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Drobo 5D3 DAS Review (Thunderbolt 3)

Rating: 9.0.

KitGuru has reviewed a handful of Drobo products in recent years and today we present our analysis of their latest Thunderbolt 3/USB C DAS called the Drobo 5D3. Drobo are still working on finalising Thunderbolt 3 Windows support so we were asked to review this particular sample on an Apple computer – specifically their latest generation laptops which feature Thunderbolt 3 ports. Apple were generous enough to send us their highest specification Apple MacBook Pro 13,3 unit, priced at just over £4,000.

While we are testing the Drobo 5D3 on an expensive Apple MacBook Pro today, news broke recently that Intel are putting a lot of focus into helping expand the platform to the mass PC audience. You can read Intel’s official press release on this (including integrated processor support) over HERE.

The original 5D DAS proved successful for Drobo and externally it looks almost identical to the latest 5D3 pictured above. Internally however it has received plenty of enhancements.

Drobo have upgraded the processor in the new 5D3 to deliver double the performance from a single core in the previous version to Quad core processor. It now has Thunderbolt 3 support to improve the throughput speeds, and you can now daisy chain the 5D3 up with two 4K screens, or one 5k screen – via the same bus.

The 5D3 still has a built in battery to protect the drives from an unexpected power cut. This battery ensures the last data can be safely written to the drive(s) and that DRAM data can be flushed to an internal flash drive. The fully charged battery can keep the drives running for 5 minutes. Once the system reboots it will automatically write all the data from the internal flash drive to the Hard drives so the user can continue from the point it was shut down.

The 5D3 also has a clever software algorithm in place to allow the product to perform background checks when the system is idle or close to idle. This helps to ensure that speed is maintained at all times when the user calls upon stored data. This requires no user intervention at all – it is set automatically by the software. Every 30 days it will check the system data, and every 90 days the user data.

The latest firmware offers full support for up to 64TB volume sizes.

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  • Welshdog

    When you say “cooling system is quiet in operation” are you referring to the noise from the unit overall? How quiet is quiet BTW? If I got one of these I would use it in a cabinet in my living room with the rest of my AV gear – BluRay, Tivo, Mac Mini server etc.

    Also, how do you feel about the proprietary RAID method used by Drobo? In the past there have been a number of issues and a lot of angry people who have lost data. Their RAID method is now 3 or 4 generations in so I expect that it is fully “debugged.” Do you agree?

  • trigger warning

    There seems to be a lot of inconsistencies in user experience out there with Drobo. On paper it is by far the best solution, but a lot of strongly negative reviews has given me pause. Has Kitguru been using the device continuously and do you still feel this is a strong buy?

  • Darrell Miller

    In the direct attached storage market.. You’ve got drobo.. you’ve got promise.. and custom enclosures via usb 3.1. (I use all of them)

    Promise tech. Pegasus you get super high performance.. but its a standard RAID. so all the drives have to be the same make and model

    .. With drobos you lose a little bit of performance but gain flexibility and ease of use.

    Custom enclosures you can build it exactly the way you want.. but you will only get usb 3.1 speed.

    With drobo or promise, pay for the warranty and the support. Drobo support is very good as long as you keep it up to date and pay for it.

    I use them all.. but at home with my photography business, i use drobo. i’ve been using drobo products since their 1st gen 10+ yrs ago. Now i’m using a Drobo 5D. Its been chugging a long for 3 yrs now, no issues other than an occasional bad drive. Its my primary storage.. but its NOT my only storage. I have a onsite and offsite backup too.

    Any system can and WILL fail.. you cant just depend on one. Drobo is a great choice as long as you keep the warranty up. Their support has always been very helpful.

  • Gary Baxter

    The 5d3 is listed with two model numbers DRDR6A21 & DRDR6A31. Any idea what the difference is? The later seems to be the only type available in the UK. I just want to make sure one isn’t configured more for Mac OS, as I’m only on windows. Thanks

  • Darrell Miller

    the fans are quiet, you get some occasional drive noise.. but you will with any drive.. in a cabnet you’d never know it was there..

    The people complaining had no other copy of their data.. any drive system can fail.. these systems are redundant..thats just reckless..

    I’ve been running various drobo products for 10 yrs now. I have had better luck with drobo das systems than with promise, g-tech, or lecie

    If you use it as recommended, put recommended drives in it.. AND have a backup of some kind, you’ll be fine.

