Drobo 5N review

Expandable storage without the fuss

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Our Verdict

The Drobo 5N does pretty much all the hard work, making it a hassle-free choice if you're seeking expandable storage. It lacks the premium build materials of more expensive drives, however, so don’t expect a looker.

For

  • Easy to set up
  • Works straight away
  • Expandable design
  • Affordable

Against

  • Uninspiring design
  • Feels cheap
  • Drive door is fiddly

The market for high-performance storage devices is diverse and constantly growing. There are plenty of products that offer decent storage capabilities out there, but they often compromise on usability and are targeted at people with technology expertise.

And when you find something that’s easy to use and has all the top features you require, it can prove costly. Drobo, a company well-known for its storage products and solutions, wants to change this with the Drobo 5N.

It’s an affordable, easy-to-use network-based 64TB storage solution and is gunning for the average NAS drive. As well as being easy to get up and running, the device - which costs around £479 (around $600/AUS$800) - is flexible and expandable. And it aims to keep your data safe at the same time.

Design

Storage units needn’t be bulky, as the Drobo 5N certainly proves. The device has been designed with portability and easy-of-use in mind.  Weighing 3.9kg without the hard drives or power cables installed, you shouldn’t find it too heavy to transport. 

In terms of dimensions, it has a width of 5.9 inches, a height of 7.3 inches and a depth 10.3 inches. As a result, you’ll unlikely run into any problems when it comes to finding space for it. It’ll sit next to an ethernet supply or computer nicely, although you could easily tuck it away on a shelf should you feel it’s making your office look untidy.

One of the best things about the 5N is that it’s expandable. There isn’t a long, complicated process when it comes to beefing up the storage, and you don’t have to dispose of RAID sets to cater for better drives. Instead, when the time is right, you can access the 5N’s contents to insert new disk drives or replace older ones. You don’t need any tools for this, which makes things even better. 

The 5N also sports a set of LED indicators, which are located on the front. When you’re running low on space, they flash and you can then make an action. Similarly, you’re notified if there’s a problem with one of the drives, letting you replace it straight away. Issues never go under the radar, and your new investment won’t end up getting damaged due to a faulty drive. 

Set up

If you’re looking for a storage device to help you in your work life, then the chances are that you’re not going to want something that’ll take a lot of time to install and use. The beauty here is that the 5N is quick and easy to set up. You can get it up and running within a matter of minutes, which sets it apart from NAS devices. They’re typically suited to people who know what they’re doing in terms of tech. 

You’ll find a mixture of leads in the box that are essential to the process. These include an a ethernet and power cable, and there’s also plenty of how-to literature to get you started. However, before you actually power it up, Drobo recommends that you download all the correct computer software first - namely the Drobo Dashboard. The latter lets you control and customize the 5N.

The dashboard is available to download from Drobo’s website, with clients for both Windows and Mac computers. You just need to ensure you download the right version to work with your device. Once you’ve done that, you can get your hands dirty with the drives. Again, Drobo makes some recommendations. For the device to work, you must start with at least two SATA 3.5 drives, which is the standard for desktop PCs. It’s worth noting, though, that all existing data will be erased. 

Then, you can connect it up to your router using the Ethernet cable. The 5N is quite chunky, so it may look odd next to a standard internet box. If you don’t have a lot of room to play with or have another device linked up to your network manually, then you have the option to plug it straight into your PC - if it has an Ethernet port. 

Key features

With so many storage and network solutions on the market already, Drobo needed to set 5N apart. To do this, it kitted the device out with a plethora of features that improve user experience and performance. A good example? An emergency battery. 

There’s always the possibility of technology running out of power, but when it’s a storage device, data can be put at risk. To solve this problem, the 5N comes with a back-up battery system that ensures a correct shutdown if power were to be disrupted. This feature, of course, isn’t new - but it’s something you’d expect to find on a more expensive offering.

Security also forms a major part of the device. If you have loads of precious data, then you’ll want it to stay protected at all times. The 5N actively searches for data corruption issues and replaces the need for you to conduct searches manually. 

Another neat thing about the 5N is that it’s been built to works with all drive capacities, types and brands - whether they’re SSD or HDD drives. The only exceptions here are SandForce controller-based SSDs, Seagate Archive HDD series, and HGST’s Ultrastar Archive Ha10 10TB drive. 

You can use older drives with the 5N, too. For instance, if you’ve upgraded your computer’s HDD with an SSD, then you don’t have to cast it aside. It can also perform zero-support drive pack migration, meaning you never have to worry about drive order, downtime or compatibility. 

Apps

You can make use of a whole host of beneficial solutions and services through the Drobo Apps platform as well. There are over a hundred apps to choose from, and they all extend the capabilities of the 5N and other Drobo devices. They work with both Mac and Windows computers .

In terms of core apps, there’s MyDrobo, which offers end-to-end secure access to services from the public internet. And DroboAccess lets you view files, photos and videos stored on your 5N through a web browser or the official mobile app. Koken is also handy, giving photographers a way to manage and publish their photos. You can access Wordpress too.

Drobo also offers support for iOS. Using DroboPix, you have a way to backup photos and videos stored on your iPhone or iPad. Transfers happen over your Wi-Fi connection to protect you from cellular data charges, and the app only takes a few simple steps to set up. You simply have to download the app onto the Drobo Dashboard, create a new folder and take a photo of the QR code provided by Drobo.

There’s also Time Machine support so you can restore and backup your Mac without any hassle. You can enable and manage the feature using the Drobo Dashboard, like all the other apps and services. Again, the process is fairly simple, consisting of only a few steps.