Drobo Mini Review – is it worth the money?
The Drobo Mini: Extra Large Storage, Extra Small Package
The Drobo Mini is a portable version of the Drobo line of storage devices. It’s perfect for photographers, videographers and people who work on the road. Its 4-drive bay allows you to carry around with you up to 3TB (more, if you plug in drives with more than 1TB capacity) of storage space, which are usable and protected.
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The main advantage of the Drobo Mini is its size. It’s small and lightweight, which means you can easily slip it inside your laptop bag without worrying about it taking up too much space. There are many portable drives out there, but none with the same features as the Drobo Mini. Just like its bulkier brothers in the Drobo line, it also has BeyondRAID technology, which protects your data so that in the event that one or more of your hard drives crash, you can still retrieve the data stored in it.
Now for the bad news. You need to learn how to stretch your patience with the Drobo Mini. That may seem like an exaggeration for average users who don’t really notice the subtle differences in speed, but for expert users who have come to rely on fast reading and writing speeds, it may be a bother. Since it uses the 2.5-inch SATA hard drives meant for laptops, it’s not as fast as other multiple bay storage devices that use the much faster 3.5-inch desktop-grade hard drives. The type and capacity of the SATA hard drives you use also play a factor in calculating the speed, so you may have to buy the more expensive, high end drives to speed it up a little.
It also takes a while for the computer to recognize the device, especially if it’s your first time installing it and you haven’t downloaded and installed the Drobo Dashboard on your computer yet. Lastly, the Drobo Mini may come across as quite pricey to the average user, but this isn’t much of a con if you consider the value of the data you can protect with this device.
The Drobo Mini comes with the standard product warranty and free 90-day tech support upon purchase, but for $109, you can purchase an extended DroboCare warranty, which is renewable in 1 year increments and covers tech support, hardware replacement, migration support and rescue kit.
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Main features of Drobo Mini external storage device
For such a small device, the Drobo Mini packs a mean punch when it comes to features. It would be unfair to compare it to the bigger, more feature-packed products in its line, but it’s safe to say that the Mini can hold its own. The Drobo Mini uses both Thunderbolt (for Mac) and USB 3.0 connectors, making it compatible for both Mac and PC machines. It can hold up to four 2.5″ SATA I/II/III hard disk drives or 7 x 9.5mm SSDs. It also has a slot at the bottom called the Drobo Acceleration Bay, which can accommodate one mSATA solid state drive. This can make up for whatever speed is missing, but then again, it all depends on the capacity and speed of the mSATA SSD you use.
Like all Drobo products, the Drobo Mini also comes with its signature BeyondRAID technology, which does not only make it easy to use, but also protects your data without the need for intervention. You won’t be able to use the full capacity of your hard drives, though, because part of the storage capacity is reserved for your data’s protection. For example, if you insert four 1TB hard drives and choose the single redundancy, you have 3TB of usable storage, while one is used to protect the rest. You can also double the protection by going for a double redundancy (2/4 drives used for protection).
If losing space in order to protect your data is an issue, you can always choose a higher capacity hard drive since hard drive manufacturers keep rolling out newer hard drives with higher capacity. You can also switch a full one that you don’t use that often with a blank one. There are so many ways to increase your storage capacity because of the multiple bay design of the Drobo Mini.
One of the remarkable things I’ve noticed with the Drobo Mini is that it has a battery, which is powerful enough to recharge itself. It runs on power, but the battery plays a big role on why the Drobo Mini is better than single volume drives with higher capacity. In case the plug is pulled out or there’s a power outage, you won’t have to worry about losing important data as the mini stays alive long enough for your data to be written and stored onto the disk.
Design – Is Drobo Mini really mini?
The Drobo Mini only comes in black, which is fine with me, but for those who like to match the colors of their gadgets, no such luck here. It doesn’t really matter though, because everything goes with black. It does have a lot of blinking LED indicator lights on the front cover if you’re looking for some color in the design. Of course, this can either be amusing or annoying depending on your preferences or current mood. In my case, I don’t even look at it that much.
The front cover is magnetic, and since the surface of the device is smooth, it may take a bit of force to remove it so that you can insert your hard disk drives. Just don’t pull too hard or it may slip from your hands. If you’re having a hard time pulling it off, try jiggling the cover a bit to loosen it before pulling it off.
The actual device weighs around 2.2lbs on its own. This increases, of course, once you plugged in your hard drives. It’s 7.3 inches wide, 7.1 inches long, and 1.8 inches tall, which makes it one of the smallest compact multiple bay storage devices available today; however, it’s not as small and compact as some high-capacity external hard drives. You can’t slip it inside your laptop bag’s side pocket. Instead, you have to put it inside the main compartment.
