The Drobo Mini is a powerful storage solution in a smaller package.
I’ve been a life long fan of Drobo. I’ve had just about all the consumer models and the Drobo Mini had been a model that I was interested in, but never had the time and extra money to pick one up. Now, that I have one I’m kicking myself for not ponying up and getting one when they first came out. The Drobo Mini is the perfect solution for on-the-go RAID storage. The most practical application I can think of is photo and video storage. One of our writers here at MacSources used to work as a video editor and on more than one occasion, she traveled with a video crew to be an on-site editor in remote locations. Also on more than one occasion, her company was caught with its proverbial pants down when their backup systems (single hard drives) failed. It was a choice that was made for portability sake and had the Drobo Mini been an option, it would have been ideal.
The Drobo Mini has four 2.5” drive bays and a mSATA SSD bay on the bottom. I outfitted the Mini with four 2.5-Inch 1TB 7200 RPM SATA III 32MB Cache Hard Drives by Travelstar. I could have installed all high capacity SSDs into the Drobo Mini for the best user experience, but at this time 2.5″ SSD drives are still quite pricy. I did, however, test out the Mini with four smaller SSD drives I had laying around. The speed difference between those SSDs and the Travelstar drives was not such a noticeable difference that it made sense to purchase the more expensive 1TB SSDs. I spent $60.95 per drive for the Travelstar drives whereas I would have spent around $348.90 per drive for the SSDs. What makes using SSD drives in the Drobo Mini so useful is knowing there are no moving parts in the SSDs which means there is less of a chance for drive failure.
The set-up for the Mini was super simple. I placed each drive into the Drobo while it was powered off. Once the drives were in place, I put the Drobo name plate back on the front and plugged in the Thunderbolt cable. I then turned on the Drobo Mini and opened Drobo Dashboard on my MacBook Pro. You can expect that it will take about 10 to 13 seconds for the Drobo Dashboard to find the Mini, but once it does you will get a message that states the drives have not yet been formatted for this Drobo. You want to select “yes” to format the drives, and within a minute or so, you will be ready to start piling data onto your Drobo.
If you really want to dig into the Dashboard settings you can turn on Double Redundancy to make sure that in case of a double hard drive failure you will be secure. This is a great option to have if you are super nervous about two drives going out at the same time. This feature is turned off by default, but in most cases if you have a drive failure, it’s going to happen one at a time. Your Drobo will allow you to keep working if one drive goes bad, but I would definitely not waste any time once a drive fails. Get it replaced ASAP. Your Drobo is the best thing you have to keeping your digital life safe from the abyss of a corrupt drive.
My story with Drobo starts years ago when they first put out the first USB Drobo. I had heard about them but never thought I would need something as powerful as a Drobo. I stored all my photos and documents on an external hard drive from Western Digital. My life was on that drive I had just scanned every hard copy photo we had in our family into it. My grandfather passed away and it meant the world to me that I had all these memories saved on my WD, Then BAM! it happened, like so many other people in this world I had that drive crash. I tried everything, taking it out of the case using an external dock and plugging it in directly to repair software and nothing. It was gone along with everything I had been collecting and doing. Luckily for me, I was computer savvy enough to be able to run recovery software on my computer at the time and get almost everything I truly cared about back. Not everything, but enough that I felt better.
The first thing I did once pulling all that info off my computer with the recovery software was go to B&H and order a Drobo. The reason I told this long story is so you the readers know how important a device like Drobo is. Everything I care about now is stored on one of my many Drobo’s. Yes, a Drobo can be more expensive than a standard USB or thunderbolt hard drive you can pickup just about anywhere, but the security of knowing your data is safely backed up by the best RAID system around, well thats what you get when you pay for a Drobo.
