• Drobo FS Network Attached Storage (NAS) Review


    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 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. v2.0link 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

    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 [Linklink]. 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 [Linklink].

     


    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 commerciallink, 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.
    Click To Enlarge

             


     

    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. v2.0link 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.

     

    Conclusion

    CASH-ListThe 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 Information:

    • Product - Drobo FS

    • Price - $699 (diskless), $1,199 (4TB), $2,099 (10TB)

    • Product Page - Linklink

    • Where To Buy - Linklink

    • User Guide - Linklink



     
     

     

     
    Comments 78 Comments
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      <a href="http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?Prodid=11710703&search=drobo&Mo=2&cm_ re=1_en-_-Top_Left_Nav-_-Top_search&lang=en-US&Nr=P_CatalogName:BC&Sp=S&N=5000043&whse=BC&Dx=m ode+matchallpartial&Ntk=Text_Search&Dr=P_CatalogNa me:BC&Ne=4000000&D=drobo&Ntt=drobo&No=1&Ntx=mode+m atchallpartial&Nty=1&topnav=&s=1">Costco</a> has it for $600. I was tempted...
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Looks like there's an awesome deal at B&H right now as well.<br />
      <br />
      http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/686297-REG/Data_Robotics_DRDS2A21_Drobo_FS.html<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Price: $549.53<br />
      Mail In Rebate -$100.00<br />
      offer ends DEC 31 '11<br />
      Price after Rebate: $449.53<br />
      <br />
    1. a2rt's Avatar
      a2rt -
      I too thought the specs for the Drobo FS made it a good choice over other NAS raids, but it has been a massive hassle, 2 DOA units and the software is buggy, check out the user forum on the Drobo web site to see all the problems before making a buying decision.<br />
      I don't use it as my music storage now but as a second home Time machine backup, and it is slow over ethernet.<br />
      I prefer an eSATA sonnet fusion JBOD enclosure, with 2x 3TB drives striped together as my 6TB itunes library with another 2x 3TB drives set up as a Time machine copying the first 2 drives.<br />
      Normal RAID system use proprietary software so if the unit goes down you cannot access any of the drives unless you find an identical enclosure to put them in,( the striped data problem ) most people only think you need to worry about a single hard drive failing at a time, and don't consider the RAID software as another more serious failure area.
    1. Parisian's Avatar
      Parisian -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Could you tell what is the media software installed on the Drobo NAS. This is to me an important issue since I am experiencing unsolved problems when trying to read my files metadata with my QNAP's Twonky Media (http://forum.qnap.com/viewtopic.php?f=177&t=38457&p=242275).<br />
      Thanks Gilles<br />
    1. eggers's Avatar
      eggers -
      Hi Chris<br />
      Thanks for the review. Did you happen to run into this problem I had?<br />
      http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Adding-music-Drobo-FS-super-slow<br />
      <br />
      Cheers.
    1. dschamis's Avatar
      dschamis -
      I have spent more than a year testing and using various Drobos (two FSs and two classic Drobos). I have used them for general data usage and backup, but I'm particularly focused on music (I have an iTunes catalog of mostly lossless music ~500GB) and pictures (I have a catalog of mostly RAW (DNG) files of ~800GB).<br />
      <br />
      I would strongly encourage people to only use Drobos as a low-priced ADDITIONAL backup - I would not use a Drobo as either my primary data drive or my primary backup solution.<br />
      <br />
      I have had numerous problems with them through the years, including the two major issues:<br />
      <br />
      - Full loss of data on a Drobo FS - this was my worst problem - I spent a long time with Drobo support on the phone - while they claimed it was a problem they had never seen before (hard to believe), in the end they couldn't do anything other than hope I had other backup (which I did). The problem was some sort of "header error" - whatever that means. I was told that the data was still on the drives but the Drobo was not able to get to it - not exactly a comforting fact. I had a similar less fatal issue with a classic Drobo, but that was solved with DiskWarrior; although it was quite stressful for a while and required DiskWarrior which is a $100 purchase.<br />
      <br />
      - In any casual performance comparisons, I have found the Drobo FS to be much much slower than just about any other NAS device that I have used or tested. To be clear, you do not need any fancy testing to notice this - my wife was able to notice.<br />
      <br />
      After throwing in the towel with Drobo I went with a QNAP and I can assure you there is no comparison. While it is more expensive, the additional features and options, coupled with the fact that it actually performs its primary function of actually protecting your data, make it an absolute no-brainer. The obvious disadvantage is that all the drives have to be the same, but relative to the performance losses and the massive increased risk of data loss with the Drobo, this is really not such a big issue. I have a 6-bay QNAP running RAID5 with a hot spare.<br />
      <br />
      I have come to believe that the way to think about Drobo is that it is a super low-cost option (effectively, the ability to mix and match drives makes it very low cost) that can fit in to a backup scheme as a secondary or tertiary backup (which I use and makes sense to use), but I would not use it as either your day-to-day drive or your primary backup.<br />
