There's no need to beat around the bush. Drobo FS is the simplest network attached storage device I've used to date. Period. The FS doesn't have many bells and whistles but that's a good thing for audiophiles seeking a simple yet robust storage solution for their music. Computer Audiophile readers who don't know or don't want to know much about storage solutions should cut to the chase and check out a Drobo FS.
Drobo storage units are nothing new to tech savvy readers. The original Drobo was released in June 2007. Its successor was released a year later and is still in production today. The current Drobo product line has seven devices. Any of the seven Drobos could work for a computer audiophile seeking a solid storage solution. When considering a specific product for this review I narrowed down my choices to the Drobo S and Drobo FS. Each of the devices has five drive bays that handle drives up to and including 3 terabytes worth of storage. The main differentiator between the S and the FS is either a direct computer connection or a gigabit Ethernet connection. The Drobo S offers eSATA, FireWire 800, and USB 3.0. C.A.P.S. v2.0 users could use the eSATA port on the Drobo S to add up to 15 terabytes worth of storage. The Drobo FS offers a single gigabit Ethernet port for connection to a home network. I'm a big fan of Network Attached Storage thus I selected the FS as the storage solution for this review.
The main reason I prefer Network Attached Storage is the ability to access the large pool of disk from any computer in my house. This is critical as I use many different music servers and computers. I rip CDs using a Windows 7 computer and place the music on a network attached storage unit. Once CDs are ripped I can access the music from any device in the house. It's possible to setup a computer to share a folder just like a NAS but that computer must remain powered on at all times or access to the music is impossible. A NAS device designed to be powered on for its entire life. NAS units like the Drobo FS use the Linux operating system that has proven itself to run and run and run for several months at a time. In fact my NAS devices usually reboot because of a power failure not because of a problem associated with the device.
I've used the Drobo FS for several weeks. During this time I've been very impressed. Two features that really separate the Drobo FS from my other NAS units manufactured by Thecus and Synology are what Drobo calls BeyondRAID and the Drobo Dashboard.
BeyondRAID is Drobo's proprietary version of RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) developed by David Patterson, Garth Gibson, and Randy Katz of the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1980s. RAID is not an elementary concept as evidenced by the Wikipedia page that briefly touches on some of the features [Link]. Drobo's BeyondRAID isn't elementary either, but the use of BeyondRAID requires less than an elementary level education. BeyondRAID is different from all other RAID implementations because it allows full use of hard drives of all sizes. Traditional RAID can only use as much space as the smallest drive in the array. For example a group of three 1TB drives and one 500GB drive can only be configured to use 500GB from each of the drives. Using BeyondRAID a Drobo uses all 3.5TB of disk. This technology allows users to swap out smaller disks or simply add larger disks in empty slots was they wish. If there is a sale on 3TB drives, limit two per customer, a user can pick up two drives and place them in the Drobo without issue. Using traditional RAID adding two 3TB drives to an existing array of smaller drives would have little to no benefit.
In layman's terms the Drobo's BeyondRAID technology allows a user to add any hard drives he wants no matter the size. As long as the user has enough disk space for his music he's all good. When space begins to run out the user simply needs to add a disk or replace the smallest disk with a larger disk. There's no need to understand what's happening in the background.
Expanding the Drobo's storage is as simple as it gets. Period. Physically adding or replacing a disk is all that's required. No software configuration is required. The following video demonstrates exactly how this works and echoes my experience with the Drobo FS 100%.
Tech savvy or slightly geeky readers may be interested in the Drobo U.S. Patent application [Link].
Dobo Dashboard & Setup
The second feature that really differentiates Drobo FS from other NAS devices is the Drobo Dashboard. The Drobo Dashboard is great during initial setup, periodic monitoring, and drive mounting.
