Monthly Archives: December 2016

Drobo (3rd gen) to Drobo 5C, part 3

This is part of a multi-part review of the Data Robotics Drobo 5C.

See also: Introductionpart 1 and part 2.

After having a Drobo 5C for a week, I’ve decided there are a few changes that I do not like, and one that I do like…

Don’t Like

Enclosure. As previously mentioned, the enclosure is now more of an outside shell that is no longer flush against the front of the device (when the removable face plate is on). Now, when the face plate is installed, there is a small gap running all around it. It just doesn’t seem as polished of a design. Also, when my laptop is set in front of the Drobo, if I open the lid too far, it now makes contact with the metal strip at the top rather than more gently rubbing against the plastic cover as it did with the previous 2nd and 3rd generation modules.

Power Supply. For some reason, the round power connector that goes in to the Drobo 5C now has a right-angle connector at the end. This causes extra tension on the cable (and probably power connector) as the chord is pulled at an angle a bit before running straight out the back and down behind my computer desk. I really don’t care for this, but if you put your Drobo at the far back of a desk (where the power cable would then point directly down), you may prefer this.

Drobo 5C right-angle power connector.

LED Status Lights. Since the front panel no longer covers the bottom row of status lights, the lights are brighter than the rest of the LEDs behind the panel. If I set the Drobo 5C brightness to 5, and have it next to a 3rd generation Drobo also set to 5, the blue LEDs on the 5C are much brighter because they are no longer being filtered out through the clear plastic of the face plate. It also means the 5C lights behind the faceplate are dimmer than the ones below it.

Drobo 5C (left) with brighter blue lights versus 3rd gen (right) with lights behind the face plate.

Can’t See LEDs. And, if your Drobo 5C sits a bit lower, the bottom row of blue LEDs can be hidden below/behind the face place. As I look down at the 5C and 3rd gen models, I can clearly see the front panel blue status LEDs on the 3rd gen, but cannot see the bottom row on the 5C. When sitting at a lower level, I can see them both. Not a big deal, but a change. I first noticed this when I walked in to where my computer is, and thought the 5C had locked up since all the blue capacity lights were off (or so I thought).

Drobo 5C (left) has recessed bottom lights, versus 3rd gen (right) that showed them through the face plate.

If they used the same power connector as they did on previous power supplies, and had kept the enclosure design the same, I would not have anything to gripe about.


Face plate. There was one thing I did like, which I had not noticed before. In the previous photo, notice how the green drive lights on the 3rd generation (right) can be seen through the face plate. The black face plate is a bit transparent, and I had never noticed this until taking these photos. The 5C face place is opaque.

Drobo (3rd gen) transparent drive indicator lights.

Drobo 5C opaque drive indicator lights.

I expect I will have a few more things to say about this new Drobo (file copy speed, for example) so…

More to come…

Drobo 5C for $279 on Amazon

The Drobo 5C was introduced in October 2016 for $349. There has already been a $50 discount code ($299) and a one-day sale (also $299). Yesterday, the price tracking site, Camel Camel Camel, alerted me of a $279 price on Amazon:

By the time you see this posting, the price may no longer be valid, but you might consider activating a Camel Camel Camel account to do your own tracking. You will receive an e-mail alert when the desired item (anything on Amazon) reaches the price you want. It also shows a historic graph of the price the item has been since tracking began.

Merry Christmas.

Drobo volumes lose their names in Drobo Dashboard

Hey, other Drobo owners… Have you ever seen this happen?

Where, oh where have my Drobo volume names gone?

My volumes all have custom names, but occasionally I see Drobo Dashboard only show them as “Drobo”. I believe they always still show up as their proper names to Mac OS X, but Drobo Dashboard seems to have a problem reading them.

I have seen this on a 2nd generation Drobo, a 3rd generation Drobo, and on my brand new Drobo 5C (the second day I had it hooked up). I have seen it hooked to three different computers (all Macs) via FireWire, USB 2.0 and now USB 3.0.

I contacted Drobo support about this, and they asked me the typical list of support questions, which makes me wonder if I’m the only one this happens to.

Anyone else seen this happen?

Drobo (3rd gen) to Drobo 5C, part 2

This is part of a multi-part review of the Data Robotics Drobo 5C.