      <br />
      David
    1. ron spencer's Avatar
      ron spencer -
      Way too much money. Qnap and Synology produce units that review nicer and are more affordable. $699 diskless???? That is way too much...wow!!!!
    1. Wavelength's Avatar
      Wavelength -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Part of my problem with any NAS is speed. We found that the faster and less congested the library process was the better things sounded. NAS even setup on a 1GHz Ethernet link still is pretty slow compared to really good Firewire or stellar Thunderbolt drives.<br />
      <br />
      Most people will have a cobbled together 100MHz Ethernet link and this surely will not have the access time required for drives considering the high over head of the IP protocol.<br />
      <br />
      Sure it's nice for backup, but I really don't think any NAS sounds that great.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Gordon
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      view as it pertains to the Synology and other NAS vendors that have caught up to Synology's amazing perfomrance. I love direct attached drives and have always shared your opinion with that regard. Nothing demonstrates this more than the new JPlay player, where it seems an eternity to load music from a simple USB 2.0 drive directly tethered to a computer crawling along at 20 MB/sec. <br />
      <br />
      I am a little surprised that the Drobo FS made it to the recommended list. The transfer speeds are quite pathetic and the Drobo S (direct attached Raid) as bad as the FS. I think more of these NAS are being returned, based upon what I am reading on the net, than any NAS in recent history.<br />
      <br />
      With the Synology 1511+ I achieve a consistent 100+ MB/s transfer over my network and with my 1411 Slim, I achieve a consistent 60+ MB/sec.<br />
      <br />
      With all due respect to the "stellar" thunderbolt drives, the only one I would consider right now, would be the Little Big Disk from LaCie, which is noisy and actually slower than the 1511+. The Promise has issues right now with disconnecting and hopefully will be fixed with a firmware upgrade. But we are talking a big RAID, hot and noisy. A better thunderbolt solution may be in the near future as Intel just announced its new boards in the 2nd quarter will support Thunderbolt and CalDigit is releasing an interface that will allow better RAIDS than Promise to attach via Thunderbolt, but right now, the pickings of Thunderbolt are slim and not so great.<br />
      <br />
      For a direct disc, I still (assuming 2 gigs is enough)like OWC or CalDigit Guardian MAXimus Mini or VR Mini respectively, both can be run off of bus power of Firewire and run just under 100 MB/sec. They both also have eSata ports for CAPS.<br />
      <br />
      JG, I would recommend you check out a better NAS than the DROBO, such as the super fast 1511 which is faster than most direct attached drives and Chris, I am a little surprised that the Drobo with its really mediocre performance made it to the list.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi eggers - I tried to reproduce your issue using several different NAS units including the Drobo FS. I believe the issue is related to iTunes. When I use the add to library function the file copies are much slower on all my my units than when I use a straight file copy using Finder.
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      if you are looking, but if the NAS is to be in your listening environment the Synology 411 Slim is spectacular. If it is outside your listening environment get the 1511+ as it is as fast as many Raids. <br />
      <br />
      Truth is the 1511+ is not very loud and would do just fine in the listening room as well. <br />
      <br />
      The real issue between the two devices should be size of storage for your needs.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Parisian - The Drobo isn't a great NAS for applications like UPnP/DLNA servers. I played with a few of the apps but decided that apps are not for the Drobo FS target market. As I said in the review. " The Drobo FS is not recommended for the tech savvy tinkerer and the NAS app aficionado."<br />
      <br />
      Hi Guys - If you browse any NAS manufacturer's forum you'll see many unhappy users. This is just how things work. Happy customers rarely take time to post about their experiences. Angry customers need a solution to their problem and a forum is usually the quickest way to resolve such problems. Such is life.<br />
      <br />
      In my review I stressed why the Drobo FS is different from other NAS products. Ease of use and lack of knowledge required are items where Drobo FS bests all other NAS products I've used. There are many people for whom these items will outweigh all others.<br />
      <br />
      I also mentioned speed issues when copying large amounts of data. I'll stress again, I had no speed issues during playback. The NAS delivered the files immediately. <br />
      <br />
      Hi Priaptor - As I mentioned above, the Drobo FS is the best NAS I've used in terms of ease of use. The speed issue is really a non-issue for most people seeking to store and play music from their networks. Most of the statistics about transfer speeds are non-real world situations. After the first initial data copy most users will never notice a speed issue. The Drobo FS isn't about performance, it's about ease of use for non-technical users. <br />
      <br />
      The Drobo FS isn't for everyone. I hope I made that clear in the review. <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi nottlv - You hit the nail on the head with your statement, "Now unRAID is much more of a geeky product than Drobo for sure..." <br />
      <br />
      I don't consider unRAID a real competitor to the Drobo line of products. However, I do consider unRAID a very cool solution that I am interested in myself. <br />
    1. ptruce's Avatar
      ptruce -
