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Replace Your Noisy Drobo5N (or 5D) Fan

PLEASE NOTE: Although I initially wrote this post about the Drobo 5N, several commenters have pointed out that the Drobo 5N & 5D use the same chassis & so this is equally helpful for fixing noisy Drobo 5D fans too.

Drobo5N fan replacementDrobo makes a nice backup system, but the cooling fans are crap. The fan in my Drobo 5N was no exception & failed after 3 years, most of which it spent on standby with the drives spun down. As far as I know, the Drobo cooling fan runs constantly even when the drives are spun down.

For the cost of a $15 fan & maybe an hour of your time, you can replace the fan in your $500 Drobo5N backup system.

You’ll need a replacement 120x25mm 12VDC 1.9W 2-wire fan, soldering iron & solder (or very small wire nuts), phillips screwdriver, 1/16″ shrink tubing (and lighter) or electrical tape, & a paperclip.

Also see the very helpful comments on these steps from Tad Harrison — the 3rd comment at the end of this post.

  1. Shut down & unplug the Drobo. Remove the hard drives & remember the drive order in the bays. It might not matter, but why tempt fate?
  2. Remove the magnetic faceplace & pull out the rubber gasket from the groove behind the faceplate.
  3. Unscrew the 4 rubber feet on the bottom of the unit. Also remove the small hatch on the bottom that covers the mSATA bay.
  4. Slide the metal case off the chassis. I don’t think it matters which end you slide it off. The case is split in half on the bottom. You’ll need to lift up one side just a bit to get the case to slide past a few items in the mSATA bay.
  5. Push in the plastic tabs to remove the fan backplate on one end & the drive bays on the other end. I think there’s 5 tabs for each. This part was easy.
  6. Unscrew 4 screws total, on the sides at the fan end: 1 upper & 1 lower screw. Leave all the other screws in place. Trust me on this.
  7. Slide the top of the chassis back & up to separate it from the bottom/sides. This can be tricky – use a flat screwdriver to pry the lower slot closest to the back (see photo) if it’s stuck. Unplug the white plastic fan & power switch connectors when you can get to them – they just pull, no clips.
  8. Drobo5N fan anchor

    Don’t pry off from the head end!

    Finally, easy access to the fan! Not so fast, Batman. The fan is held in place by 4 plastic anchors that work like drywall anchors – there’s a center pin which spreads out the tip of the anchor when it’s pushed in all the way. Best method for removal is push the center pin from the fan side with a paperclip or small nail until the anchor pops out. Don’t try prying the anchors from the cap end or you’ll likely end up breaking them off.

  9. Cut the fan wire close to the old fan so you have decently long leads on the connector plug end.
  10. Solder (or use wire nuts, or butt splice connectors) the plug onto the new fan wires. If you solder, use shrink tubing! It’s awesome. Remember to slide the tubing on, before you solder.

Now you’re ready to put everything back together. Really this is just an excuse to start the instruction numbering over at #1. Also now that you’re in this deep, let’s make putting your Drobo back together look like 4 steps:

  1. Reattach the fan to the chassis with the plastic anchors you didn’t break. Make sure the the fan is oriented correctly so it blows air out the rear vent. The side with the hub struts is the “exhaust” side, so you would want that facing the rear. Stare at the fan blade shape for a bit & you’ll figure it out. Some fans have arrows on the cowling that indicate airflow direction.
  2. Slide the chassis back together, reconnect the fan & power switch connectors, & screw the 4 screws back in. PRO TIP: make sure the fan wires aren’t in the way of the fan blades.
  3. Snap the fan backplate & the drive bays back in. It can be a little tricky to get the drive bays seated all the way. Make sure you line up the many clear plastic nubs along the bottom edge with the all holes (these are the blue lights that indicate capacity).
  4. Slide the chassis back into the case. Reinstall the mSATA hatch cover, rubber feet, rubber gasket, drives, & magnetic faceplate. Plug in & turn on.

Nice work. You saved $500 on a new Drobo.

Hope the new fan lasts longer than the old one.

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26 Comments

  1. Patrick

    Awesome walkthrough. I was able to repair my Drobo 5D using the same instructions since they use the same chassis. Took about 45 minutes and I’m super happy to be back up and running for $20. Thanks for taking the time to make this!

  2. Thank you so much! My Drobo was making some very loud noises! And now after taking some time to find this article I was able to get it running like new in only a few days of waiting for the correct fan to arrive. Very Easy if you just take your time and do the steps in order. Thanks Again!

  3. Tad Harrison

    Absolutely marvelous!

    I followed the instructions perfectly and now my Drobo is silent.

