August 1, 2014

Drobo Adding 4K Drive Support – What About Everyone Else?

Drobo Series
Western Digital is first to market with "Advanced Format" 4K-sector drives

Western Digital is first to market with "Advanced Format" 4K-sector drives, but when will vendors support them?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new generation of hard disk drives that use 4K sectors rather than the historic 512 byte size. As I noted in that piece, although PC and Mac users with recent OS versions had nothing to fear from these, embedded devices like the TiVo and Drobo I use and love might not be compatible. I tried reaching out to these vendors, but only one has actually responded.

Drobo Compatibility Is Coming

You can discover all sorts of things in firmware release notes if you look hard enough. The latest firmware for the Data Robotics DroboElite and Drobo S (versions 1.0.1 and 2.0.1, respectively) now include 4K drive support. The former was released at the end of December, though I didn’t get around to blogging about it then. So users of the third-generation Drobo products are set as far as 4K “Advanced Format” drives go.

I sat down with Drobo’s new CEO, Tom Buiocchi, at the Business Development Event in Palo Alto today and asked about this issue. The company assures me that the still-current second-generation devices, the Drobo and Drobo Pro, will also get 4K disk drive support in their next firmware update. They recommend updating the firmware of any Drobo device before installing a 4K drive, since the drive will have to be reformatted and rebuilt otherwise. I appreciate their responsiveness.

Update: Drobo Pro (firmware 1.1.5) and the base Drobo (firmware 1.3.6) got 4k drive support in early February!

If Not Now, When?

Since these new drives remain scarce, I agree that this support alone is not cause for a firmware rev. But the fact that online retailers are shipping them with little notice or warning about incompatibility does raise flags. Here’s hoping everyone supports them before they become common!

I remain concerned that no other maker of embedded hard disk-based devices has responded. This is not a priority for those that don’t support end users swapping out hard disk drives, but there are many devices that remain questionable. I’d love to hear from Netgear, Iomega, Linksys, Synology and others regarding their level of support.

Update: Synology released updated firmware to support the Western Digital EARS 4K Advanced Format family of drives at the exact moment I posted this!