Shortly after the Drobo FS is connected and powered on Drobo Dashboard automatically locates the device without any user intervention. Initial setup is somewhat of a misnomer because there is no absolutely required setup. Once drives are placed in the unit Drobo Dashboard displays the critical pieces of information such as used, free, and total disk space on the main Status screen. The three aforementioned statistics are all the vast majority of audiophiles need to know. Periodic monitoring can be accomplished manually and automatically. Manual disk space monitoring is done via the nice graphics of the Dashboard's Capacity screen. In the words of a popular car insurance commercial, it's so easy even a caveman can do it. The Drobo Dashboard can also send automatic email alerts for 1. all information, 2. important situations, or 3. critical situations only. The difference between the three levels of alerts isn't readily apparent but in a way that's the beauty of Drobo FS. The software and hardware combination keep all the details out of view for those who don't to know. My favorite feature of the Drobo Dashboard is its ability to enable automatic drive mounting via the DD Assistant. Mac OS X users know a major annoyance with the operating system is the inability to mount a mapped drive at every login or reboot. This is possible through the System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items menu, but then the drive pops up each time a user logs in. In any case the built-in Mac solution is annoying. Also, less savvy Windows users may not understand how to map a drive through Windows Explorer. The lack of a mapped drive comes into play when a music application like iTunes or J River Media Center are launched. If the drive is not mapped then application can't see the music. This can cause hysteria for less learned audiophiles who think their entire music collection has disappeared. The beauty of the Drobo Dashboard is it lists the Shares and allows the user to simply check a box to mount / map the drive. Once checked the drive maps at every login allowing music applications to access music collections stored on a network without freaking out the user unnecessarily.
These features will appear like small inconsequential items to the tech savvy audiophile. However, to those who don't know and don't want to know the technical aspects of network storage these features can make or break a purchasing decision.
Drobo FS Everyday Usage
I've been very happy with the Drobo FS accessing it from my Macs and Windows computers. Currently a FLAC copy of my entire music library is stored on the FS and accessed from my C.A.P.S. v2.0 server running J River Media Center 17. Daily access to music via Artist, Album, and Track browsing is very fast. Switching tracks is instant. However, my one complaint with the Drobo FS is related to speed. This unit is not a speed demon when it comes to copying large amounts of information at one time. The average speed of file copies from the C.A.P.S. v2.0 server to the Drobo FS was 25 MB/sec on a good day. This was very close to my several year old Thecus N5200BPro NAS, but nearly 80 MB/sec slower than a file copy from my MacBook Pro to my Mac Pro desktop. My Synology DS411sim NAS averaged about 45 MB/sec during file transfers. However, my speed issue is not a showstopper. Very rarely does the average user need to copy one terabyte worth of data at a time. When I copied albums ranging in size from 300 MB to 1 GB the Drobo was plenty fast. The real test was everyday usage with iTunes and J river Media Center. In both situations the Drobo FS performed flawlessly. Access to music was instant.
Instant access to music requires one minor configuration change. By default the Drobo FS, and nearly all other NAS units, put the hard drives to sleep after periods of no access. The Drobo Dashboard called this Disk Drive Spindown. This setting conserves energy and may extend the life of a drive, but is an annoyance for me and many computer audiophiles. The problems comes into play when accessing the drives or playing music for the first time each day or after one hour of no access. The drives can take 10 to 15 seconds to spin up and feed music to the application. Not a showstopper by any means but I prefer to avoid the situation all together. Within the General settings page of Drobo Dashboard I set the drives to never spindown. This is the same configuration I've used on all my NAS drives over the years and I've never had an issue with premature drive failure.
Note: My listening room has an ambient noise level of about 35 dB. The Drobo FS was too loud to place in my room, but not as loud as the Thecus N5200BPro.
The Drobo FS Network Attached Storage unit is the simplest NAS I've used to date. User receive all the benefits of the Drobo's BeyondRAID technology without knowing a single thing about how it works. There are no configuration questions to answer to start serving up one's music. The Drobo FS is not recommended for the tech savvy tinkerer and the NAS app aficionado. The Drobo FS is similar to Apple devices in that it just works and there aren't many options visible to end users. This has been a very successful formula for Apple as well as Drobo devices. Based on several weeks of usage and comparing the Drobo FS to other NAS units I highly recommend the Drobo FS for readers seeking a simple yet solid storage solution.
- Product - Drobo FS
- Price - $699 (diskless), $1,199 (4TB), $2,099 (10TB)
- Product Page - Link
- Where To Buy - Link
- User Guide - Link