See also: Introduction and part 1.

Previously, I discussed the unboxing and setup of the new Drobo 5C. Today, I will walk through the migration process from an older 3rd generation 4-bay Drobo to this new 5-bay model.

Setting up Drobo 5C is no different than the previous models… Plug in the power cable, plug in the USB cable, insert drives, then turn it on.

Since the topic of this article is migrating from a 3rd gen model to the 5C, here are some important additional comments:

  1. APPLY FIRMWARE UPDATES FIRST. The code that came on my 5C was already out of date. The first thing you should do it hook up new new Drobo (with no drives inserted!) and power it on. Run the Drobo Dashboard software and it should recognize the new Drobo, and offer to update the firmware (if an update is available). Allow this to happen, and for the unit to reboot and be seen by Drobo Dashboard.
  2. Next, you want to power down the new Drobo, and move the “drive pack” (all the drives used together) from the previous Drobo to this one. DO NOT HAVE THE UNIT POWERED ON WHEN YOU INSERT THE HARD DRIVES! If you do this, the Drobo will see the drive inserted, and format it. You must have the new Drobo powered off, and then insert all the drives at the same time, then power it up. The Drobo should boot, then recognize the drives and have the same name and volume(s) you saw on the old Drobo.
  3. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN ON THE DROBO WEBSITE! Don’t trust some random stranger’s website… The information I gave you may be incorrect and cause the total end of life as we know it.

Mine seemed to have some problem and it was not recognized by the computer after I did this. I had to power it down, and start it up again. It mounted just fine after that, and it showed up with the same device name and volume names since all of the information is contained on the drive pack itself.

At this point, the new 5-bay Drobo should act exactly the same as the former 4-bay model.

My next goal was to enable dual disk redundancy. When I looked at the Drobo Dashboard, the option to enable this was grayed out. I suppose that makes sense. My unit was quite full and there probably wouldn’t have been enough free space to make a third copy of all my data. However, my understanding is that as long as there is enough space available, you could switch over to dual disk redundancy. (But I may be misunderstanding.)

To get the needed space, I acquired a brand new 3TB Western Digital Red hard drive.

NOTE: When I get a new hard drive, I like to first zero-byte format the entire drive. By writing to every sector of the new drive, any severe problems can be located. I would rather spend the hours it takes to do this, than blindly put in a new drive only to find out it had some severe issue far at the end of the drive which doesn’t show up until months (or years) later when the drive finally fills up to the bad spot. (Yes, I have found bad drives this way, but only two so far.)

After I plugged in the new device, as expected, the option for dual disk redundancy was available:

Drobo 5C dual disk redundancy option.

I checked it, and the drive began the long process of migrating data so every bit existed on three different drives (thus, two could fail, and data would still be protected):

Drobo 5C rebuilding for dual disk redundancy.

It initially stay it would take over 40 hours to do this, but it was actually completed in about 24 hours. The newer Drobos certainly handle rebuilding much faster than the early models which could take all week even with much smaller hard drives.

The end result was a new Drobo with a few more volumes available and some extra peace-of-mind.

To be continued…


Drobo (3rd gen) to Drobo 5C, part 1

This is part of a multi-part review of the Data Robotics Drobo 5C.

See also: Introduction

Drobo 5C box.

I have received my Drobo 5C unit which I will be using for this review. Much like the 3rd generation model, the 5C comes packaged in a large white Drobo box, with the unit itself wrapped in a cloth shopping bag protected by two foam inserts. In the top of the box is another smaller box which contains the paperwork, power supply, power cable, and a USB to USB-C cable.

Data Robotics does a nice job at packaging their products. It’s not quite on the level of Apple, but fairly close.

Let’s take a look inside the box…

Drobo 5C box and contents.

Drobo 5C accessories: USB cable, power cable, and power supply.

Drobo 5C quick start guide (inside of the removable cover of the small box).

Since the 5C can hold five hard drives, it is about one inch taller than the previous model. Here is the 5C (left) compared to the 3rd generation model (right):

Drobo 5C vs Drobo (3rd gen).

