Though overall durability has taken a slight hit, the price premium commanded by the GTR series is easily justified as time well saved thanks to verified write speeds almost double the status quo.
Flash drive capacities are growing larger and larger at 32GB and beyond, but with write speeds limited to around 17MB/s or less, you could be spending quite some time in order to fill a drive to capacity. Though this may not matter if you're only looking to move a few Excel files, if you need to move high resolution photos or HD video from place to place, you could be in for a world of hurt. Enter Corsair's Flash Voyager GTR series, billed as the fastest flash drives we'll likely ever see before USB 3.0 becomes the norm. With advertised write speeds of 28MB/s or greater, could these new drives actually put an end to all of the silent profanities? Can we hold Corsair to their numbers? Will my pocketbook spontaneously burst into flames? Discover the answers to these and more, after the jump.
Ah, the joys of rubber flash drives. Originally released in 2005, the Flash Voyager was widely hailed by ourselves and others as the nearly indestructible drive that was more than adept to survival. Since the new 32GB & 64GB Flash Voyager GTR uses more or less the same rubber design as all the predecessors leading up to it, I'll keep my focus on the various differences between new and old.
Measuring four inches long with the cap on, the Flash Voyager GTR is roughly an inch longer than the original series, and to some extent the rubber housing feels a bit less bouncy, but still durable enough for multi-story drops at the very least. The only disappointment to be found is the drive activity LED, which is notably dimmer than past designs and hardly visible unless you're looking straight at it. Moreover, the LED does not stay lit when there is no drive activity, which can be an issue for some individuals.
There's no doubt the 128GB Voyager GTR is the largest USB thumbdrive of all.
The Flash Voyager GTR 128GB model design has also seen some changes over its immediate predecessor, the GT of the same capacity. First and foremost, the drive's profile has transitioned from simply obtuse to angular and boxy, giving it a much more aggressive look to match the new yellow-jacket theme. The USB cap no longer fits on the end of the drive, but to be honest I don't really think this will be missed since it would interfere with the lanyard hole. Unlike the 32GB model, the LED is clearly bright and remains lit if the drive is left plugged in but inactive. To give you a better idea of the drive's footprint, here's a photo comparing it to a 4th generation iPod nano.
As far as USB ports are concerned, the 32GB Flash Voyager GTR is still too thick to accommodate any occupied USB ports that are vertically stacked, although any horizontal ports will be left accessible if not a tight squeeze. The 128GB model is just the opposite - obviously too wide for any neighboring ports horizontally, but just thin enough to make room for stacked USB ports. These minor setbacks can be easily overlooked, however, considering the added durability inherent in the rubber design along with the fact that Corsair includes a USB extension cable to help with crowding. A high quality lanyard is also included in the packaging.
Since there's really not much else to say about the appearance and functionality, I guess I'll just ad-lib about the new color scheme. ^_^ True, the bright yellow can be a bit gaudy if you're not thoroughly into heavy machinery or Hummer SUVs, but it all makes sense as soon as you use a sports car analogy. I'll explain... the standard blue Flash Voyager can easily be likened to an economy car that gets from point A to point B, complete with a modest blue paint job. At the next level, the red GT (now discontinued) is analogous to your red Mustang - faster than most, more costly, but leaving you burning with envy as soon as you're overtaken on the freeway. At the top of the food chain, I have the Flash Voyager GTR flash drive with its three first impressions of yellow, expensive, and mind-numbingly fast. Can you say Lamborghini? The bright yellow color also makes it harder to misplace the drive, but at the same time it presents a more alluring target to potential thieves.
So far the rubber members of the Flash Voyager series has been drowned, laundered, subjected to an 18-month old, tossed, and run over by a SUV in a number of our own reviews. While our review samples survived everything short of being run over four times, another reviewer was able to successfully use the original Voyager after running it over with his car, and even went so far as to freeze, boil and toast it all to great success. So how will the Flash Voyager GTR live up to its abuse-filled expectations?
For starters, I did a simple drop test. Actually, it was more like a throw test. From a third story balcony. On to the concrete walkway below. Yeah... but hey, this *could* happen in everyday life, right? >_>
It lives! And bounces! Though the USB connector was now bent at a slight angle after having hit the concrete head-first, plugging the GTR into my PC as-is granted me full access to the contents of the drive.
Durability testing day also happened to be laundry day (when isn't it?), so for the second test I figured I'd expose the GTR to several minutes of sloshing cold water and laundry detergent, followed by a nice thirty minute heatwave. Let's just hope that this excursion won't be the Flash Voyager's last voyage.
Upon opening the dryer after a good 40 minutes on regular heat I was greeted to a very unpleasant surprise: the Flash Voyager GTR drive had dislodged itself from my pant pocket, jettisoned the USB cap, and decided to jump onto the frame of the dryer door with the USB plug facing down. Plugging the drive into my computer, I was at first greeted to a "You need to format the disk in drive F: before you can use it" error message of doom. Unplugging and replugging the drive would later lead to drivers for the USB controller being shown as installed, but without any disk inserted as if everything except the flash memory itself was working. The LED, once criticized for being inactive, was now flashing like there was no tomorrow. This can't be good.
Cutting open the rubber enclosure revealed the PCB coated in globs of silicone, but alas I couldn't find anything immediately wrong with the drive physically, let alone anything that could be fixed by an Average Joe like myself. As much as I love the new faster speeds of the GTR, I can't help but be somewhat disheartened to see the first Flash Voyager drive that wouldn't stand a load in the washer and dryer. *Sniff* Lesson learned: remember to check for $100 flash drives in all pant pockets before doing laundry.
