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USB 3.0 & the Corsair Voyager GTR: A Match Made in Heaven?

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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USB3-6.jpg

USB 3.0 & the Corsair Voyager GTR: A Match Made in Heaven?




Written by: SKYMTL
Testing by: AkG


Let’s set the stage here. Back when we first reviewed the brand new Voyager GTR series, we mused that Corsair’s blazingly fast drive was being held back by its USB 2.0 interface. Since our test system hasn’t yet been upgraded to a USB 3.0 compatible motherboard, there was no real way to test out this theory. To be honest with you, at first we doubted there would be any change when using a performance-capped USB 2.0 device on a USD 3.0 interface. However, after receiving numerous emails asking for some tests to be done with this flash drive on an interface that offers higher bandwidth, we decided to take the plunge.

Instead of moving to a brand new motherboard sporting the latest interfaces, the decision was made to go with a simple yet cost-effective solution. We contacted ASUS about their U3S6 add-in card and they were more than happy to send one. This $25 ($35 in Canada) board installs into any free PCI-E x4 slot on your motherboard and offers both USB 3.0 and SATA 6 with an interface that supposedly doesn’t bottleneck either. Interestingly, you could buy almost seven U3S6 cards for the price of a single 64GB Corsair Voyager GT.

As with anyone, we’re excited about the performance that both USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps bring to the table but it’s quite apparent that it will take a while before both technologies are widely accepted. AMD’s new 800-series motherboards natively support the newest SATA as will Intel’s upcoming Sandy Bridge architecture but the general acceptance of USB 3.0 is a while away. So until that time we will need to stick with bridge chips on our motherboards or add-in cards like the U3S6 from ASUS.

Before we get to the meat of this article it’s important to remember this isn’t a review but rather a testing update so the number of tests run will be limited. You can find our full Corsair GTR review and testing setup and methodologies here. We know many of you have been eagerly anticipating the results so we may as well get on with the show.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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A Quick Look at the ASUS U3S6 Add-In Card

A Quick Look at the ASUS U3S6 Add-In Card


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Released a few months ago, the ASUS U3S6 gives people who have motherboards with included USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 (it’s time to stop calling it SATA “6”) connectors access to these latest high speed interfaces. Through the use of a PLX bridge chip that allows the on-board NEC and Marvell controllers to do their job over an x4 PCI-E intererface, ASUS claims full speed access without the need of upgrading numerous components. This gives the U3S6 a theoretical bandwidth of 4GB/s which is more than enough for the maximum 600MB/s throughput of a SATA 3.0 device.

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The card itself is an interesting affair without any garish heatsinks since all of the on-board chips run quite cool. In order to have USB 3.0 compatibility the U3S6 runs an NEC D720200F controller chip while SATA 3.0 compatibility comes from a Marvell SE9123 chip. Along with the PLX chip which provides communication with the host motherboard, this is the exact same combination that ASUS uses on most of their USB 3.0 / SATA 3 products. This add-in board could also sub in as a means to add additional USB headers as the USB 3.0 connectors are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices.

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The back end of the card has a pair of SATA 3.0 connectors at a right angle from one another but no external power connector is needed. This is because the PCI-E x4 slot can provide enough power for the controller chips in addition to the two USB 3.0 headers while power for any attached SATA 3 devices would come directly from the power supply to the devices themselves.

To be perfectly honest with you, for the foreseeable future the 4GB/s of bandwidth would actually allow the two SATA 3.0 and two USB 3.0 headers on this card to be all populated and working at the same time without affecting overall performance of the devices. However, USB 3.0 has a maximum theoretical throughput of 4.8Gbps but we highly doubt we will see any devices reach that level in the forseeable future if ever.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
Montreal
Synthetic Test Results

Test System


Processor: Q6600 @ 2.4 GHZ
Motherboard: Gigabyte P35 DS4
Add-in Card: ASUS U3S6
Memory: 4GB G.Skill PC2-6400
Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP
Hard Drive: 1x Western Digital 320GB
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W Performance Testing


Test Results (Synthetic)


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Performance increases ranged from moderate to downright impressive in the 4K Read benchmark in Crystal Diskmark. What can we take away from this? Not much actually because it seems the GTR is still capped in many cases not by the interface but rather by the controller which Corsair chose. The 4K Read test is important though and to see such a large jump is heartening to say the least.

However, the real proof in this pudding will be the real-world benchmarks on the next page simply because we have seen that small increases in synthetic tests sometimes lead to substantial increases in actual file transfer speeds.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Real World Tests / Final Thoughts

Real World Tests


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USB3-3.jpg

The Real World tests show that our Corsair GTR flash drive was indeed bottlenecked a bit by the USB 2.0 interface and switching over to Superspeed USB (aka USB 3.0) did effectively improve its performance. For the most part, the performance improvement wouldn’t have been noticeable to anyone not using a stopwatch. However, when copying small files from the GTR to our system there was an improvement of about three seconds. This is important because most people don’t use flash drives to cart around large files; they are usually used for smaller file transfer between computers. This is exactly where the switch to a USB 3.0 interface will make a difference.


Final Thoughts


Even with the switch to USB 3.0, our opinion of the Corsair Voyager GTR hasn’t changed one bit. It is still one hell of a fast drive but it is expensive especially when you consider the number of USB 3.0 drives that will be released in the next quarter or two.

After running these tests, we still can’t conclusively say how much the USB 2.0 interface inhibits this drive’s performance. There were some gains when going from the last generation interface to the newest kid on the block but the differences weren’t anything we would call groundbreaking. Granted, the all-important small file performance did get a significant boost but it’s unlikely someone would notice the difference. Seeing speed increases was nonetheless impressive and it goes to illustrate USB 3.0 could actually breathe new life into some bandwidth-starved USB 2.0 devices.

One important thing we have to mention is that fact that Corsair’s flagship flash drive series pushes the limits of the USB 2.0 interface and it is because of this we saw moderate performance increases. If you are expecting miracles to happen with lower-end flash drives, you may as well forget about it. However, if you are using an external drive enclosure (especially one with RAID enabled) you will likely see a noticeable performance boost with the addition of a simple $25 U3S6. ASUS’ add-in card really does allow the best of both worlds to shine through and we highly recommend it if you are thinking of upgrading to either of the next generation storage interfaces.



 
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