      One problem I have had with nas drives in general is not the drives failing, but the controllers failing. After 2 episodes of this, I have gone to single drive backups that sync to additional backup drives using an rsync script such as Carbon Copy Cloner. Using a Synology DS111, with a backup drive attached, I feel a bit more comfortable with backups. Synology has an app that clones the internal drive to the external usb on a schedule.<br />
      <br />
      My system is use a local usb drive, I use a Prism Orpheus FW dac, and run the rsync to a remote disk in another room whenever I change the music library. My system has a full time database at home so might not be practical for most.<br />
      <br />
      BTW, that DS111 is cheap and has great apps. Mine lives at a friend's house 70 miles away and is great, really reliable, for critical remote backups. Does Time Machine also, but backing a big library would probably not work due to internet upload restrictions.<br />
      <br />
      A question, bs'ing with the Amarra folks at RMAF a couple of years ago, they were pretty negative about nas drives for quality. Has anyone noticed any issues vs attached usb or fw drives? I am unable to hear a difference.
    1. Bones13's Avatar
      Bones13 -
      I currently use the Drobo FS in my home system, mainly for music serving.<br />
      <br />
      I use a Sonos system house wide, and have my Mac on the network, and have the Drobo music folder for both the Sonos use, and iTunes/Fidelia on my Mac, as well as Foobar2000 on bootcamp.<br />
      <br />
      I am well aware that its not the fastest NAS, and I was particularly un-impressed with the apps that it will run (although there is DLNA and uPnP apps, if I read about them correctly).<br />
      <br />
      However, for the expressed purpose that I have listed, it works great, and allows my family somewhere to back up their computers and what-not. Being simple to use is also appreciated.
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      I always do is make a backup of my library. As to my computers, I always have a cloned disc of my computer, place in a safe place, so that if my disc fails, I can just place the clone in and begin fresh (of course the clone is of my system after installing all apps and ensuring no errors). My data is always stored both on an in computer Raid 5 and a NAS.<br />
      <br />
      As to Amarra, I would take their recommendations with a grain of salt. I am still waiting for Nov 15th bug release. If there were any more bugs in their software, I would need to hire another exterminator. While I now use CAPS, I once again tried my Mac only to see that Audirvana Plus had another release, 1.12, which in my opinion had a better SQ than Amarra. The first time I noticed a better SQ with Audirvana. I see no detriment to having a NAS that is fast such as a Synology or other with similar throughput. <br />
      <br />
      One thing is clear. Amarra takes much longer to load files into memory so who knows if their BS was a limitation of their software.
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      about 4 or 5 NAS devices and have to say, it doesn't get much easier than Synology. I understand that it is different strokes for different folks, but as far as performance and ease of use, the Synology is clearly a better solution than Drobo. <br />
      <br />
      One of my buddies bought an FS against my advice (as I bought two of them and both went back) awhile ago and I got a call almost immediately "can you help me". Well it turned out that the software included in the box and on their website was not the latest software and they had to send us the new software to get the unit recognized. Yes, it was easy to set up once we got the right software, but I was astounded at how slow it was. I thought there was problem. Clearly the slowest NAS I have ever seen. I took his unit home rather than tinkering with it at his place and it was as slow on my network. 25% the speed of my 411 slim and 15% that of my 1511+. I brought over my slim and he returned it for a Synology 1511+. <br />
      <br />
      QNAP now make good NAS, whereas years ago, I would never have recommended them as I had a ton of crashes at the work site with them. Now we are using them without issue. <br />
      <br />
      I have now had my 1511 and slim running almost a year without issue. I have a disc backup in case one fails, but have not had an issue yet.<br />
      <br />
      While you are probably right regarding speed, I have both a slim and 1511+, the former I use for my computer music and the latter for all my backups including my music library and I am often transferring large amounts of data and in that setting speed is an issue. Also, JPlay, which does load into memory is much faster the faster the access to the data and my trial computer is much faster with my Synology 411 slim than a USB 2.0 attached disc, the former transferring files at 3x the speed as the latter. <br />
      <br />
      Just my opinion, but I would recommend the Synology much more than the Drobo; in fact, I don't think I could recommend the Drobo for anything.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Priaptor - I would never give up my Synology DS411slim. It's the most underrated NAS around.<br />
      <br />
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      It is a great little device and bought it as soon as it was released.<br />
      <br />
      It is one of those devices in my computer based audio I could not do without. My latest addition was your CAPS 2.0. Another how did I live without it device.
    1. jfkbike's Avatar
      jfkbike -
      I am currently using multiple Drobos (one for music attached via Firewire, one for photos and one as a NAS backup drive and yes it is slow) and do like the concept and ease of use. I have also had 2 units fail (data was ok) and had a few scares as well when they wouldn't boot up etc... They also dropped support for the Drobo Share awful quickly it seems to me. I am also not impressed with their support policies. So do you due diligence on these before you get one.