Hybrid External Storage Solution

As many industries and consumers migrate toward cloud-based storage, there are still advantages to physical drive solutions that don't require any Internet connection, and many offer speeds that are simply not possible for most consumer connections. Factor in drive performance and the addition of an mSATA SSD card (sold separately), and you have the Drobo Mini. It's leaner and meaner than other Drobo models, but those features come at a lofty price.

Unlike its predecessors, the Drobo Mini has some new technologies that might make you forget about cloud-based storage solutions and think more about the new Thunderbolt connectivity, as well as USB 3, which provides greater portability. Although the Mini doesn't offer network connectivity, if you have a late-model computer, you may not miss it with Thunderbolt. Drobo provides faster transfer speeds in the Mini than most earlier Drobos, and offers up to 4 TB of storage across four 2.5″ SATA disk drive bays, and an mSATA SSD to boost performance. Like other Drobo models, you can upgrade and intermingle various drive sizes but, for the fastest solution, Drobo recommends 7,200-RPM SATA II or III hard drives, plus a 32-GB mSATA SSD. The model we tested had four Seagate Momentus 750-GB, 7,200-RPM drives and a Crucial m4 mSATA 32-GB SSD with a total street price of around $970.

As a storage device, the Mini works like any other external drive when you drag folders and files. With the Drobo Mini, a 1-GB video-file transfer took more than just the few seconds anticipated, but it was approximately five times (5x) faster than our Drobo S, and nearly 20x faster than our original Drobo. The results were similar with a 5-GB folder of digital images. Although the Drobo's BeyondRAID setup is proprietary, it's invisible to the end user because the Drobo Dashboard configures your Mini after installation and keeps everything up to date for you. Drobo's single- or dual-drive redundancy helps protect data from drive failure, as well. This is plenty of performance for most commercial photographers, videographers, and designers who need this amount of storage space on site. Upgrading drives is easy, and the bays are hot swappable. All of this technology makes for what's clearly the most reliable Drobo storage solution to date.

Its slim design is pure Drobo, only smaller. At a little less than 2″ high, approximately 7″ deep, and 7″ wide, this smaller (for Drobo) footprint and its weight of 2.2 lbs make it more portable. The Mini also features the beloved Drobo blinking spread of drive-activity lights and an illuminating front-frame perimeter. The rear panel consists of two cooling fan vents, a power port, USB 3, and a pair of Thunderbolt ports for easy daisy-chain connections with additional devices. The undercarriage is where the mSATA SSD hides under a roughly 1×3″ panel.

The Drobo Mini is clearly a leap forward in performance, but it may still have room to improve in speed when compared to similar storage solutions from competitors. Being one of the relatively early Thunderbolt solutions, however, does give Drobo an advantage over current offerings such as LaCie's 2big 4-TB RAID storage ($599), which only connects via Thunderbolt; and Other World Computing's 4-TB Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 w/eSATA ($564.99), which doesn't offer USB 3 or Thunderbolt connectivity. G-Technology offers the 4-TB G-Speed eS with optional RAID card ($899.95), but it has a larger form factor.

The key is to find the storage you need, with excellent performance, but without breaking the bank. In this case, Drobo Mini is faster than previous Drobo models, but maybe not as fast as some of their competitors. With a relatively fair price for this level of RAID quality, fans of Drobo will love everything that's familiar about the simplicity and design of the Mini. If you need this amount of speed, security, and compact size with a lot of storage space, check out the Drobo Mini. While it may not win any races, it should keep your head out of the clouds.

Company: Drobo, Inc.
Price: $649 (body only; drives are extra)
Web: www.drobo.com
Rating: 3
Hot:  Compact; battery for cached data; Thunderbolt/USB
Not:  Boot-up time; speed vs. competitor's products, price