Friday Image No. 189 and the Continuing Drobo Saga

Froggatt Edge rocks in the Peak District.
Froggatt Edge rocks in the Peak District. Nikon d800 with 24-120 lens. ISO100, f/16.0, 1/3″. 0.9 soft ND graduated filter. Tripod mounted.

I’m going to start with an apology for not posting earlier in the week. Firstly, I’m trying to finalise my latest book and it’s taking longer than expected. Secondly, I still haven’t recovered my image library on the Drobo.

What’s interesting though is that with the ongoing Drobo saga, I have received a few comments and a lot of email from people saying they won’t buy a Drobo because of this. So, I need to set the record straight. This isn’t a fault with my Drobo and I would still go out and buy a new one tomorrow if I needed to.

Let me explain what’s gone wrong as it may help some readers.

My Drobo was formatted using something called the Windows NTFS format.  When I bought it, I only used a Windows PC and the NTFS format was the only realistic option. When I switched to using a Mac, I had too many images to reformat the Drobo, so it continued to use NTFS. What corrupted on Drobo’s disks was something called the Master File Table or MFT. This is the thing that keeps track of all the files on the disk. If it corrupts, you lose track of all your files. They are still on the disk but effectively invisible.

Something that you may not have realised is that it’s virtually impossible to repair a corrupt MFT, which is why there is a mirror copy also held on the drive. This all happens automatically behind the scenes and the only time it’s ever used is if you run Chkdsk in Windows to repair your drive. But if the mirror copy is also corrupt (which can easily happen) it’s bye-bye data. This is what happened to me and it can happen to any drive formatted using Windows NTFS. This is not related to the Drobo design.

So, what caused the MFT corruption?

It was nothing more than the Drobo loosing connection to the Mac whilst data was being written to it. If you aren’t familiar with the Mac, you need to eject any drive before removing it. This ensures all data has been correctly written to the drive before it’s disconnected. Thinking about it, you should also be ejecting drives on a Windows PC or you run the same risk.

So why did the Drobo loose it’s connection to the Mac?

The Mac had something called a Kernel Panic which caused it to crash. That’s why the Drobo lost connection whilst data was being copied to it. And yes, the same thing can happen on a PC; it’s called the Windows Blue Screen of Death.

Tracing the root cause of a Kernel Panic is much more difficult as it can be hardware or software related. In my case I traced the problem to a faulty USB port in a USB Hub I was using. When I tested the port by reading a memory card, I found it would sometimes drop the connection to the Mac.

Initially I was confident the faulty USB port was the source of the problem, but it doesn’t appear it’s the only source. There appears to be something else going wrong as my Mac is still crashing from time to time. This happens whilst I’m trying to copy data from a backup drive to the Drobo. Initially all is well but after around 30-45 minutes the Mac will Crash. After that it crashes more frequently. As there was only a Drobo and it was directly attached to the Mac when this happened, I thought it must be related.

I decided to check the disks using the Drobo tools and they were all reported as being healthy. But, for some reason I decided to pop the front of the Drobo and look at the actual drives. Ultimately, I found that two of the disk drives (the two very old ones) are heating up and one of them becomes very hot to touch. Whilst the drives are cold the Mac is fine but when these drives become very hot the Mac crashes. This seems a little too much of a coincidence.

I’m going to replace the two problem disks in the Drobo and hopefully it will solve the problem. Ultimately, I don’t believe the Drobo is at fault in the slightest here.

As for the image, this is one of the images that I recovered from the crash. These rocks are on Froggatt Edge in the Peak District. As soon as I saw them I could imagine a black and white image. What haven’t yet been able to do is create the image in my head. Hopefully with more time I will be able to. Until then, I hope you like this version.

Have a great weekend.

11 thoughts on “Friday Image No. 189 and the Continuing Drobo Saga

  1. Hello Robin,

    I was very interested to read the full story behind your file loss problems & its relationship to your conversion from using a PC to a Mac computer. As someone who has always used Mac computers since they were first introduced back in the 1980’s, I am not very knowledgeable about the PC file structures but do understand there can be significant differences between the two operating systems & the machines that they run on, particularly when we add in the third component of external drives that are widely used in photographic work.

