attractive package, but at the same time it's simple and sleek. The front of the box shows the Drobo itself with logos adorning the exterior.

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The backside of the box highlights many of the features of the Drobo.

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Upon opening the packaging, we were greeted by the accessories box.

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The Drobo 5D comes with a full host of accessories, some of the included good are the Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 cables, the power brick and reading materials.

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The power supply is made by FSP with an output of 12v @ 12.5 amps.

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Pulling the Drobo out of the box, the experience and excitement grew seeing the 5D packaged further into a nice carrying bag.

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The front of the Drobo stealth's the drive bays behind, along the bottom you will find a series of LEDs.

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The backside of the Drobo 5D houses a massive 120mm cooling fan, below this we find the dual Thunderbolt ports, USB 3.0 port and power and switch.

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On the backside of the front bay door, the fine folks over at Drobo have included a layout or legend in regards to the drive bay LEDs.

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Internally, the Drobo houses a custom motherboard. In the center of all of this is the CPU Marvell Armada that operates at 1.6GHz. Towards the top is the DOM that houses OS firmware and to the bottom the Thunderbolt PCB is on a daughterboard. Having the Thunderbolt I/O on a separate daughterboard should allow Drobo to upgrade to and release a Thunderbolt 2 spec sooner.

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The Drobo 5D supports a single mSATA SSD on the bottom of the PCB. This is also accessible from the bottom of the enclosure.

Test System Setup

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Our Consumer NAS test 'system' is setup similar to what you have at home. Here we have the base of a GIGABYTE Z77X UP5 TH housing an Intel Core i5 3570K with 16GB of RAM supporting. Our Operating System of choice is Windows 8 x64 Enterprise with all available updates and patches installed on a Corsair Neutron 256GB SSD.

We also enjoy the company of a Macintosh iMac 12.2 for testing Thunderbolt devices in OS X 10.8.4

This level of testing wouldn't be possible without the help and support from several companies, many of which have little to do with NAS products. We would like to thank Corsair, GIGABYTE and Western Digital for their much-appreciated support.

Single Client and NASPT

The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct measurement of home network attached storage (NAS) performance. Designed to emulate the behavior of an actual application, NASPT uses a set of real-world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications. Traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more provide a broad range of different application behaviors.

Benchmarks - Windows 8 - Single Client Throughput, Random and Sequential Read/Write

Benchmarks - Single Client Throughput


HD Video Play - 720p HD stream from Windows Media Player* 256kB reads

2HD Video Play - 2x playback

4HD Video Play - 4x playback

HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes

File Copy From NAS - 4GB file copy, 64kB reads

File Copy To NAS - 64kB writes

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Above, we have the results of our single client workload (NASPT). With the Drobo 5D, your data is never not protected. Because of this, there is no option for any equivalent to RAID 0. As such, we tested the Drobo 5D in BeyondRAID single drive redundancy mode to garner the most performance from the unit.

In our single client testing, you can see the 5D did quite well. File copy from the NAS came in at 129 MB/s with to the NAS at 48 MB/s. Video playback and record was very impressive throughout with speeds topping 150 MB/s.

Random and Sequential Workloads

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Our 4K Random read/write workload consists of sixteen threads all at QD16, results our measured in IOPS (Input Output Operations per Second). Above we find the 5D capable of 613 write IOPS and 142 read IOPS.

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Our Sequential read/write workload is centered on 1MB transfer sizes again with 16 threads and a Queue Depth of 16. Here we find the 5D capable of 114 write IOPS and 64 read IOPS.

As you may have noticed, we don't have comparable units in our chart at this time, but keep an eye out as we have a few more appliances from LaCie and WD in house that share the Thunderbolt interface.

Benchmarks - Power Consumption and Acoustics

Our power consumption testing involves running the power supply from the NAS through the output on our Kill-A-Watt meter. Results are recorded at several intervals including Idle, peak and after the drives enter standby.

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Above, we have our results from the power consumption testing. The first thing to note here is the use of WD Black drives and as we all know they use a bit more power. Peak power consumption during workload testing was 53 watts, after an idle period the Drobo dropped a few watts down to 47. Finally the drives entered standby and we had a power reading of 22 watts.

Acoustics are measured from a distance of one foot with our IEC Type II Sound Level Meter.

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Upon initializing the 5D, we measured a peak fan noise of 31.9dBA. After the drives spun down, we noted an idle noise level of 29.5dba.

Benchmarks - Thunderbolt on OS X 10.8

Benchmarks - Black Magic Design DST and Xbench

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Within Mac OS X 10.8.5, we used a 5GB file size with Black Magic Design DST. Again these results are via the BeyondRAID single drive redundancy volume. Here you can see we touched 303 MB/s read and 234 MB/s write in our testing.

At the time of testing, I did not have in house an mSATA SSD for testing. However in the coming weeks I will be testing the SSD cache function of the Drobo 5D via the mSATA slot on the bottom of the unit.

For those that are interested in the results, I will freely post them in a TweakTown forum thread for this article.

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Xbench offered us another glimpse into the Drobo 5D with the unit coming in at 312 MB/s in 4K sequential write. Larger block sizes such as 256K offered up 151 MB/s.

In random read and write, the Drobo was capable of 157 MB/s and 41.9 MB/s, respectively.

Final Thoughts

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The Drobo 5D is a very unique five-bay DAS storage solution that encompasses the latest in technology with its Thunderbolt ports and the best in market reliability with USB 3.0. This leads me to the build quality of the unit where I found the 5D rather stout and that is to say while the front panel is plastic the entire frame of the unit including the inside is made from SECC steel that gives the unit a bit of heft. Adding to this the weight of five drives in the 5D and you have yourself quite a piece of desktop art.

Moving onto the performance of the unit where we found the unit rather impressive, even in this day and age. Utilizing our Drobo 5D in its single drive redundancy setup, we were able to touch 300 MB/s read in our Macintosh testing, followed by 230 MB/s write. This is no small feat as many of the DAS solutions I have tested in the past have a hard time touching 300 MB/s, even when using RAID 0.

Windows single client performance was rather impressive as well where we found the 5D capable of 129 MB/s copying data from the DAS. Furthermore, the video playback and records numbers touched heights we haven't seen as of yet with single stream playback touching 170 MB/s and single stream record at 167 MB/s.

There is no doubt the Drobo 5D and many of its counterparts such as the 5N and Drobo Mini carry quite a cult following, and while many of these users are from the Mac side of computing, there is certainly cause for this. On the outside, you wouldn't think the Drobo is anything more than a very well built very good looking DAS storage solution, but on the inside the software and virtualization layer of this solution is really from the future.

As I spoke in the beginning, BeyondRAID is a rather interesting take on storage pooling and it goes way beyond your standard RAID levels. Where standard DAS or NAS units that include many RAID modes offer you the ability to select your array type and drives you want to use, the upgrade path from there is severely limited. With BeyondRAID, the ability to expand your volumes as your data grows is built in, and the best part is, there is always data protection.

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Tyler joined the TweakTown team in 2013 and has since reviewed 100s of new techy items. Growing up in a small farm town, tech wasn't around, unless it was in a tractor. At an early age, Tyler's parents brought home their first PC. Tyler was hooked and learned what it meant to format a HDD, spending many nights reinstalling Windows 95. Tyler's love and enthusiast nature always kept his PC nearby. Eager to get deeper into tech, he started reviewing.

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