External storage isn't the most exciting topic, until you need an extremely safe place for gigabytes upon gigabytes of precious photos and video to go. Then, CEO Tom Buiocchi hopes, you'll choose a Drobo: an external storage array that lets you pair drives of any size or type into a single logical, redundant whole. Today, that choice is easier than ever, if you've got the cash to spend, because Drobo has a pair of new prosumer products that are faster and more capable than before.
First up, the Drobo 5D: At $799, the 5D doesn't look like anything special, just a five-bay array with all of the company's proprietary data protection knowhow on board, but turn it around and you'll find a pair of Thunderbolt ports and a USB 3.0 socket for speedy connectivity with recent computers. For $599, however, the Drobo Mini is a entirely different story. It's a tiny Drobo that uses four 2.5-inch laptop-sized drive bays to do everything its bigger brother does, but in a portable package that weighs just three pounds fully loaded.
The Mini has a pretty clever case, too: the outside is a custom injection-molded plastic and metal matrix that feels pleasantly grippy to the touch and doubles as electromagnetic shielding. Four thin curved lightguides light up in each of four quadrants to tell you how your drives are doing, and there's a blue LED bar that can let you know how full the entire array is, too. Best of all, the 2.5-inch drives slot right into an extremely satisfying (and patent-pending) spring-loaded mechanism without screws, trays or rails of any sort. If a drive needs to be replaced, just push it in slightly, then pull it out, and stick another one in its place. The only thing that stands in the way of portability is the Mini's power requirements, as it needs an (included, and fairly small) AC adapter to do its thing. You can't run it off the Thunderbolt or USB bus alone, unfortunately.
The origins of the Drobo Mini (codename: Wheems) are interesting in and of themselves: Buiocchi says the team discovered that founder Julian Terry had jury-rigged a tiny custom Drobo for a rather unusual fit. "We literally walked into his office one day, and saw all these blue blinking lights in a server rack." After some deliberation, the company decided to turn the idea into a portable storage device instead. It sounded like a tall tale, but Drobo provided proof: we've got some pictures of that original prototype, and some pictures of what the Mini looks like inside that shell!
Both the Mini and the 5D have a pair of Thunderbolt ports so they can be daisy-chained together with other storage devices and peripherals, and both have a special surprise on the bottom, too: there's an mSATA bay so you can add a dedicated solid state drive to drastically increase the responsiveness of the system.
Drobo executives didn't have final speed ratings to share (or a unit to test), but told us both arrays should be able to achieve sequential transfer rates of between 200MB / sec and 300MB / sec with hard drives alone, and the mSATA SSD can increase IOPS by up to 300 percent. If you want to add more solid state drives, Drobo told us that it should detect and use those intelligently for maximum performance as well, as both the Mini and 5D include the data-aware tiering function previously only available on business-class Drobo. Find both units on sale next month, and plenty more technical details at our source links.