The MacSources team went to CES this year and as much as I would have liked to take my Drobo with me, it was not practical due to its size. So, I took a 2.5 inch 2TB hard drive with me. I needed a way for my team to off load video, photos, and documents that they would acquire at CES over the days we attended. As I described above, that is not the ideal situation when you are dealing with photos and video – material that cannot be easily replaced. This is where a Drobo Mini comes into play. Having one would have allowed me to travel with it and would have given me the confidence that all of our work would not be lost due to a drive failure, and if I need more space by some slim chance, I could always hit up a Fry’s and buy a bigger hard drive to replace one of the drives in my Drobo Mini. Thanks to the amazing team at Drobo, they had a Drobo Mini for me at CES. This little box is my new best friend. Anytime I take a trip for work or fun the Drobo Mini will be in my bag. I even ordered a carrying case for it to make travel an even bigger breeze. You can find these on Amazon here.
Now that I’ve told you why a Drobo is so important, my story, and why the Drobo Mini is beneficial in the general sense, let me explain some of its finer specifications and features.
Drobo has a capacity calculator included on their website so that you know exactly how much each model can hold. The Drobo Mini can hold up to 8TB of hard drives (2TB in each drive bay). This is perfect for on-the-go storage like I described in my CES journey above. The mSATA card provides a layer of speed to accessing your files. The Drobo system will look at the files that you access the most and prioritize them to the mSATA card so that you can get to them quicker. Some other portable RAID systems don’t hold quite as much storage. For example, the Western Digital My Passport Pro provides a RAID 0 system that includes two separate 2.5″ hard drives, but it’s top capacity is 4TB (2TB per drive). Some might argue that the Drobo Mini’s portability is effected when its fully loaded, but even when it’s at full capacity with 4 – 2TB hard drives, it still weighs less than 3 pounds. To put that in perspective, a gallon of milk weighs almost three times as much.
I described above how you can choose to enable a dual disk redundancy. Well, that’s a part of the Beyond RAID technology that Drobo has developed as a part of their products’ ecosystem. Basically, they took regular RAID technology and added a layer of virtualization. This is the system that makes sure your data is safe without any intervention from you. Drobo Mini, like all the other Drobo products, will automatically re-layout the data and return to a protected state without any disruption. To read more about this, check out our review of the Drobo 5D.
One of the cooler features of the Drobo Mini (and its cousin products) is that there is a status key pictured on the inside of its magnetic cover. The Drobo system alerts you to any problems it might be having with a series of colored LED lights. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent Googling those types of error codes in my life, so it’s very refreshing that Drobo includes this in such an easy place to find. Green, of course, indicates a healthy Drobo system, while Red alerts you to a drive failure. This is a great at-a-glance option for knowing what’s going on inside your storage device.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned how I connected to the Drobo Mini via Thunderbolt. Well, the Drobo Mini and its big brother, the Drobo 5D are the only storage solutions that offer that connection and USB 3.0 in the same box. There are two Thunderbolt ports on the Drobo Mini as well as one USB 3.0 port. You can actually daisy chain up to six Thunderbolt devices (Mac OS X only) at one time and receive bi-directional 10 Gbps for data transfer. The USB 3.0 connection offers 5 Gbps and is backward compatible with qualified versions of Mac OS X or Windows.
Portability and Power
One of the biggest selling points of the Drobo Mini is its size. It measures 7.3” x 1.8” x 7.1” and, as mentioned above, only weights 2.2 lbs (without hard drives, power supply, or packaging). This makes the Drobo Mini the ultimate portable storage solution. It comes packaged with an external power supply (100-240VAC~2A, 50-60Hz), which is fairly standard for more power outlets. In short, it doesn’t take a special power conditioner to make sure you can power the Drobo Mini.
Speaking of power, one of my favorite features of the Drobo Mini (and all Drobos really) is its internal battery. Because a Drobo serves to protect data, its product designers took power outages into account and included a battery to protect from sudden power loss.The Drobo will detect that it’s lost power from its power supply and slowly shuts down. It stays active long enough for data to be written to the disk and then shuts off.
The Drobo Mini is the ideal RAID storage solution for anyone with a portable office, on location storage needs, or who just needs big storage in a smaller package. It doesn’t take up a lot of desktop space and is whisper quiet. I like this for so many reasons, but maximum portability of such a powerful system is the biggest one.
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For more information, visit drobo.com/storage-products/mini.
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