If you want to carry it separately, you can do that, too. You just need to get the carrying case (sold separately) that can hold the device as well as the cables you need. Speaking of cables, the Drobo Mini comes with 1 USB 3.0 port and 2 Thunderbolt ports (for daisy chaining). Once you connect the cables to the ports, all you need to do is to give it a twist and the cables are locked to the device.
Drobo should work more on performance
This is where the Drobo Mini has a bit of a problem. If you’re used to high speed hard drives, you may find yourself getting frustrated with the Drobo Mini. Since it uses 2.5-inch SATA hard drives, it is relatively slower than other multiple bay storage devices. You can’t expect desktop-quality speed from laptop-sized hard drives. The trade off for portability and versatility is that you need to sacrifice a little bit of power and speed. Reading speeds register at around 95MB/s to 346MB/s depending on the hard drives you use.
You can speed up Drobo Mini by using SSDs but it will increase expenses significantly
Writing is a little bit slower in terms of average speeds, registering at 106MB/s to 242MB/s. With that being said, it’s safe to say that the Drobo Mini does its job. Does it do it well? Yes, if you’re a patient person. If you’re always in a hurry, you may not think so. Aside from slower speeds, it also takes a while for the computer to recognize the device and that won’t fly if you’re in a rush. Other than that, it does what it needs to do. You don’t need to worry about compatibility because aside from the Thunderbolt connection that makes it Mac-ready, you can also use the USB 3.0 connector if you need to use a PC.
The built-in dual cooling fans do their job well, too, as they run on variable speeds that slow down and speed up when needed. As for the noise, it’s not exactly silent, but it doesn’t produce as much noise as you would expect from a device that runs 4 hard disk drives at one time. You can even configure the product to spin down unused drives to lessen whatever noise it makes.
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Software – One dashboard for all devices
Unlike single volume external hard drives that are plug-and-play, the Drobo Mini utilizes the Drobo Dashboard in order for you to access all the features the drive has. It only takes a few minutes to download the dashboard for your Mac or PC, and you definitely won’t regret it. The dashboard is like the central control center for your storage device. This is where you can configure and manage ALL of your Drobo products, so it doesn’t matter whether you have just one Drobo Mini or if you have the entire range of Drobo storage devices, you can do it all on the dashboard.
The best part about the dashboard is that it is entirely user friendly. You don’t have to be a computer wizard to be able to manage your drives, provision storage, and configure the other features of your Drobo Mini.
What does others think about Drobo Mini storage device?
There are mixed reviews for the Drobo Mini. Some love it, others, well, not so much. Tech experts are not too impressed with the product as they are expecting more speed and power to go with the portability of it all. The editors from Cnet even rated it a mere 3.5 stars because according to them, it should offer more for the price it goes out for. While it is quite pricey, the consumers who have posted reviews on that site, however, have a different take on it, giving it an average of 5 stars.
Macworld editor writes that Drobo Mini is for people who don`t want to know anything about RAID.
What’s in the Box?
There isn’t much to find when you open the box that contains the Drobo Mini. Aside from the unit itself, it comes with a 3.0 USB cable and a power cord. It also has a quick start card to help you get started with your new portable storage device. Unfortunately, the Thunderbolt cable does not come with the package and you would also need to purchase the carrying case separately.
Final thoughts – Do i recommend Drobo Mini?
Much has already been said about the Drobo Mini. The bottom line is that this product is not for everybody. The tech savvy may find it lacking in terms of speed and other technical aspects, especially for the price it goes out for. On the other hand, average users who don’t really care too much about all the techie issues like reading and writing speed, as well as failure rates, all think it’s a great product.
In my personal opinion, the price is something to worry about considering that there are a lot of cheaper options when it comes to high capacity storage. Single volume hard drives, for that matter, go for less than the Drobo Mini. They are more compact and some of them can even match the capacity of multiple bay storage devices. What they don’t have, however, that you can only find in the Drobo Mini is the ability to protect your data. At the end of it all, it’s your data that’s more valuable than the device itself and paying a little bit more just so you can be sure that your data stays intact does not seem too bad.
The Drobo Mini also provides the versatility that single-volume hard drives lack. Having 4 hard drive bays means you can mix and match different brands of hard drives with different capacities so you can configure a portable storage device that suits you and your own personal needs. You can always remove a full drive and pop in a blank one in case you need more storage space.
In the end, I would give Drobo a thumbs up for coming up with a version of their product that people can actually carry around. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but until a newer version comes out, the Drobo Mini of today is enough.