When the original USB Drobo was released, it made a big splash. The sturdy little black box that quickly and efficiently organizes your hard drives to give you a continuous large pool of storage struck a chord. Now, the Drobo with FireWire 800 promises to do everything its predecessor promised, but faster. The Drobo is an easy-to-use device for anyone concerned about hard-drive failure and storage space. The device also works well for Time Machine backups, archiving, or storing large music, video, or picture collections.

The Drobo uses a simplified Raid technology to protect against drive failure. The device has slots for up to four SATA hard drives. Unlike with other Raid systems, the capacities of the drives do not have to match. Just plug in any four SATA drives, and Drobo will automatically set them up into what appears to you as a single, large volume on your desktop. Drobo performs data redundancy that allows you to upgrade a drive or install a replacement drive effortlessly.

An easy-to-understand light system (green, yellow and red) tells you the status of each drive, while a blue LED display tells you in 10 percent increments how much storage space the Drobo has left. If you start to run out of space, you can simply pull out your lowest-capacity drive and replace it with a larger-capacity disk. Drobo will recognise the increased storage capacity on the fly and start rebuilding your volume in the background while you can continue to access your data. Likewise, if a drive fails, you can swap in a new drive without losing any data.

Data Robotics sells the Drobo either without drives or prepopulated with drives of your specification. You can take whatever extra SATA drives you may have lying around and add them to your Drobo to increase your total storage capacity. To find out how much usable storage you may already have on hand, we recommend checking out Drobo.com. The site has a nifty calculator to show you how much space you'll have with prospective drives, taking into account the 'memory tax' you'll encounter with any drive. For example, four one-terabyte (1TB) drives will actually only have about 2.7TB of usable storage. The Drobo has a smaller memory tax than a mirrored Raid level 1 system, and you'd end up with more total storage if you took your drives and simply set them up as JBOD ('just a bunch of disks'). Still, since the Drobo is meant to serve as a hub for multiple hard drives, the memory tax isn't a big problem, as long as you budget for it ahead of time.

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