Drobo Mini: Fast, reliable storage for the well-heeled road warrior

ExtremeTech Jun 21, 2012 Back to press

The Drobo is a cool way to have reliable storage. You get one, throw drives in, and it magically sorts out how to configure them as a reliable array. When it needs more room, it tells you what to do. It’s been viewed by many as a huge improvement over struggling with RAID levels and the ugly process of rebuilding or upgrading arrays. Drobo owners often swear by them, and most of those I know personally have gone back and bought more as their storage needs increased. Drobos have suffered from two very important problems though: slow performance compared to traditional RAID arrays and lack of portability.

Drobo has taken aim at both of those in a big way with their latest product launch. While the new, five-disk Drobo 5D will become their flagship for performance, Drobo has addressed both speed and portability in its new Drobo Mini. The Mini is about the size of a hardcover book, and can hold up to four 2.5-inch hard drives — either traditional drives or SSDs. To provide high-performance, the Mini offers both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectivity, as well as a slot for a mini-SSD (mSATA) for acceleration. The accelerator is particularly important in a portable unit, since most of high-capacity 2.5-inch drives on the market are only 5400 rpm.

The Drobo mini may cost more than your laptop

Drobo has never been shy about charging a premium price for its convenient feature set, and the Drobo Mini’s pricing is no exception. At $599 for the bare unit, a fully loaded version with 3TB of protected storage with an mSATA accelerator SSD clocks in at about $1100 plus tax ($599 for the Mini, plus $100 each for 4 1TB 2.5-inch drives, and about $100 for the accelerator).

I was amused to see the promotional video, which features the Mini being marketed to random passersby in Times Square as a backup drive for their home computers. For that purpose, one of the many simple 1-click backup external drives would do the job for around $200. Even at today’s HDD prices a pair of 3TB external USB 3.0 drives, for those who need extra redundancy, could be had for under $350.

Great media vault for road warriors

If you’re a pro who relies on truly redundant external storage, or just have the money to burn, there is no question the Drobo Mini is a very cool, high-performance solution. As a photographer who travels all over the world and needs to back up images as I go, I love the idea of the Drobo Mini, but I do have one very practical concern: because all the drives are in a single enclosure, losing the enclosure or damaging it could be catastrophic.

My usual road warrior solution to keeping my images safe is to store one copy on the large drive in my laptop, and then two more on separate USB 3.0 drives. I can ship one of those drives home for protection if I’m on an extended trip, or I can put one in a checked bag and one in my carry-on. This way all my drives are never in the same place. If all the drives were in a Drobo Mini, then if something happened to it or the bag it was in, I’d be out of luck — or I’d need to buy two of them.

If you want a simple fire-and-forget solution to reliable, portable backup, and don’t want to roll your own, the Drobo Mini should be a great way to go — if you have the cash.

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