Drobo and 3TB Hard Drives

I hope this post helps save someone a few hours of frustration trying to update their Drobo Second Gen to firmware 1.4.1 using FireWire.

I ordered my second generation Drobo on Friday the 13th. It was on sale from the Drobo store for half price and I received the unit within two days of placing the order.

Opening the Drobo packaging was a lot of fun. They created a nice experience and the unit was obviously packaged with care and thought. Very similar to opening the packaging of an Apple product.

Unfortunately that is where the similarity ended. Whenever I have turned on an Apple product, it just works.  When I turned the Drobo on, all I could see were red lights. My 3TB hard drives had failed. All of them.

It did not take me long to determine that the Drobo required a firmware update. Asking Google “does Drobo support 3TB drives” led me here. Okay, the firmware — version 1.4.1 — was released in October of last year. Not sure why my machine had a much older firmware version as I only received it two days ago but sure. Let’s get it updated and get the 3TB hard drives online.

Using the Drobo dashboard, I downloaded the firmware patch and applied the update.

“Update successful.” the Drobo machine informed me. “I will need to reboot for the changes to take effect.”

“Reboot away.” I replied.

Reboot unsuccessful. Red lights. Hard drive failure.

I love problem-solving. I always follow the same process. Which basically means I repeat the same set of steps. I hope for a different outcome. I’m not sure why. But generally, every time I follow the same set of steps I usually get the exact same result. And the Drobo did not let me down. Red lights. Always red. After downloading the firmware update several more times and rebooting the Drobo several more times, I concluded that a firmware release was not going to fix the problem.

Maybe all of the drives were bad?


I searched the support pages again and found a post that suggested a manual update. Download the firmware file. Unzip the firmware file. Load the Drobo Dashboard. Control-click the “update firmware” section and select the downloaded firmware file. Apply the firmare update.

Reboot unsuccessful. Red Lights. Hard drive failure.

As I enjoy my conventional approach to problem-solving, I repeated the same set of steps several more times. And I achieved the exact same result several more times. And the Drobo did not let me down. Red lights. Always red.

Okay. What on earth is going on? Oh, yes. Repeating the same set of steps expecting a different outcome is a poor problem-solving process. Maybe I should think about a different approach.

It then dawned on me that there may be a way to check to see if the firmware had actually changed. I found a section on Drobo Dashboard called “status”. It gave the serial number of the Drobo and it gave the firmware version: 1.3.7. Huh? I had downloaded and applied the 1.4.1 firmware update no less than a dozen times.

I went back to the Drobo site and downloaded the release notes for the firmware update. I came across this little gem buried deep in the commentary:

Fixed Drobo firmware update failure when Drobo is connected via FireWire

Sigh. The Drobo was connected to my Mac via FireWire. I could have repeated the firmware update thousands of times without a change in outcome. Drobo does not apply firmware updates when connected via FireWire. At least not prior to this firmware update.

I connected the Drobo via USB to my Mac. Applied the firmware update.

After four hours, I had green lights.

Not a great first impression.

That said, the Drobo is now working fine and backing up my data. But really, shipping out new machines with old firmware? No mention on the support pages that you cannot use FireWire to update your old firmware until after you update to the new firmware?

That part is a big fail.

10 replies
  1. Claus Sjodin
    Claus Sjodin says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much Richard Cleaver. What I was unable to find on the support at Drobo I found within ten seconds here. I could tell exactly the same story as you do – but the end of it will be a little different. My story will end here with these word: “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much Richard Cleaver.”

    All the best from Denmark!

    🙂 Claus

  2. Keith
    Keith says:

    I also bought the Friday 13th special. Mine also needed a firmware update. In my case I only inserted 1.5 TB drives, so they came up right away. I was also informed it needed an update, I clicked and it downloaded and installed and rebooted. Then it told me it needed another update, (echos of Windows), I wasn’t sure whether the first one didn’t take, or one update was needed first to get the next one. At any rate, after the second update, I was up on 1.4.1. This all WAS done over Firewire on my MacBook Pro.

    Now maybe the first failure to update was a Firewire issue, but then it cured itself the second time. So maybe the FW issue is hit and miss. In your case, the issue was 100% fail. In my case I think it failed once and then worked. Since I didn’t have any 3TB drives yet, it wasn’t a showstopper to me, whether I got the update or not. I’m not sure I would have thought about updating over USB either.

    I’m sure these units were long in the inventory, hence the reason for the sale. There might be a new run of them coming down the pipe and they needed to clear the selves. Keep in mind these units were stocked at one of the FedEx shipping/warehouse centers. How do I know, I also received another product from a different company on the same day, and it had the SAME Shipped From address. That threw me for awhile, until I realized this is a warehousing service that was doing the shipping.

    Overall, I was pleased and it was a very Apple like open-box experience!

    • Richard Cleaver
      Richard Cleaver says:

      Hi Keith. According to Drobo’s support page, the Drobo must have version 1.4 firmware or higher to recognize 3TB drives. And the update was not passing through on FireWire which is identified as an issue on the Drobo release notes for the firmware update. Getting the firmware update through USB was successful on the first attempt and, like you, I am quite pleased with the unit now that I have it up and running.

  3. Bill
    Bill says:

    Since Lion I have experienced many difficulties with my Drobo, including lack of support of a Time Machine drive; frequent crashes; noise. The crashes was the point the disturbed me the most as I purchased the device as a reliable backup. I have subsequently retired the machine and replaced it with a Promise Pegasus 8TB, which uses the much faster Thunderbolt Cable. It is a lot quieter as well.

    I hope you have a better experience than me. Take care Richard!

  4. Mal in Oz
    Mal in Oz says:

    Thanks SO much. you just saved a brand new drobo being launched from from my window. I too was trapped in the update (groundhog day) routine, and found your solution through dr google. USB/firewire who wouldda thought?

  5. Matt Pierce
    Matt Pierce says:

    Is there any possible way that you still have the firmware updates for the DroboShare? I had to get a new Droboshare unit as my original one’s NIC went bad. The replacement I got from someone on eBay, had 1.0.1 firmware. I have been able to update it to firmware 1.1.2 and stumbled across a 1.4.2 and 1.3.8 firmware for my Drobo unit itself, but the 1.4.2 must be bad as it doesn’t work. But the 1.3.8 did and now I am on 1.3.8 Drobo firmware and 1.1.2 Droboshare firmware using 1.8.4 Dashboard. When I do the check for updates, it won’t go past the found new dashboard update, and if I update the dashboard to anything higher than 1.8.4, I can no longer see/detect my Droboshare. So, I found your article and thought I might get lucky and you may still have a backed up copy of the Drobo 1.4.0, 1.4.1, and/or 1.4.2 Firmware. From my reading, 1.4.2 was the last firmware Drobo Inc did for the Drobo/Droboshare. I tried Drobo themselves, but they are less than helpful. I’m one million percent sure they have these older firmware for these legacy devices, but don’t want to give them out anymore because they want you to trash perfectly working equipment and buy their new stuff. Why should I junk these device if it’s working. Anyhow, thanks for any help you can provide. I realize your article was written back in 2012, but it was worth a shot asking you.

    • Richard Cleaver
      Richard Cleaver says:

      Hello Matt,

      I am sorry. I do not have the firmware updates. I moved off the Drobo platform to Synology several years ago now. Surprised that Drobo is not helping you out. Tells you something about the company when that kind of thing happens.


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