We’ve found ourselves in this place before. The Drobo 5N has a nice set of features, but it lacks many of the modern touches that moved these products from pure storage devices to the advanced appliances that can do more than most of us use our PCs for. The software advances have come to the forefront because the hardware drives the system with more processing power, more system memory and higher speed buses that enable intense multitasking. Drobo has started to increase the software library, but the 5N lacks the muscle to utilize more than a few of the selections at once. The storage performance we observed also makes us believe BeyondRAID is process-intensive and it could benefit from more clock cycles and system memory.
Unlike the Drobo B810n we tested a few months back, none of this is really an issue. Drobo geared the B810n ($1569) for small to medium size businesses that require more resources to get the most out of the system. A business may want to bring email services in-house rather than rely on a cloud-based system, or it may need to service multiple users simultaneously. The Drobo 5N targets home users and small offices with just a few users. It's not the best system, but it has enough ease-of-use features to make it attractive.
Drobo continues to add more features to its network-attached product line, but it hasn't changed the setup process. For the most part, setup is just as easy now as it was when the company first started. The process was easy back then, and it remains the same now, while other companies have complicated the processes as new features emerge. I’m a computer hardware reviewer, so it's easy for me to lose sense of the complexity. I've installed at least a hundred NAS systems and installed Windows thousands of times. If you can say the same, then the care Drobo puts into keeping things simple may not mean much to you. If your computer experience starts with shopping at a big box store rather than a screwdriver, then the 5N's simple plug-and-play nature will mean much more.
When Drobo released the 5N, it sold for as much as $569. We wouldn't look as favorably on the system at that price point. The system now costs as low as $489. At that price, the 5-bay (plus mSATA SSD Data-Aware Tiering Cache) Drobo 5N competes with 4-bay systems from other manufacturers. There is a lot of value in this system, and we would say it is one of, if not the best, 5-bay NAS for novice users.
There are a few areas we would like to see Drobo change. The 1-year warranty with 90-day telephone support is below the industry standard. Many premium and mainstream NAS products carry unlimited free telephone or email support through a ticket system. Those same products also carry a two- to a three-year warranty. As a shopper, you should calculate the paid warranty coverage (beyond 1-year) with the hardware cost to see how the Drobo 5N stacks up to the competition, and then weigh the ease-of-use features against the cost. Simplicity holds a variable value between users, so we can't determine what is best for you in this category. NAS products have a large gray area, and that gray area is where Drobo places a lot of emphasis.
You may have noticed the lack of coverage on the mSATA Data-Aware Tiering in this review. The Drobo 5N, much like the B810n, doesn't deliver a substantial performance increase during our SMB tests. We are testing the Drobo B810i, the iSCSI only version of the B810n, and it provides a substantial boost with the SSD installed. This is largely because, unlike SMB, iSCSI scales better with additional queue depth workloads. Adding an SSD to the Drobo doesn't hurt performance, but it doesn't add too much, either.