Drobo Mini, the Sophisticated Backup System In a Small Package [REVIEW]

Charlie White
Drobo Mini, the Sophisticated Backup System In a Small Package [REVIEW]
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Drobo Mini

Want to back up your Mac or PC in the fastest and safest possible way? The Drobo Mini is scarcely larger than your hand, and with its Thunderbolt ports, it can back up boatloads of data at blazing speed. We received one here for review, loaded it up to the hilt with fast drives and took it for a spin.

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Attached directly to your Mac or PC, it can either automatically backup your drive on a regular basis, or it's fast enough to use as another drive. And, because it has redundant disks, it protects your data even if one (or even two) of the disks inside fails.

Using fast Thunderbolt ports is a great benefit of the Drobo Mini. Currently available on newer Macs (and only a tiny number of PCs so far), it transfers data almost at the same speed as the disk can crank it out. This we had to try, so we fired up our MacBook Pro with Retina display and connected the Drobo Mini, which contained four 750GB 2.5-inch notebook drives. If you don't have a Mac, you can still use the Drobo Mini on a PC via a USB 3.0 port, which won't be quite as fast.

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Failsafe Backup

One reason this system is so well-suited for backup is that it offers extra protection when you have multiple disks on board. Say you've placed four drives into this unit, and one of them fails. The Drobo is using a system it calls BeyondRAID, which can retrieve the data from the other drives and reconstruct it for you, so you won't lose a thing.

You can even select dual-drive redundancy, where even if two drives fail, you'll still have all your data. The downside? With single-drive redundancy, half of your disk space will be taken up by this tricky scheme, and if you choose dual drive redundancy, even more disk space is required, and it's slightly slower. Here's our results, where we tested the speed of both modes, and compared that with the speed of the MacBook Pro's solid-state drive:

This is a seriously sophisticated system. For example, there's an option to install an 80GB solid-state flash memory card into the bottom of the unit, which gives you even more safety. If there's a power failure, it holds whatever data you were transferring at the time, and then keeps the drive running on battery power long enough to place that data safely onto the disk drives. And, that solid-state drive also functions as a data accelerator, giving you what Drobo calls a "hot data cache," or superfast access to often-used data without having to dip into the slower spinning drives. And the battery? It recharges itself when the power is restored. Cool.

We enjoyed using this little enclosure, with its color-coded lights surrounding its front face, telling us the status of the drives within. We also liked the way you can hot-swap the drives, taking one out and putting in a larger one even while the system is running. And we appreciate its easy portability, its 7-inch-square size not too big to slip into a laptop bag, although it does weigh nearly 3 pounds when fully loaded.

The Price is Wrong

With the system this powerful and capable, you'd expect it to be expensive, and you'd be right. That's the downside of the Drobo Mini, where the enclosure itself costs $649. But that's just the beginning. The 2.5-inch notebook drives we installed for testing, Seagate Momentus 7500 RPM 750GB drives, cost $125, and that's the lowest price we could find online. In addition, the small solid-state drive that gives you that nifty data acceleration feature will run you another $175. Total price of the system as tested: a cool $1,324. Ouch. It'll cost you even more if you'd like to put solid-state drives inside, but then your backup speed will be much faster.

For someone who has to deal with lots of data, and wants to be sure none of it is lost to the vagaries of hard disk failures, this is an ideal system. It's especially useful if portability is important to you. If you do lots of video editing, you'll feel like you've just gotten a gigantic walk-in closet for all of your clips and finished videos. Best of all, you can rest easy knowing that your data is backed up and is as safe as it can possibly be.

Drobo Mini

Check out the backlighting surrounding the front of the Drobo Mini. It's color-coded to show you the status of the drive, including how much space you have left.

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This story originally published on Mashable here.