Computers / Hands-on Review

Secure Your Data with the Drobo 5N


Have you ever tried moving a large 20GB file from one computer to another without a network-attached storage drive? It’s a painful, slow process with a substantial chance of failure. Also, seeing a Windows or Mac computer progress bar estimate that it’s going to take a little over a year to finish the data transfer doesn’t exactly help. If you have multiple large files that you want or need to share over a network of computers, it’s probably a good idea to get a network-attached storage array.

Luckily, there’s an all-in-one solution for small businesses, home offices, professionals working with large raw video, music or photo files, or just for the avid media user: the Drobo 5N. The Drobo 5N is a network-attached storage array designed to keep your data safe and secure while making access easy for you and other authorized users.


The Drobo 5N features five carrier-less, tool-less drive bays that can hold 3.5” SATA hard drives. Each drive bay can support a hard drive of any capacity. The largest drives on the market are currently 4TB, which brings its maximum capacity to 20TB. The 3.5” SATA II and III hard drives can be of mixed capacity, rotational speed and/or cache size, which is useful for those moments when you need to replace and hot-swap hard drives. The lights on the front correspond to their respective drive bays—the Drobo 5N will let you know which hard drives are running low so you can hot-swap without having to check each hard drive.

For a 5-bay storage array, the Drobo 5N still manages to be somewhat space efficient. While you may not be able to hide it behind your array of desktop family photos, it doesn’t take up any more valuable desk space than it has to. It’s actually quite compact, due to Drobo’s unique carrier-less drive bay design, which allows the hard drives to be installed much closer together than their carrier-included counterparts.

The Drobo 5N is also noticeably quieter than its predecessors, thanks to its large, tuned cooling fan. The cooling fan is capable of several different speeds to work in conjunction with the temperature inside the Drobo 5N. The Drobo 5N also gives you an option to manually spin down drives while they’re not in use, to further reduce noise as well as lower power consumption.

BeyondRAID Technology

The Drobo 5N also performs well as a backup storage unit. With BeyondRAID technology, the Drobo 5N can utilize single- or dual-drive redundancy to protect your data in the event of multiple-drive failures. Built on an advanced virtualization platform, BeyondRAID chooses the correct protection algorithm based on data availability needs at any given moment. Since the technology works at the block level, it can write blocks of data that alternate between data protection approaches.

If you need to add storage capacity to the Drobo 5N, simply insert additional hard drives or replace a smaller one with a larger capacity. During the process, there’s no need to change RAID levels or try to muddle through the complex administrative process of pooling RAID groups. The BeyondRAID feature even allows IT managers to switch from single- to dual-disk redundancy with a single click, ensuring enterprise level dual parity data protection when required. If a drive happens to fail, the Drobo 5N will automatically re-organize data to return to a protected state in order to keep your data safe and secure.

Data-Aware Tiering Technology

Usually reserved for business-class storage solutions, Drobo brings Data-Aware Tiering technology to the Drobo 5N. Beneath the enclosure is a slot for an industry-standard mSATA solid state drive. SSDs provide much faster write and read speeds than the traditional hard drive, but they lack the capacity. So the Drobo 5N utilizes the mSATA SSD to accelerate performance, allowing applications such as Adobe Lightroom and Apple iTunes to access data faster.

High-Speed Connectivity

The Drobo 5N features a single 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet port for network connectivity and can connect directly into a LAN switch or wireless router with a LAN cable (the Drobo 5N comes with a 6-foot Ethernet cable). You can also opt to connect directly to the Ethernet port on your computer without having to configure any settings.

Power-Protecting Your Critical Data

The Drobo 5N doesn’t just protect your data from a drive failure, it also helps protect against potential data loss from a power outage. The Drobo 5N features a battery that protects all data in memory, or the cache, that is on its way to the hard drives. In this manner, if someone trips over the power cord or you’re experiencing a blackout in the middle of a data transfer, the battery in the Drobo 5N keeps it on long enough to securely write the data to non-volatile storage to ensure your data is, at the very least, stored. The battery will recharge itself when power is returned to ensure that it is ready to activate in the event of another power outage.

Mac and Windows Compatible

The Drobo 5N is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers. For Mac computers, make sure you’re running Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. The Drobo 5N also supports Time Machine on the Mac. For Windows, you’ll need either a 32-bit/64-bit version of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or a 32-bit/64-bit version of Windows 8.

Several Different Options to Select

While the Drobo 5N doesn’t come with any hard drives on its own, there are several kits available that do, so you’ll be able to get started right out of the box. The 10TB Drobo 5N holds five 2TB hard drives, for a total of 10TB of storage space. If you need something bigger, the 15TB Drobo 5N is also available, which has five 3TB hard drives. If you would just rather max everything out, the 20TB Drobo 5N with five 4TB hard drives, is for you.

Capacity 0-20TB
Array Type External Desktop
Drive Bays 5
mSATA Bay 1
Drive Bays Supported SATA II/III, mSATA
Drives of mixed capacity, spindle speed, and/or cache can be used
Desktop/Rackmount Desktop
Status Indicator Drive bay indicator lights
Capacity gauge
Status lights
Input and Output Connectors 1 x 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet port
Fan Single, fixed, variable speed cooling fan
Security Kensington lock slot
System Requirements Mac OS X 10.7.x Lion
Mac OS X 10.8.x Mountain Lion
Windows 7 SP1 32 and 64 bit
Windows 8 32- and 64-bit
Electrical Requirements AC Input - 100-240VAC~2A, 50-60Hz
DC Output - 12V, 12.5A, 150W max
Environmental Requirements Not specified by manufacturer
Dimensions 5.9 x 7.3 x 10.3" / 15.03 x 18.504 x 26.23 cm
Weight 8.5 lb / 3.85 kg (without hard drives, power supply, or packaging)

Items discussed in article

Discussion 4

Add new comment

Add comment Cancel

I will be purchasing a new Mac Pro very soon. It will have only Thunderbolt connections for max speed of data.

Will the Drobo5's have is Thunderbolt connections as well?

Please advise quickly!

Many thanks.


If you want Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connections, you want a Drobo 5D. The Drobo 5N is a NAS and transmits data over gigabit ethernet. I have both and swear by 'em. Sounds like you want a 5D, which is NOT a networked device, but a great storage monster.

Sounds like an excellent product, and one I am considering to replace an older RAID unit. But Drobo needs to add one feature to make it a 5-star Plus unit-a Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 port. Why does this unit need such a thing? How do you backup the Drobo? If you use the Drobo as a primary storage unit, a shared one on a network, you need a way to back it up. Files get deleted accidentally all the time, the Drobo unit itself can crash, a fire or theft can occur, whatever. It NEEDS a high speed port and just enough intelligence to backup to a stand-alone drive. Users could purchase two-three of these drives, and swap them out every day/week/month whatever they are comfortable with, for a nice, easy backup solution.

Drobo 5n is extremely slow on my iMac. I have the Drobo networked on a gigabit switch. The PC next to me and even the ones in my other building read and write to the Drobo with relative speed (about 75mb/sec).

My iMac writes @ 9mb/sec.

I contacted Drobo for support, but they told me to I would have to purchase upgraded support plan for them to talk to me. I've had the Drobo for less than a year too.

Drobo is kind of a gimmick. Kind of cool, but also kind of a pain in the ass. Plus their support has now turned me off completely.