    A few points on the steps:
    Step 2: The gasket can stay–take it off after pulling out the drive. That way you don’t need to nick it while trying to get at it with a screwdriver.
    Step 4: Slide the Drobo out at the fan end. There is a little flat circular spring for the mSATA bay latch that will catch on stuff if you try to pull the Drobo out the other end. Also, when replacing the Drobo, push it in fan-end first.
    Step 7: The prying bit sounded more harsh that it really was. No bending of metal happens–a flat blade screwdriver in those slots indicated by the arrow will gently persuade the fan and top section to slide out back.
    Step 10: Telephone Splice Connectors from Home Depot do the job nicely. Put two wires in them and squeeze shut with pliers.
    Also, I realized I was in a bit of doubt as to which way was up with the fan. I forgot how the old one was installed. I ended up installing it so the manufacturer’s label is inside the Drobo. Hope that’s correct.

    It appears that something happened while I slid the drives in and it doesn’t see one of them. Oh well. It’s now rebuilding 3 drives, so I’ll have to wait a few days for that to finish and try reseating the fourth drive.

    • Wick

      Hi Tad, thanks for the comments, definitely good to have a second perspective & the suggestions. Hope your drive array is done rebuilding! Have a good one.

      • Tad Harrison

        It’s all good now–I saw that one of the wire splices had gotten in the top drive bay. A popsicle stick persuaded it out of the way and the first drive seated properly. That still left me with an overnight rebuild, but like magic the Drobo restored itself.

        And it’s silent!

        Side note: I realized my Step 4 comment sounded off–slide the unit out by the fan end, and slide it back in the same way it came out. It’s all about not letting the mSATA latch spring drag over the mSATA bay.

  4. Doug

    Thanks for this tutorial! I have two Drobo 5D’s and figured I would just replace both fans if I was going to be replacing one anyway. Took me a little while to get the first one done, but once I did the second Drobo was a breeze. The telephone splice connectors worked like a charm for this.

    Saved me a bunch of money by replacing those fans myself. Thanks a bunch!

  5. Thank you for this! My friend, who is free of mechanical fears, did it perfectly while I cheered on from the side lines. The Drobo is quieter than it’s ever been. Thank you again.

  6. Gehan Gonsalkorale

    Great guide! Thought I’d let you know that it’d possible to use a different and silent fan by Noctua.

    Their normal fans don’t work as the start voltage must be too high. I tried a case fan and it didn’t start. However their Industrial range has a start voltage of 5.5-6v so I used their NF-F12 industrialPPC-2000 fan successfully. It’s basically silent now – I can only hear the HDs spin.

    http://noctua.at/en/products/product-line-industrial/nf-f12-industrialppc-2000

    • Dave Carlson

      The Drobo 5N has a red an white leads coming from the fan and the Noctua has black/yellow/green/blue. Which wires did you splice?
      Many Thanks,

      Dave Carlson

      • Wick

        Hi Dave, the specs on the model that Gehan linked to indicate it should be a 3-pin fan (ground/positive/tach). If the 3-pin wire colors are black/red/yellow, yellow is tach. If the wire colors are black/yellow/green, green is tach. With 3-pin you just don’t connect the tach wire, which is output from the fan back to the motherboard — not necessary for the fan to operate.

        However your fan sounds an awful lot like a 4-pin fan, in which case the wires are:

        • black = ground
        • yellow = positive
        • green = tach (output)
        • blue = PWM

        In terms of simply hooking up 12V power (2- or 3-pin, there’s no difference) to a 4-pin fan … I found the internet was divided on that subject & it probably depends on the fan manufacturer. People reported the fan either ran at full speed, or didn’t turn, or fried the fan. At least one FAQ said it was fine to do.

        It’s probably best to buy a 2- or 3-pin fan. 4-pin fans are really meant to have PWM input. But maybe Gehan can help more. Good luck! If you think of it, post back on here how it goes.

      • Gehan Gonsalkorale

        Sounds like you have the 4-pin PWM version. I don’t know if that works.

        The exact fan I linked to is the 3-pin version and that works for sure.

  7. Jeff balfus

    I’m stuck! Got the cover off OK, But I can’t see how to move the piece with the fan. Can you show a wider angle shot. Tried the flat screw driver as mention – nada!
    Any suggestions would be appriciated.

    • Wick

      Hey Jeff, sorry, didn’t see your comment until now. Hopefully you got it to slide apart in the months since.

      If not, maybe try again & really crank on it with the pry-through-the-slot trick. Look in the slot & make sure you’re prying the right section of the chassis, & alternate both sides. I remember mine was really stuck & I had to work at it for awhile. I think you can watch things flex as you pry to figure out where it’s stuck & then concentrate on that side.

      And pointing out the obvious here — make sure you removed the 4 screws I promised were the only ones necessary in step #6. And maybe remove a few more, just in case… Good luck.

