Not Bad for a Content Creator: The Drobo 8D Review

The Drobo 8D is a pretty good option for the photographer or content creator who needs to have their photos, videos, and more always backed up.

My move to the Drobo 8D came after a number of LaCie drives had failed on me and caused a ton of headaches with our standard content production. Admittedly, I’ve never used something like the Drobo 8D before, though I’ve been aware of their benefits. For years, my LaCie drives had never failed on me. But then three failed within a period of half a year. Frustration finally made me move to a RAID. New photographers and content creators may not truly understand the need for one. Indeed, I was a photographer who said, “This would never happen to me.” In my defense, I’ve been a photographer who mostly worked from a laptop for the majority of my career; portable hard drives always made more sense. Most of the stuff I do goes online into the Phoblographer’s Media Library. But, there are times when I need to access other things, and the Drobo 8D has proven to be pretty great at keeping all my data secured and backed up when I’m home. Of course when I’m traveling, it’s not going with me.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • I like the Drobo Dashboard
  • Well built
  • So glad it mounts like a hard drive on the Mac! It makes my process for importing images that much better via Capture One Pro!
  • I like that you can dim the lights
  • Runs very cool
  • Thunderbolt 3 is nice
  • Direct attached storage on the back is a nice touch for those shooting to SSD hard drives
  • Drobo Dashboard has event logs that help you figure out what happened if it suddenly becomes disconnected
  • You know when it’s really working by the sound
  • It has low power and high power settings
  • Faster than it used to be

Cons

  • Not plug and play. Need to do the setup from their website, but that’s to be expected.
  • Lots of Apple security things to go through: more so than normal.
  • Very noisy
  • Slow starting back up when you haven’t used it for a little bit
  • Sometimes causes slowdowns in Capture One 20 and therefore crashes
  • Pretty large

Gear Used

We tested the Drobo 8D with two Seagate IronWolf Pro 8TB drives. It’s connected to a 2019 iMac that’s been maxed out and fully upgraded.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Amazon listing

  • Highly scalable direct attached storage array with 2 x Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Holds up to 8 x 3. 5″ Sate HDDs. Optional SSD boosts performance. Expandable by adding drives or hot-swapping drives with larger ones. On-line and instant capacity expansion
  • Intelligent volume management for flexibility & Convenience. Ideal for data-intensive workflows, creative professionals, and small to medium businesses with 128TB volume support
  • Drobo 8D PC perspective gold award recipient. Award-winning Beyond automated data protection. Internal battery backup protects data against power interruptions
  • Designed and created for macOS. Includes 20Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable. *Units with hard drives include Seagate barracuda Pro HDDs. Internal Power Supply – AC Input – 100-240VAC~3.5A, 50-60Hz. DC Output – 12V, 20.8A, 250W max

Ergonomics

The Drobo 8D is large: it sort of has to be as it’s accommodating eight drives. It’s going to take up a lot of space on your desk. So, make sure that you have the room. This is one of the reasons why I was originally working with it vertically.

Here’s what you see on the inside. There are areas for different drive bays. When they’re active, the light on the side will glow green.

The blue lights up top tell you when the Drobo 8D is working on something. Not only will you see the lights flicker in a sequence, but you’ll also hear it.

This cover goes in front of the main compartment. It’s a quick guide, sort of. And it provides all the protection for the drive that you really need, as long as your workspace is kept clean.

The sides of the Drobo 8D are pretty clean and without anything important. The other side has feet for the unit to rest on a desk.

The back of the Drobo 8D is where you connect everything. There is also an area for you to connect SATA drives.

Build Quality

As you can see in these images, we had the Drobo 8D on its side for a lot of the time. After around a month of it being on its side, there weren’t any major problems or changes in its operation. When the Drobo 8D was fast, it was super fast, but it was consistently slow to start up and even caused Capture One 20 to crash at times. It’s also still a bit noisy, but we have to expect that.

The case that the drives are housed in is very solid. We didn’t put it through major roughhousing, but it feels almost like an old school PC case. The touch and feel of the Drobo 8D’s exterior reminds me of old school Dell Pentium 4 cases. So too does the sound. Many new computers are built differently.

Ease of Use

For my testing, I put everything in RAID 1. This can sometimes affect performance. And if anything, we’re told that if the unit were fully saturated that it would have greatly improved the performance.

Most of the interactions you do with the Drobo 8D will come via Drobo Dashboard. This is the software that you need in order to work with the Drobo 8D. You’ll have to use it to properly disconnect the unit, eject drives, and do a number of other things. The novice photographer will find this pretty simple to work with. In fact, I think that the person who designed Drobo Dashboard probably thought about an app for mobile first. I say this because it’s really that simple to work with. The sidebar seems almost like something that you’d see after tapping a hamburger menu icon.

Lots of different parameters can be changed in the Drobo Dashboard. Many photographers and content creators will find this simple to use and understandable once they actually explore it.

One of the nicest things about Drobo Dashboard is the Events tab: it tells you exactly what happens at times. You’ll know when you need to make things more up to date, learn about crashes, etc. The Drobo 8D works well enough, though it can also be incredibly slow vs dedicated external hard drives. Whenever I load up finder and then go into the Drobo, the device makes a sound like it’s actually booting up for the first time. The result is a delay when it comes to accessing my files. This is even more of a problem when editing directly off of it into Capture One 20. At one point, it caused a few crashes, but it’s mostly been okay. While the Drobo 8D isn’t perfect, it does the job. Drobo has been known to have these problems for years. Though they’ve improved, they’re still not totally fixed.

Just as a reference point, the above test is for my iMac’s internal drive. Of course, that’s going to be blazing fast. The below screenshot is from the Drobo 8D connected to my computer via Thunderbolt/USB-C. As you can see, it’s not that great. It’s good enough for photo editing, but I’m not sure that it will be in the long run.

The photo below is a screenshot from my buddy’s Pegasus. It’s a pretty stark difference. For a bit of background, I’m using the Seagate IronWolf Pro 8TB 3.5″ Internal Desktop Hard Drive with SATA 6Gb/s, 7200RPM.

Conclusions

I’m honestly lukewarm about the Drobo 8D. I remember when they were flawless and photographers were in love with them. But that’s changed. Other companies are making great products, but this isn’t at all bad for photographers. If you’re a photojournalist dealing with images that aren’t super high in megapixels, it will be faster. But if you’re dealing with larger files, the lag will be annoying. The annoyance will translate into more waiting. In the space of first world problems, that’s not a big deal. At the same time though, I think everyone just wants the best unit that they can get.

The Drobo 8D gets three out of five stars. Want one? The prices vary depending on the configuration.