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Drobo 5D Thunderbolt & USB 3.0 DAS

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly


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Review Price £475.00

Drobo 5D – Performance

Of course the main reason you would give up the greater functionality of a NAS to opt for the 5D is speed. Removing the bottleneck of Gigabit Ethernet releases the potential for USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt and it is here the 5D delivers in spades.

Over USB 3.0 the 5D provided read and write times for large files of 203MBps (1624Mbps) and 194MBps (1552Mbps). Meanwhile transferring a 2GB folder of over 2,000 small files saw it manage reads of 121MBps (968Mbps) and writes of 85.8MBps (686.4Mbps). Both sets of figures demolish anything we could have seen from a Gigabit Ethernet based NAS.

Drobo 5D 3

Switching to Thunderbolt (and Mac) initially delivered results that were just 10 per cent faster, which we can only put down to hitting the limits of the Barracuda drives themselves. To overcome this we switched to SSDs – something that is more fiddly as their 2.5-inch form factor requires a 3.5-inch adaptor tray to fit and Drobo doesn’t provide them.

Drobo 5D USB largeDespite this performance then leapt as the Samsung 840 EVO equipped 5D reached read and write speeds of 362.1MBps (288.7Mbps) and 328.7MBps (2629.6Mbps) for large files and 202.1MBps (1616.8Mbps) and 162.3MBps (1298.4Mbps) for the read and write of small files. These are exceptional figures and while a standard external SSD may beat them it is important to remember they are attained with BeyondRAID working in the background.

It is worth noting that due to the different file systems (NTFS on Windows, HFS on Mac) you cannot use the 5D between both Mac and PC, you have to pick one of the other. That said, comments sections across the internet suggest users tend to strongly favour one or the other!

Drobo 5D USB smallOne area where we were disappointed, however, was the mSATA 'Accelerator Bay'. Fitting an Intel mSATA 525 SSD made virtually no difference to any of our scores, albeit some response times to the handling of small files over USB 3.0. As such we’d suggest putting the funds towards the best drives you can get for the five main bays.

Where the 5D is back on form is noise. At 25 decibels unpopulated the 5D is largely undetectable. This can change dramatically depending on the storage drives you fit (5x 3TB Seagate Barracudas lifted it to an always audible 36db) but Drobo can’t legislate for that. This is an important improvement with the 5D as previous Drobo products have undone some of their good work with excessive noise.

Drobo 5D 2

Should I buy the Drobo 5D?

If capacity and speed far outweigh your need to be able to access your data anywhere then the 5D comes highly recommended. Glitches aside it was a doddle to setup and it isn’t as complicated to use as a NAS while providing the same expandability and security for your data. Noise is also greatly reduced (if not quite to Synology whisper-quiet levels) and unleashing the performance over Thunderbolt for Mac owners is particularly impressive.

That said the 5D isn’t perfect. We are disappointed that there is no Thunderbolt support in Windows, a bizarre omission to still have in 2014, and with a £475 asking price unpopulated it is more expensive than more capable NAS like the Synology DS414 which supports Link Aggregation to greatly improve performance. The build quality of the 5D goes some way to consoling us about the size of this outlay, but not entirely.


The Drobo 5D is a fast, quiet and highly intuitive DAS constructed from top-notch materials and its USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectivity far outstrip Gigabit Ethernet. That said, limiting Thunderbolt access to Mac OS is a significant flaw and the price tag is higher than you would expect to pay for a high quality four-bay NAS. As such we find the 5D to be an even more niche product than we expected, but it is a good one.

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February 19, 2014, 11:11 am

Don't most NAS devices has USB 3.0 nowadays as well? Why not just get a NAS and connect over USB when, on the rare occasion, you do require this extra performance?
My DS213/214 has this functionality - but you never tested it, as far as I'm aware. Or with SSDs, either.

I'm failing to see the appeal. And no Thunderbolt support for Windows? Wowzers.

It does look like a nicely made piece of kit, but I can't see anyone choosing this over a NAS.


February 19, 2014, 7:44 pm

I don't know of any NAS devices that can use a USB port to directly attach to another computer to share data. I've only known the USB ports on NAS devices to be used to attach printers or other USB drives - never to another PC.

