Gear Check: Drobo 5D3

Drobo recently announced a new Thunderbolt 3 enabled storage unit called the 5D3. As it happened, it came out right as I was contemplating a new storage setup due to increasing needs so I ordered one right away from B&H Photo. If you want to read more about my entire photo backup strategy, I recently wrote an update to my guide over on Shutter Muse, but here on this blog I just wanted to give you guys a quick heads up about this new product.

I’ve been using Drobos for longer than I can remember, but they really started coming into their own then the Drobo 5D became available. The 5-bay units were much more stable than the first products, and they really took a lot of the pain out of backing up my files. The key feature of a Drobo is that you can slot any drives you like into the bays, they don’t need to be the same size and make as they typically have to be with a regular RAID array. This means you can expand your Drobo’s capacity as you need to. When it’s full, simply pop out the smallest drive and replace it with a bigger one. Drobo works some magic behind the scenes to re-shuffle all your files around to make sure they are redundant, meaning that a drive can fail and you won’t lose your data. In fact, even when a drive fails (yes, WHEN, because it will happen) you still have access to your files. Just pull out the dead drive and slot in a new one. I just love the simplicity of the whole thing, and these days you can also create a Time Machine partition on the unit in a ouple of clicks if you’re a Mac user.

The new Drobo 5D3 has dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for daisy-chaining, as well as a USB 3.1 port with a type-c connector for plugging into a PC, or a Mac that doesn’t have Thunderbolt 3. Incidentally, you can also use Apple’s Thunderbolt 2 to 3 converter to use this on a Thunderbolt 2 enabled computer. The Thunderbolt 3 ports on the 5D3 can also provide power to laptops such as a Macbook Pro, meaning you can just connect a single cable to your computer to get power, and access to all your files. You can even plug a 5k monitor into the Drobo and have that pass through the same cable.

I’m switching from using Drobo 5Ds to the 5D3 and so far I’m very pleased. The unit is noticeably quieter, and clearly much faster even though I am, at the moment, running it on Thunderbolt 2 with an adapter. The setup process was a breeze, and this seems to be what Drobo are really focussing on these days: Simplicity. They have carved a nice niche for themselves, full of people that need serious storage, but don’t have the time or inclination to mess about with more complex (and often more expensive) RAID arrays.

If you’re looking for a simple way to add massive storage potential to your system, in a simple and elegant fashion, look no further than the Drobo 5D3. The upgradability of it, and the Thunderbolt 3 interface means you can buy this now, safe in the knowledge that it will be good for many years to come. Even if you don’t have a Thunderbolt 3 machine yet, chance are pretty good that you will do eventually because that’s simply the way things are moving in the industry.

You can buy a Drobo 5D3 from B&H as I did ($699), or they also have them on Amazon. I put a bunch of 8TB HGST drives in mine 🙂

Don’t forget to check out my latest photography backup routine in more detail, too.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Founder of Shutter Muse, full time photographer and creative educator. Dan lives in the Canadian Yukon, but his wanderlust often sends him in search of images all around the world to meet the needs of clients and readers alike.

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