Corsair defines the transfer speeds for all models of the Flash Voyager GTR as no less than 34MB/s read and 28MB/s write, assuming that the motherboard's USB controller is up to snuff and the OS isn't bogged down by any malware. While 34MB/s is a far cry from USB 2.0's theoretical 60MB/s limit, considering the inefficiencies and overhead of USB compared to say, FireWire or eSATA, these numbers are getting pretty close to the ceiling if not already hitting it. Corsair's resorting to some quad-channel wizardry in order to reach this level of performance, which would partly explain the price premium commanded by the GTR line over competing drives of equal capacity.
The takeaway from all of this, however, is that thanks to Corsair publishing their read and write specifications both online and on the drives' packaging, it's easy enough to hold them accountable if you're unlucky enough to pick up a lackluster drive. If you can't hit the specs and are certain that your computer isn't to blame, you can RMA the flash drive without hassle. Hooray for truth in advertising! Contrast this to flash drives without an official write speed , where it's not uncommon to see user reviews on Newegg or Amazon with write speeds varying wildly from 9MB/s to 20MB/s for the same drive. Depending on whom you talk to in Customer Support, that low 9MB/s could be considered normal and unworthy of a manufacturer replacement.
In any case, let's get to the benchmarks. Testing for the Flash Voyager GTR was performed on a home-built system with a 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor with 4GB of DDR3 memory clocked at 1333MHz. The 32GB and 128GB flash drives were directly connected to the P45 motherboard and its ICH10R controller one at a time, with nothing else connected other than a keyboard and mouse in order to limit the number of USB interrupt requests.
As you can see from the above results, the 32GB Flash Voyager GTR bested each competitor in every single test except for the 512-byte write test, in which case it lost out to the older SLC-based GT that I reviewed in 2007. Read speeds topped out at just over the advertised 34MB/s, while write speeds reached up to 29.87MB/s, almost 2MB/s faster than spec.
Unfortunately I was not able to test the 128GB model in Sandra since both the program and the drive itself would hang whenever the removable storage benchmark was opened, possibly due to incompatibilities with the low-level I/O commands being sent to the drive. The same bug occurred with HDTune 4.01, although thankfully I was able to run ATTO Disk Benchmark v2.46 without any problems.
Here we can see that the Flash Voyager GTR 128GB drive is able to surpass the 32GB drive's write performance again at smaller file sizes, but later on it struggles a bit with read speeds and just barely misses the minimum read specification by about 1/4 MB/s. Even so, it's hard to be disappointed when both drives managed surge well past the published 28MB/s write spec, topping out at 31.7MB/s.
Real world performance testing was conducted by transferring my 16.3GB collection of hardware drivers, CD-ROM ISOs, installers, and various extracted utilities to the drive. With files ranging from a few kilobytes to a few megabytes or even several gigabytes in size, this would be a good indication of the drive's overall performance. The file system was left formatted as FAT32, unrivaled for speed and compatibility but limited to files under 4GB. It should be noted that if the 64GB or 128GB model need to be reformatted as FAT32, you'll need to use a third party program such as fat32format since Microsoft does not officially support formatting drives larger than 32GB as FAT32, instead pushing NTFS or exFAT but with some loss in speed.
It's interesting to see here that the 128GB Flash Voyager GTR drive enjoyed a healthy 5MB/s boost over the 32GB model during the write test, hitting 23.99MB/s versus the 32GB's 18.98. Going back to the ATTO benchmark results where the 128GB model was anywhere from 3x to 5x faster at writing small files, this is most likely the factor behind the six minute difference. Why the read speed was also 5MB/s faster is beyond me. Figuring in the improved transfer speeds along with the lower cost per gigabyte ($2.34 vs $3.13), the gargantuan 128GB drive actually becomes rather appealing from a cost-effective standpoint, but this is of course assuming that you can stomach the $300 street price in the first place.
For comparison's sake I also threw a 32GB SanDisk Ultra Backup into the mix. This managed to reach a modest 11.06MB/s, but would end up taking nine more minutes than the 32GB Flash Voyager GTR would for the write test. If I were to transfer 32GBs worth of data instead of 16GB, I'd potentially be waiting a whole 18 minutes more than I would for a GTR drive. This raises the question, are the GTR transfer speeds worth the additional cost?
I suppose that depends on your own personal needs. If time is of the essence, you plan on using the flash drive on a frequent basis, or you're simply as impatient as I am, then yes, I'd say the extra $30 is extremely well justified. If however you're only going to use the flash drive for the occasional file copy, or you're budget-minded and place an emphasis on the cost per gigabyte instead of performance, you may want to continue searching for alternatives. Also, while TrueCrypt can be installed on the drive for added security assuming that admin rights are available, keep in mind that it's possible to pick up a hardware-encrypted drive for roughly the same price as a Flash Voyager GTR.
Incredible write speeds!
Small file writes outclass even older SLC-based flash drives
Large storage capacity
Shock resistant rubber casing
Lanyard and USB extension cable included in packaging
No added drive security.
Blocks USB ports horizontally (32/64 GB)
Blocks USB ports vertically (128GB)
Obstructed LED indicator (32GB)
Did not survive laundry day (32GB)
Corsair's Flash Voyager GTR can be summed up in three words - big, fast, and yellow. With synthetic read and write speeds reaching up to 34.1MB/s and 31.7MB/s respectively, the series stands head and shoulders above its USB 2.0 brethren. Real-world writes were also at least 70% faster than another 32GB flash drive from a reputable maker.
While both the 32GB and 64GB models cost a bit more than standard drives from various manufacturers, I think that for heavy users, the time potentially saved easily justifies the extra few bucks. The only negatives of any major concern to me are the lack of data encryption and also the 32GB drive's untimely death in the washer and dryer - a first for Voyagers. Even so, if you can trust yourself to keep these flash drives clear of the spin cycle, the Flash Voyager GTRs are highly recommended.