    I have also been having some unexpected crashes with my new 2017 iMac, their latest version, running their latest software iteration “High Sierra”. In my case it is Version 10.13.5. I have two USB drives that are used for general backup & for housing my Lightroom/Photoshop image files. I’ve had problems of the connection becoming lost (i.e., the drives no longer being recognized) between the computer & one or both of these drives, & then getting the warning that the drive[s] weren’t properly ejected. After this then I have also had some unexpected freezes & shutdowns. My review of much of the discussion about Sierra & High Sierra on the Mac forums suggests that this has been a problem for many users. Do you think that your issues could be in any way also related to these OS problems, assuming that you are running either Sierra or High Sierra?


    1. Hi Jed, yes I am using High Sierra and yes, some of these problems may be down to that. Despite this, I did have a faulty USB port and two of the disks in the Drobo are running far too hot. Its reached the point where I can predict and even delay the crash depending on the heat of the drive and the amount of data I’m about to copy. I think there is a problem with these two drives. They are after all old drives, possibly 8 or more years old and probably on their way out.

  2. Robin,

    Yes, it sounds like the faulty USB port along with the older discs running above normal temps are the real source of what has been plaguing you. The High Sierra bugs or glitches may simply be compounding the problems, or may not be a factor at all. That is the problem with these incredibly complex systems we are now using as home computers; you almost need a resident IT specialist to keep things working as they should. In my case I have a brand new USB3.0 drive & an older USB2.0 one, & the problems first seemed to be only with the older one, then started involving both; so I can’t blame it on age like you probably can. But best of luck getting it all up & running again. Meanwhile you are still finding & posting some outstanding images; I really like the composition & tonality in the Froggatt Edge rocks. Cheers,


  3. Disk dropout issues can mess up the NVRAM settings in your Mac so that other weird stuff starts happening even after you have fixed the root cause of the disk issue. I had a problem with a USB 3.0 SSD drive that resulted in my iMac needing an NVRAM reset to get the display to behave and to recognise the correct boot disk. Resetting the NVRAM resolved these problems. More info available on the Apple Support pages.

    USB hubs can cause problems so if you are using a hub, try removing it temporarily. I’d suggest that you go further and take your configuration down to “minimum system” (i.e. the least number of devices with the least number of cables needed for it to function at all) and check if the issue remains. If the minimum config doesn’t show symptoms, add your devices back one at a time until the symptoms resurface. If you suspect a warm-up issue (like Robin) then you may have to run the system hard for some time at each stage to verify that the problem really has gone away rather than just taking a holiday to confuse the @@@@ out of you.

    Happy Troubleshooting…

  4. Lovely B&W image, Robin. Every time I read a new Post on your blog I hope your problems will have been solved – sad to hear they are not yet quite solved but it sounds as if you might be getting closer. I hope so.

    1. Thanks. I thought the drama was going to be over this weekend now that I installed the replacement drives. Now one of the replacements has failed. Bought from Amazon they arrived without any packaging and speaking to Amazon last night they confirmed they had come from a third party and were not Amazon stock. Very frustrating.

  5. It’s certainly a shame that we need to be IT experts to maintain the integrity of our files and precious images and as soon as you think you have a back up solution something changes so it needs constant review. Interesting to hear that others have had Mac issues with High Sierra so it’s not entirely me and my adding external USB3 SSD drives. I have everything backing up to a Synology DiskStation but I also use Carbon Copy Cloner to take regular bootable clones of the drive to an external SSD as well as separate back ups of image folders and Lightroom settings as per recommendations I took from Victoria Brampton’s site. I guess I’m paranoid but with good cause! And it’s a case of avoiding complacency in thinking you have a Raid thingy set up if the copy just copies corrupt files. Yikes.
    But as for the image – excellent. It may not be what you had in your head but it’s fine to me!

    1. Thanks Steve. It is a shame that we need to have IT knowledge. It would be great if these things just worked. Even with backups, trying to recover from a failure is a time-consuming task. It takes ages to copy everything from a large backup.

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