5D3 is the ultimate in connected storage.

UPDATE
When this review was completed we used the cable that was provided by Drobo with the 5D3. At the time, we were unaware that it was a passive Thunderbolt 3 cable, which means that it will only transfer at speeds of up to 20 GB/s. The active Thunderbolt 3 cables will transfer at speeds of up to 40 GB/s, which is where this unit should be performing. We have retested the 5D3 and it is performing at the faster speeds for Thunderbolt 3 with the active cable. For more information on the difference between the types of cables, read this post on StarTech.com.

Drobo has been my storage solution of choice for many years now. It’s ideal for my workflow and I love having a redundant backup system for my files. If you’ve been following MacSources for any length of time, you will definitely know of my love for this company and its wonderful products. Last fall when I decided to upgrade to the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I had some concerns that I wouldn’t get to experience real USB-C transfer speeds since there was no USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 option for Drobo at that time. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait very long and today, I’m very excited to announce the release of Drobo’s latest storage unit the 5D3.

The Drobo 5D3 is the same great Drobo frame with some extra ‘oompf’ behind it. It has up to a 2X performance boost over the Drobo 5D (Interfaces: 2X Thunderbolt 2, 1X USB 3.0) and the second new product released by Drobo in 3 months time (5N2 was released in March).

“The 5D3 is a direct result of working with our creative customers to make their workflows more efficient and productive,” said Drobo CEO, Mihir Shah. “We pride ourselves in setting the standard for storage simplicity with automated, easy to use, and reliable data protection.” 

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

The 5D3 was designed for lightning fast workflows for creative professionals and small businesses that needed superior performance and high capacity storage. With it’s five drive-bay design and ability to hold up to 64TB of storage, it’s great to use as a central backup system as well as media storage for live video editing. Because it uses Thunderbolt 3, the 5D3 can transfer at speeds up to 800/346 MB/s read/write (with SSD + mSATA). The increased speed and Thunderbolt technology allow for more pixels and clarity on 4K/5K displays for editing purposes. You can also daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt devices together.

The Drobo 5D3 has an unparalleled feature set including:

  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one USB 3.0 Type-C port
  • BeyondRAID ® Technology for storage simplicity and easy expansion
  • Upgraded processor for increased speed and throughput
  • Support for two 4K monitors or one 5K monitor
  • mSATA Accelerator Bay for performance boost up to 30% for frequently accessed data
  • Two-year warranty

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

As always, Drobo designed the 5D3 to be simple, safe, and smart. Customers come first with Drobo and they prove that by providing this easy to use, manageable system. The Drobo 5D3’s package includes the Drobo unit, a Thunderbolt 3 cable, power supply, and a quick start card. Just like it’s cousin units, the 5D3 features 5 carrier-less drive bays. This means that you can insert any 3.5” HDD or SSD without having to use an adapter. It simply slides into the bay and clicks into place when the locking mechanism pops out. They can stick just a bit so don’t think it’s jammed if you have a little trouble getting it to lock into place at first. One of the things I truly love about Drobo is that you have the option to choose whatever drives you want. Some RAID systems have requirements or come with certain drives pre-installed. Drobo makes it easy to exchange a drive when it fills up or fails. In addition to the at a glance stoplight LED indicators, you always have full access to your Drobo’s health and system status through the Drobo Dashboard software on your computer.

“We understand that creative professionals and consumers have storage needs that change over time,” said Drobo CTO, Rod Harrison. “Drobos are the only direct-attached storage arrays on the market with unlimited expandability. Users have the ability to choose the drives that fit their capacity, brand and price preferences.” 

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

Each 5-bay Drobo has a LED light system that shows the status and capacity of the Drobo. The status LEDs show you at a glance what is going on with the system. Green means all systems are fine and operational. Yellow means that a drive may need to be replaced soon. Red means that you need to replace a drive and flashing red means that you need to replace the drive immediately. Along the bottom of the Drobo, there are blue LEDs that indicate the storage capacity of the system. There are 10 lights that indicate a percentage of usage from 0-100%. Even the power light shows the power status of the Drobo (green = on; yellow = standby mode; red = overheated).

All in all, your setup time should only take about 10 minutes from unboxing to powering it on. It may take a bit longer for your hard drives to format especially if you previously used them for something else. Drobo actually provides a very simple migration method to move your data from an older model (Drobo S, 4Bay (Gen3), 5C, 5D/5Dt) to the 5D3. First, you upgrade the firmware on both units. Then you power off the Drobo and pull the drives out of the older unit and place them into the 5D3. Then you power on and connect your new Drobo to your computer.

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

I’ve been fortunate enough to use the new Drobo 5D3 for the past few weeks and I can’t tell you how happy I am with it. Over the past two years, Drobo has been innovating with new products and really stepping up its game. When I heard that they were adding the new age of Thunderbolt to their already amazing BeyondRAID systems, I was ecstatic. As you can tell I get pumped over great technology and knowing my previous experiences with Drobo I felt I would be in for a treat. Let me tell you — they didn’t disappoint.

If you are into media editing and are running a computer with Thunderbolt 3 this device is a no-brainer. The transfer speed and ease of use makes the expense worth every penny. The thought of knowing your projects are secure from drive failure and that replacing a drive is as simple as just popping the old one out and sliding a new one in without the use of tools is mind blowing. I’ve had the opportunity to use other RAID systems but none compare to what Drobo offers as they really do have the best most efficient device around.

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

Even though there are a lot of endurance tests that could be run on the 5D3, I opted to keep my trials simple. For my purposes, I plan on using the 5D3 as a storage space for my media as I edit videos. So, I simply wanted to see how quickly files would transfer from the computer desktop to the Drobo. I used a folder with different types of media from RAW photos, high-resolution videos, MP3s, and software DMG files. The folder size was 37.12 GB in size and I was able to move it from my Mac to the Drobo 5D3 in two minutes and seven seconds. I would like to state here that I currently have HDD drives in the 5D3. There is an mSATA card installed, which helps to manage the efficiency of the entire system. That said the transfer time of just over 2 minutes for that size of a file is pretty amazing.

In addition to the drag and drop test, I also ran a BlackMagic Speed Test on the drives. The results are shown in the video. And even though it’s showing a bit slower than the average specs from Drobo, that could be because my drives are all HDD and not SSD. That said, my file transfer test above shows a very quick transfer rate — faster than the BlackMagic test and the specs actually show. I can also report that editing from the 5D3 is a breeze. I’ve not had any connection issues or file locations lost.

Drobo 5D3 REVIEW

A couple of additional features that I really love about Drobo storage arrays that are not often talked about are the internal backup battery and DroboCare. Drobo not only protects against drive failure, but it also provides an additional level of protection during power outages. There is an internal battery backup that sort of works like a UPS does. It moves any in-flight data to onboard flash in your Drobo. This technology ensures your important information is safe if the power is interrupted and will move that data back to the disk drive once power is restored. And Drobo Care provides you with peace of mind (sort of like Apple Care does) where if an issue occurs with the storage array itself, Drobo will send a replacement unit and pay for the shipping. This program does not cover failed hard drives, but service begins the day you activate DroboCare.

The Drobo 5D3 is made with the customer in mind. Drobo product designers and executives really did their research when they went to the drawing board for this impressive storage solution. The drive bay system retails for $699 (drives not included).
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For more information, visit drobo.com/storage-products/5d3
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