A photographer’s review of the new Third Generation Drobo with USB 3.0

This week I purchased the just released new Gen 3 Drobo. I’ve been a Drobo user since not long after I started doing photography professionally. A Drobo is a proprietary raid system that holds multiple hard drives, and if one drive fails it’s easy to swap it out with no data loss or downtime. Of course a Drobo is only part of a good backup strategy, you always want multiple backups and one offsite as well. If you want to know more about the Drobo system you can check here http://www.drobo.com/storage-products/drobo/. You don’t always hear nice things about Drobo online recently, they seemed to have had some customer support and reliability issues. They even turned away some popular photographers from the system.  However, I’ve had my Drobo Gen 2 for about 4 years now, and except for replacing the fan myself, it’s been humming along just fine.  A Drobo has no moving parts except for the fan and of course the hard drives themselves, in my opinion you would expect drives to fail, but the Drobo itself should run for years without issues.  So I will see how it goes with the new USB 3.0 Drobo Generation 3 and report back if I have any issues.  I have a feeling Drobo will be a lot more responsive to customer issues now then they were in the past.

Even though my Gen 2 Drobo is reliable, the problem is that it’s slow, very slow. It doesn’t matter if it is attached with firewire or usb, about the best I would get was 40MB/s read and write.  The best way to work in Lightroom is to have your catalog on an SSD, in the case of my iMac I have the catalog on the 512GB internal SSD.  Then you store all your pictures on a large external raid or network attached drive with lots of storage.  I’m a do it yourself geeky guy, I’ve always built my own PC’s before switching to the Mac, so I have a PC server in my closet that I was using as my primary photo storage. I was using my old Drobo to back up that system.  OSX Mavericks has some serious networking issues, I was always having some kind of problem using my PC server as my primary photo storage.  I wanted something with speed and reliability that directly connected to my Mac instead of going over the network.  Then I saw the announcement for the Generation 3 Drobo, with the reasonable price and promise of 3x speed over the previous generation, I thought I would give it a try.   So did it deliver on the promise?

So far the answer is yes!  On the popular Blackmagic disk speed test for Mac I’m getting around 170MB/s write and well over 200MB/s read.  Speed seems a little variable in the test, the read speed is almost always the same but the write speed will drop down and then shoot back up sometimes during the test.  A disk speed test really isn’t the same as real world use,  so I’ve done my normal work in Lightroom to see how things go.  So far it has been very positive.  I work with a lot of huge 36mp images from my Nikon D800, they really put a strain on even the fastest system.  I actually have the fastest iMac you can possibly get, so I can go though pictures pretty quickly with little delay.  Working from my old Drobo, or with my network attached PC storage, I would get times when it seemed to work smoothly, and sometimes Lightroom would get hung up loading images or just slow way down.  Lightroom is a complicated beast, even though I build 1:1 previews and smart previews on import to my internal SSD, it still needs to hit the main photo storage to render previews at times.  Lightroom needs a really fast cpu and a fast drive to work efficiently.

So far the Drobo Generation 3 is working very well.  I’ve noticed no times when pictures would be stuck loading, in develop and library modules I’m able to quickly move though images with very little rendering delay.  Not that I’ve timed it, but importing pictures feels faster as well.  Renaming a large batch of files happens almost instantly now, it was very slow on the old Drobo.  So far I’m about as happy as I could be, the 3x speed promise of the new Drobo seems to be spot on, and it really feels even a bit faster than that in real world use in Lightroom.  I would highly recommend the Drobo Generation 3 to photographers from my testing so far, and I will update this if my opinion changes.  And they finally include an option in Drobo Dashboard to keep the hard drives from spinning down!  As long as the reliability holds up like it did with my old Drobo, which is still being used, this new one definitely has the speed for use as primary photo storage.

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