Drobo is giving Macworld/iWorld conference attendees a first look at its brand new, third-generation, four-bay Drobo.

Starting at $349, this new Drobo maintains the familiar look of previous models. But the company claims that under-the-hood changes make this latest Drobo between three and five times faster than the four-bay enclosure it replaces.

For those unfamiliar with Drobo, the company once touted these external devices as the "World's First Storage Robot". Using a technology they call BeyondRAID, Drobo allows you to pop in drives of any capacity and type; they will automatically be formatted and included as part of your available storage space. SSD, HDD, 1TB, 256GB--it'll all work. If you start to run out of room, you simply pop out the lowest capacity drive and insert a high capacity drive. You don't lose any data and you increase the amount of movies, photos and Time Machine backups your Drobo can hold.

This new generation of Drobo (shown above) offers improved Time Machine support; using the included Drobo Dashboard utility, you can specify how much of your overall capacity should be dedicated to Time Machine backups. The new generation also enables you to setup two-drive redundancy, meaning any two drives can fail without losing any data. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the new Drobo claims to address the biggest major issue facing Drobo users: speed.

The ability to mix and match drives has always made the easy to manage Drobo attractive to users who don't want to mess around with complicated RAID devices requiring that all drives having matching capacities. But Drobo has had a reputation of being slow. The new four-bay Drobo uses USB 3.0, and that, along with other architectural changes, should indeed make it speedier than previous models. How much speedier we won't know until we get one into our lab.