I was curious about your claim that the DS213/214 supported this, so took a look at their Quick Start Guide... exactly as I expected: "The Synology DiskStation offers USB ports for adding additional external hard drives, USB printers, or other USB devices." A USB device is not another computer.... so I wish you luck in making that work.

I'm surprised to hear about the Thunderbolt support for Windows. I know it's new for Windows - they must be working on it. Especially now that the PC/laptop manufacturers are starting to rollout models with Thunderbolt.


February 20, 2014, 5:10 pm

You know what, you're right.

I had mis-understood the functionality of the USB ports when I first looked into it. That's a shame, isn't it?

I still stand by the fact that it's only very rarely you'd notice these improved transfer speeds over what 1Gbps Ethernet offers. You'd have to be doing some serious amounts of data transfer on a fairly regular basis to consider this over a NAS, in my opinion. Even consider using iSCSI.

Might have a word with Synology, let the know they're missing a trick here...


February 20, 2014, 8:47 pm

For me, I need the low-latency of a direct attached solution for my photo library and all my other media files... so a NAS (or even iSCSI), although convenient, doesn't offer me the speed I need without spending a bunch more money.

Gordon Kelly

February 21, 2014, 7:24 pm

You're both spot on! Most won't miss the speed difference, but for those who need it then it is a brilliant solution. Very niche though.


April 10, 2014, 6:44 am

The Drobo 5D should be nice piece of kit. It combines multiple disk drives into a single giant drive, which can cope with a single drive failure (you just pop it out and replace it with a new one).

In reality it has cost me a fortune in additional drives, and has proven extremely unreliable. I purchased a Drobo 5D with five 3TB WD NAS drives. This is what happened:

1) The USB cable supplied with the Drobo 5D didn't work. Drobo support blamed my USB 3 card and recommended a list of expensive cards. Fixed with a new USB cable.

2) The Drobo has a “feature” whereby it cripples itself if it goes over 95% full and the transfer speed plummets to about 2MB/sec. The problem I had is that I was using an encrypted partition (Truecrypt) that can't reduce in size! I couldn't copy the data off the Drobo because it was so slow so the only solution was to upgrade my 3TB drives to 4TB drives.

3) I bought two 4TB drives (Seagate ST4000VN000) from two different sources and put them in. This gave me the space but file access speed varied enormously, some files were 60MB/sec and some were still 2MB/sec. Drobo support said my new drives were faulty and recommended some nice expensive ones to buy. I pointed out that the chances of two drives from different suppliers being faulty in exactly the same way was unlikely, and asked if there were any compatibility issues with these drives. I'm still waiting for an answer to that several months on. The Seagate drives work fine on their own in the main computer.

4) I bought three 4TB drives (WD WD40EFRX) and they worked fine for a few months. Then one day a red light appears indicating a drive has died. I reboot the computer and the Drobo recovers, but takes 2 days for it to rebuild. I buy another 4TB WD drive to replace the one which produced the red light as I no longer trust it.

5) I ask Drobo support if they think the problem was with the drive or the Drobo. They ask for diagnostics but when I send them the file produced by the Drobo they say they it has missing information and ask me to reboot the Drobo. I do that and it no longer comes up. It's now a very expensive doorstop.

6) Drobo support say that it will take 10 days to replace it as it has to be shipped to Germany, and I have to pay the postage.

So to summarise, so far I have bought a Drobo 5D and 11 large and expensive multi-terabyte disk drives - and have zero Drobo storage.

I do not recommend this product.

Andrew Clarke

April 25, 2014, 3:41 pm

Anything that benefits from lots of transfer between the computer and drives would be better with a DAS over NAS. Try running VM on the drive and see the difference. Open an iPhoto or Aperture library and compare the two.

It won't make a huge difference for streaming movies or your iTunes library, but there are a whole host of instances where the speed is welcome. Think of how much nicer it is to have a SSD than a spinny disk.

Drobos aren't mass-market devices. They're too expensive for the average home user and that's not their target market. I have three Drobos here and so far I've had no problems with any of them. I guess I'm lucker than some.


October 30, 2015, 2:21 am

Mine lasted 1 year and died a few weeks after the warranty expired. I'm never buying one again.

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