  • James Talbot

    I bought a Drobo 5D3 last week along with 5 Samsung 850 EVO SSD drives. Huge mistake to try Drobo again. I can’t believe how slow it is compared to everything else. Why did they make a thunderbolt 3 version when the maximum speeds you can get are far, far below what thunderbolt 3 offers. The write speed for a 5 x SSD array is much slower than a single drive. Even the read speed for the 5 x SSD array is only 800 MB/s. When I put those same 5 drives in my other device, I get 3-5x better read and write speeds. There is just no excuse for that. If you need performance the Drobo 5D3 will make you sad. It’s not worth wasting a thunderbolt 3 port. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/38d7cc3218744efa8cf8ecded856a4eb9af8494ba84bd8eec0bce0889f779d43.png

  • EWI

    James, did you figure out why that’s the case, as test show far better performance…

  • James Talbot

    I didn’t see any test that used SSDs inside the Drobo, but my results are definitely faster (at least for reading) than anything I’ve seen posted anywhere.

    Many people suggested maybe switching to an “active” thunderbolt 3 cable would improve things. I doubted it would, knowing that the current results were already below what you would expect even with a thunderbolt 2 cable. But I went ahead and spent $75 to get an “active” tb3 cable and re-ran my tests. Guess what? the results did not change at all. The best performance you can hope to get from the Drobo 5D3 is what I have posted above.

    I have tested using HDDs, SDDs, USB3 cables, thunderbolt 3 passive and active cables, etc. It’s only slightly slower over USB3 than it is over thunderbolt, which tells you everything you need to know. USB3 is rated at 5 Gbps. Thunderbolt 1 at 10, Thunderbolt 2 at 20, Thunderbolt 3 at 40. But the Drobo doesn’t come close to using even Thunderbolt 2 speeds, so… yeah.

    I have tested on my 2017 iMac with a 1GB SSD and 64 GB of RAM. It’s the fastest machine you can get from Apple today. The Thunderbolt 3 active cable is as fast as they come. The Drobo is anything but fast. It doesn’t even utilize enough bandwidth to saturate Thunderbolt 1. That’s just sad.

    To say I’m disappointed is an extreme understatement.

  • EWI

    James, thank you so much for your reply. For me it’s important, as I’m going to buy myself a new iMac (the full blown one, but not waiting for the pro as that will be overpriced I guess). I’m doing productivity apps and photo (LightRoom – RAW processing) and a bit of video. My intention is to have a 2Tb SDD as main drive, and a fast DAS attached to that as an extension of my main harddrive. (I’ve currently an iMac 2013 with 3 Tb fusion drive, and it’s completely full…). So I don’t intend to use the DAS just for backup purposes. Not eager to consider a NAS either for that, also because I’m using Backblaze as a kind of secondary way of backup, and as you know a DAS can be included in the Backblaze backup, NAS cannot. What alternative would you recommend? Thanks for your insights and advise!

  • James Talbot

    That is my use case as well and precisely why I am so disappointed with the Drobo. I think the fastest DAS you can get right now is the Thunderbolt 3 QNAP stuff, but it’s a lot more expensive than the Drobo. I’m considering changing my workflow so all my “current” and unprocessed photos and Lightroom catalogs live on the internal SSD. As it is, there’s no reason to have the SSDs in the Drobo. The Drobo performs almost as well with fast HDDs… so then I ask myself what I’ll do with the 5 SSDs that I bought for this… and that’s why I may wind up shelling out the money for the QNAP and plugging them in there.

    As of now I’m still using the Drobo for my primary storage for photos and Lightroom catalogs. In this configuration my new iMac performs slightly better than my 2013 iMac with the 3 TB fusion drive (sound familiar?). At some point it will upset me enough that I’ll make a change and either buy the QNAP or change my workflow, but so far I’ve just been too busy getting stuff done to deal with it. Hope that helps.

  • EWI

    James, but that means if I’d use a QNAP, it’s NAS, so Backblaze won’t include that in their online backup, as they only include DAS, correct?

  • James Talbot

    You can directly connect the QNAP via Thunderbolt 3 just like the Drobo, so it should be considered a DAS, but I can’t guarantee that Backblaze would treat it that way. I don’t use Backblaze, so I don’t know. Check out the QNAP TVS-882ST3-i7-16G-US and see what you think.

  • EWI

    James, the QNAP is really very expensive. Think I’m better off buying a Samsung SSD 4TB and attach it over Thunderbolt, and buy a Drobo as the backup device… total cost will be lower, and speed (of the Samsung SSD 4TB higher than the QNAP, no?

  • EWI

    James, any comment to what I posted 10 days ago…? Thanks.

  • James Talbot

    I don’t know what Samsung SSD you’re talking about, but unless it involves multiple drives it won’t be as fast as the QNAP. A single SSD drive connected via USB 3.1 will provide almost the same performance as the Drobo, but not close to as fast as the internal SSD or the QNAP (thunderbolt 3).

  • Mato

    If you want really fast Thunderbolt 3 external storage, I can recommend the Lacie Bolt 3. It is very expensive. And 3TB gets full quickly. I use it to dump images from my shoots for quick back-up and to keep space on the 1TB disk in my MacBook Pro available for new shoots.