This multi-part series will be an extensive review of the 3rd generation Drobo external hard drive enclosure and my experiences with it after migrating from a 2nd generation Drobo on a Mac. Thank you to Data Robotics for making this possible. My many years with Drobo have sometimes felt like an abusive relationship – I have had numerous instances of data loss and many other problems, but the “magic” of Drobo keeps pulling me back in. Hopefully, after another generation of product advancement, maybe this time things will be better. Drobo loves me. I know it does.
Most article writers seldom give you any indication of why they are qualified to speak on a subject. My experience with external hard drives began a long, long time ago . . . (Well, to you young folks. To me, it seems like only yesterday…) This will have nothing to do with the actual content, so please free to skip to Part 2 (once it is posted).
My Path to External Drives
In 1998, I purchased my first Apple product – an original bondi blue Apple iMac. It had no RS232 serial port, no parallel printer port, and no floppy drive. Instead, it used some weird port called a Universal Serial Bus (USB) to hook up to such devices. There was pretty much nothing available that used USB back then. Early USB devices included mice, keyboards, printers, RS232 serial ports, external floppy drives and hard drives.
In the next MacWorld keynote after the iMac was released, Steve Jobs gave a presentation where he unveiled “Firewire” (Apple’s re-branding of the IEEE-1394 standard). He demonstrated it by showing it used to hook up an external hard drive and a digital video camcorder. Back then, the only way I’d ever seen an external hard drive hooked up to a PC was via the parallel printer port (Iomega Zip drives, for example) or via a SCSI interface. The only way I’d ever seen a camera hooked up was by audio/video inputs to a video digitizing device. It was a very different world!
Seeing Firewire allow importing of digital video from a camcorder was revolutionary, and I instantly knew it was something I wanted to be able to do.
Around 1981, my father had a video camera that hooked to a huge VHS recorder. I remember making silly home videos with it a kid. In 1982, we made a trip to Walt Disney World with a “portable” VHS recorder and camera. I guess we recorded some of the earliest vacation “home videos” long before everyone there was carrying around a camera. In the years that followed, things got smaller: all-in-one VHS camcorders would be introduced, and then tiny 8mm video tapes (and VHS-C). The home video revolution was in full swing, but the only way I ever edited video back then was with two video recorders hooked together. As video moved to digital (Digital8 on 8mm tapes, or DV tapes), a new world opened up. Seeing digital video being “imported” from tape in to a computer and then edited on screen non-linearly was magic. I bought a Sony Digital8 camcorder in preparation for having this editing capability at home.
Although Firewire was initially only available on the high-end (and expensive) PowerMac G3 desktop, Apple quickly added it to their next consumer computer when the iMac DV (digital video) was released in 1999. It took me weeks to get one at the local CompUSA, but soon I was set up with a digital camcorder and a computer with Firewire. The only problem was that an hour of digital video took about 13GB of hard drive space, and the iMac DV Special Edition I had only came with a 13GB drive.
This is what led to me purchasing my first external hard drive. (I am not counting the “big floppy” Iomega Zip drives or SyQuest EZ135 drives I used on PCs, my Radio Shack Color Computer or OS-9 MM/1 systems. I had been using those for years, but they weren’t hard drives.)
After filling up this first 30 gigabyte external drive (at least, I think it was 30), I moved on to many more drives over the years, each one larger than the last. Today on my desk I have four external drive enclosures (two 2-bay RAID systems, and two 2nd generation Drobos), a 3TB Seagate backup drive, and about four tiny pocket drives… Between all of those and the drives in my computers, I easily have over 20 terabytes of storage which, sadly, seems to be full at all times.
Over the years I have gone through brand after brand, including many that no longer exist. Western Digital makes up most of the drives I am currently using, though there was a time when their drives were considered bad and you’d have better luck with Seagate. There were other brands that, for awhile, were considered the most reliable. I have no brand loyalty. I just want my data to be protected. EVERY drive can and will fail. Always assume that day will be tomorrow and keep redundant copies of all your important data.
So am I an expect about external hard drives? Not at all . . . but I’ve probably used more of them over the years, and use more of them today, than most folks will in a lifetime.
Up next, why I chose Drobo and a look at the 2nd generation model versus the 3rd generation model.