  8. Honestly dude I love you. Thank you so much for this tutorial. Tad’s comments above were also complimentary to a few steps i wasn’t sure of.

    I ordered the exact parts you mentioned and everything worked absolutely flawlessly.

    I can gladly say my Drobo 5n has a silent fan and I can move on with my life.

    ps. The amount of dust these things collect are insane!

    Thanks again. I truly appreciate the instructions above. Even if the fan lasts 3 years I know that I can always go back to this post and do it again ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been so frustrated by the noise my 5N has been making lately. This was a quick (well…2 hours maybe after finding tools, cleaning up, etc.) fix to that, and everything’s back good as new now. Thanks also to Tad’s follow-up comments. I’ll be sure to mention this on social channels and also on the next episode of my home entertainment podcast, Entertainment 2.0.

    • Wick

      Hi Richard, glad to hear it was helpful. Thanks for helping get the word out. Have a good one!

      • Take 2: I guess the fan I put in either died or I was not actually feeling air when I set it back up last night. Either way, I confirmed that the fan I installed was not working, happened to have another replacement fan in the basement, verified that IT worked before putting everything back together, then installed it. And yes, I meant pulling air through and out the back. So far so good. It’s working again!

    • Maybe I spoke too soon! I tried the drive last night, and everything looked fine. Today I found the drive with all yellow lights slowly blinking (several seconds) on and off. As best I can tell, the fan I used may have failed. I could have sworn I felt it pulling air last night. I plan to let it cool down this morning and research what’s going on. Hopefully it shut itself down before anything got cooked!

      • Wick

        Hi Richard, that’s no good. I noticed you wrote “pulling air”. Just to clarify, the normal behavior is for the fan to push air out the rear vent. If it’s pulling air in from the rear vent, the fan is installed backwards & you just need to flip it so the opposite side of the fan is facing the vent. Good luck!

        • I don’t know what I did, but somehow I managed to screw things up. I’ve installed several (3) different fans now. The most recent was the specific fan you link toโ€”the exact replacement for what came with the Drobo. When I first turn it back on after each replacement, the fan starts, and everything works properly. But after just a few minutes, the fan stops and things start overheating. If I shut it down and remote the power, it cools down; when I reapply power, the fan starts, but shuts off as soon as I power up the device! So strange. I’ve replaced the fan on a few 1st gen devices without any problems (or instructions so helpful as Wick’s!).

          Has anyone else experienced or heard of similar issues? I’ve searched for information, but I haven’t found anything. Short of buying a new Drobo (or bailing altogether for a Synology or something), I have one last trick up my sleeve. I purchased a 120v external-powered fan that I’m going to try to install. I will have to mod the case to get the cord out, and I’ll just power the fan separately. I’m years past warranty, so drilling an unsanctioned hole or two doesn’t stress me out too much at this point.

          • Wick

            Hi Richard, to me that sounds like a temp sensor or perhaps a fan power supply issue with the Drobo. I don’t know enough about the Drobo to troubleshoot that. The 120VAC fan sounds like a good option, or you might consider running external power via a 12V power adapter to the existing fan — just make sure the adapter’s power output rating is a good match for the fan. You can get a nice DC motor speed controller for ~$9 on Amazon which would allow you to set fan speed if you went with keeping the 12V fan.

  10. Victor Denisov

    Thank you very much for this write-up! Replaced the failing fan in my Drobo 5N without any problems.

  11. Robin Jackson

    A TIP a question and a plea!

    A TIP. If you are using the Industrial fan, remove the rubber corner protectors or you will beak the plastic securing pins when you try and put them back!

    A question. I have put all my drives back into the Drobo, booted it but it has not reappeared on my desktop and Drobo dashboard does not see it, is this normal? There appears to be LOTS of disk activity but no sign of my drobo!

    A plea, Anyone know wehre I can get one, just one of the plastic securing pins for the fan! Ideally in the UK. ๐Ÿ™

    Fingers crossed my Drobo will finally mount!

  12. Robin Jackson

    Rebooted my Drobo and it appeared!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    A HUGE thanks to the original poster and everyone else who has contributed tot this thread.

    I now have an almost silent Drobo.

    Just missing one little plastic locating pin!

    Robin

  13. A Hodgson

    I’ve ordered a silent replacement fan. I’m in Sydney. But I’ve got no soldiering iron or gear and no experience with this kind of thing… is there anyone in Sydney that could do it for me?

    • Wick

      Hi, the soldering iron isn’t really necessary – you can just twist the wire ends together. Any hardware store should have small wire nuts you can twist on, or butt splice connectors you crimp on with a pair of pliers, or you can just wrap some electrical tape over the wires.

      Or if you go the professional route, any computer or electronics repair shop should be able to do this no problem.

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