Despite initial misgivings, I like my Drobo Mini (a mini review)

A few months ago, I was privileged to be one of the few that was allowed to see and hold one of Drobo’s new Mini storage devices, a Pro-level storage array designed to hold up to four 2.5” SATA disks. In addition, the Mini sports the ability to install an mSATA-based SSD that the Drobo software uses internally to accelerate the overall performance of the entire unit.
Initially, my primary misgiving was that the Mini didn’t have an Ethernet port, which would enable iSCSI connectivity. I still wish it did. However, due to a growing need to create virtual machines and very large files on my Mac, I decided to spring for a Mini last week. I purchased the base device along with a carry case and a 60 GB mSATA SSD. Unfortunately, the mSATA SSD was backordered, so I can’t yet tell you how much of a difference it will make from a performance perspective, but once it does, I’ll report back.
Taking a cue from Apple, Drobo does a nice job with the device packaging, making sure that it’s attractive and sturdy. Inside the packaging is the Mini, a surprisingly solid piece of hardware. It just feels hefty when you hold it, which is a good sign. It’s easy to tell when something is poorly made; the Drobo is certainly a well-made device.
I ordered my Mini with no drives since I happened to have four identical 750 GB 2.5” SATA disks sitting in my lab at home. So, I installed them in the Mini. The installation process couldn’t be easier. You simply align the drive with the drive bay and slide the drive in. That’s all there is to it.
Next up came the installation of the Mini’s software dashboard. I downloaded and installed the latest version from Drobo’s web site. The only downside was that the dashboard installation required a reboot of my Mac, but that’s a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of things.
Next up, I connected the Mini to my Mac using the Thunderbolt cable that was included with the Mini. The dashboard walked me through formatting and preparing the system. Frankly, it was scary easy to get everything done. The dashboard is shown in the figure below and gives you a pretty good overview of the system health.

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I wanted to get a feel for how well the Mini performs, so I downloaded and installed the Disk Speed Test tool from Blackmagic design. To get a baseline, I first ran the tool against he internal SSD in my Mac and got the following not-too-shabby results.

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Next, I ran the tool against my Mini and receive the results you see below. While these aren’t even close to the SSD results, I didn’t expect them to be, particularly without the optional SSD accelerator installed yet. Once that comes in, I’m going to re-run the tests to see what’s what. As you can see, I’m pushing more than 200 MB/s for both read and write using my four drive Mini. Given that general rule of thumb says that a single SATA disk might push 50-60 MB/s in the real world, I’m quite pleased with these numbers.

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My next step is to start running some virtual machines on the Mini to see how well it performs with real workloads. If I run into anything unexpected, I’ll be back!
Overall, I’m very happy with the Mini so far. It’s quiet, well built, easy to use and seems robust.

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