Drobo's been delivering quality desktop storage for businesses and prosumers for awhile now, but previously, the company hadn't dipped its toe into Thunderbolt waters. But that's about to change with its two new units. The 5D is a BYOD desktop offering with two Thunderbolt ports and one USB 3.0 socket for connecting up to five hot-swappable, 3.5-inch drives to your Mac or PC. It also has an SmSATASD for data-caching quickness and a variable-speed fan to keep things cool and quiet. We don't know exactly when the 5D will go on sale -- Drobo's not telling until July -- but it'll cost under $850 when it does, and that price includes a Thunderbolt cable. Meanwhile, the Mini is the first Drobo meant to be taken on the road. It packs up to four 2.5-inch drives in its front bays, plus, like the 5D, there's an mSATA SSD nestled in its underside that serves as a caching tier to speed up your main storage -- all in a 7.3 x 1.8 x 7.1-inch package weighing three pounds when fully loaded. All the drives are hot-swappable, a process made simple and easy with a trick, spring-loaded mechanism (patent pending) that lets users swap drives as they would SD cards. As for connecting the thing to your computer, dual Thunderbolt ports (for daisy chaining) and one USB 3.0 port reside round back along with the power plug and two vents for the Mini's variable-speed fans. Ringing the front face of the Mini are five LED strips that serve as drive indicators and capacity meter to let you know when a drive has failed or you're running out of space. Intrigued? Well, we got a sneak peek at the Mini and a little history lesson about its origins at Drobo HQ, so join us past the break for more.
The Mini's shell is crafted from metallic carbon fiber coated in a grippy soft touch material with the Drobo logo embossed on top, and a magnetic front plate covers up those unsightly HDDs -- it's a very clean, appealing design. We got our hands on a prototype unit that was almost production spec (the Firewire ports didn't make it into the final design due to cost concerns), and we can certainly see the appeal of such a portable, robust storage solution. But, because it's such a departure from Drobo's previous products, we were curious as to how the Mini came to be. Turns out, its genesis was borne of company co-founder Julian Terry's desire for a Drobo that could fit in his office workstation, so Terry hacked together a bit of kit you see in the picture below. Terry's work was subsequently discovered by CEO Tom Buiocchi, who saw its potential as a portable solution for travel-weary videographers and photogs. After that, Terry designed and built the spring-loaded drive housing to complete the main Mini innards, and then it was a matter of designing the exterior and adding some elbow grease in the prototyping stage to get it ready for mass consumption.
The result? A handsome, onyx number that'll sate most any mobile professional's storage needs for under $650 (drives not included). Best part is, Drobo addressed a common pain point with other Thunderbolt drives: the Thunderbolt cable's included. Unfortunately, as with the 5D, we won't know the Mini's exact pricing or availability until next month, but until then you can peruse our spate of pictures to feed your Drobo dreams.