Please excuse the protective plastic covering you see on my drives. I tend to keep it on things I buy to protect them, so when I sell them later it is still in “like new” shape.  (I do remove any plastic that would cover air vents or similar.)

The first thing I noticed was that the 5C case is a different design. While similar looking, instead of being a sleek case where the front and back are flush to the metal casing, the new model seems to just be a metal casing, with the front and rear inset a bit with a gap running all around them. This seems like a step back, cosmetically. It just doesn’t look as sleek as the past incarnations, and the gap seems like it would be even more places for dust to collect.

You can also see that the blue capacity lights are now along the bottom of the enclosure, and no longer behind the removable front cover. I always throught the “show through” lights were a nice touch, so I am sad to see them go. BUT, in the previous Drobos I had, there were two additional lights hidden behind the front panel: power and data transfer. I would sometimes have to remove the front panel to see if the Drobo was locked up, or if the data transfer light was flickering. Function wise, being able to see these without removing the panel is a plus.

Here is a photo of the two units with the front covers removed:

Drobo 5C vs Drobo (3rd gen) – front panel removed.

You can see that the drives start a bit lower than in the old model, which is why the unit can hold an additional drive and not be as tall as you might expect. You can see the two “hidden” lights on my old Drobo, that now appear at the far left and far right of the new Drobo 5C.

In the next part, we’ll take a look at moving drives over from the old Drobo to the new 5C, and see what it takes to activate the Dual Disk Redundancy feature.

More to come…


Drobo (3rd gen) to Drobo 5C, introduction

My long history with external hard drives was covered in an earlier article, so I will just summarize:

I’ve gone through a bunch of hard drives and external enclosures since 1999.

Last year I shared a multi-part series about migrating from a 2nd generation Drobo to the newer 3rd generation models. The 3rd generation version solved most of the performance issues, especially when it came to the time it took to rebuild after replacing a drive. It also added a very important capability: Dual Disk Redundancy

See: What is Dual Disk Redundancy?

This is very important because, without it, when (not if!) a drive fails, during the time it takes to rebuild on to a new drive, any other drive failure will cause loss of data. With drives becoming larger and larger (I upgraded mine, rebuild time also increases. If you buy multiple drives at the same time, you increase the likelihood of getting multiple units that have the same flaw from a bad production run, which increases the odds of a multi-drive failure.

It may seem unlikely, but from reading many articles about RAID systems over the years, it’s far more common that I would have thought.

I have worked around this over the years by always having multiple drives and backing up my important data between them. Thus, on my two Drobos, I have my most important data copied to each unit. This way, even if a Drobo completely died on me, I still have my data on the other one. (It’s also good to have backup hardware in case of a failure. I can swap my drives to the still-working unit and get to anything I need while I wait for the failed unit to be repaired/replaced.)

Of course, this doubles the hardware cost…

With Dual Disk Redundancy, you can set up a Drobo to protect data in a much better way. Normally, every bit of data exists on two drives/ if one drive fails, there is always a another copy. With Dual Disk Redundancy, the data will exist on three drives, so if two fail, you still have a copy.

The problem is … you lose storage space. A 4-bay Drobo filled with four 3 TB drives gives you 8.17 TB of storage for data. If you enable Dual Disk Redundancy, it drops to only having 5.44 TB available. You can see this at the Drobo Capacity Calculator:

When the 3rd generation Drobo came out, they added Dual Disk Redundancy support, but if you were migrating from an earlier 4-bay unit, you could not make use of it unless you had enough free space available.

At some point, Drobo also started making 5-bay units,. This allowed you to have as much storage as a 4-bay offered WITH Dual Disk Redundancy enabled.

The problem is, those 5-bay units were expensive! A 3rd generation 4-bay Drobo sold for $299 or so, while a 5-bay direct-attached drive was $699! That’s quite the premium just to get one extra drive bay.

This changed last October when Drobo announced the new Drobo 5C.

At $349, it’s a much better value. It ONLY has a USB-C port, and comes with a cable to plug that in to a USB 2.0/3.0 port on your PC/Mac, so if you preferred Thunderbolt, SATA or FireWire, you are out of luck.

I will soon be receiving a unit to review, and will begin a multi-part article about migrating from a 4-bay Drobo to the new 5-bay 5C model.

More to come…