As we get this website up and fully running, one of the things I will be talking about in some of my articles is about the integration of technology with the outdoors. That technology may have to do with electronics and computer technology, or just the technology that goes into making products like different kinds of alloys, grip materials, or fabrics for packs and bags. I'll admit I'm a pure gadget geek and my spectrum of interest runs from anything having to do with computers, photography equipment, flashlights, and also knives and guns---basically anything shiny! That's where my review comes in on the Corsair 16GB Survivor USB Flash Drive.
So, why am I writing about a USB flash drive on a website devoted to all things "outdoors"? Even outdoors, today it's hard to get away from the influence of modern computer technology. We've got GPS devices that store maps and can transport data to computers. Also, almost everyone today has a digital camera, and many of those folks take their cameras into the outdoors to get their snapshots. For example, I was recently at our 7th annual outdoors outing in Marion, North Carolina when one of our campers had already filled up his memory card on his digital camera, so he couldn't take any more pictures. I happened to have a laptop in the truck, so I moved his pictures over to my laptop and cleared his card for him. But, he had to wait until I got home the following week to grab his "old" pictures and upload them to him via the net. If he'd had a flash drive on him, it would have been no issue at all to go ahead and move his pictures to his flash drive, and he would have had the files immediately. My goal with this article is not to do a lot of technical read/write tests and talk about Mb/s and read speeds. There are plenty of reviews on the net that already cover that kind of material. My goal is to talk from the perspective of how this device can serve a purpose for people who like to be outdoors a lot.
Corsair's real claim to fame with the Survivor is it's very rugged construction. It's made of anodized aircraft-grade aluminum and it's water resistant to 200M with the use of a EPDM waterproof seal. It essentially comes in two pieces that are threaded and you slip one piece into the other (the outer aluminum shell) and screw the two parts together to complete the seal. Of all the USB flash drives on the market, this is pretty much the strongest product in regard to protecting the drive. One of the things that I always take a look at is a product's warranty. I will always recommend that consumers perform such research and read the reviews of actual users to help make their decisions. With the information available today, there's no reason to purchase an inferior product. At the very least, you will know the up side and the down side of the product you are purchasing. When looking at reviews from end-users on Amazon and Newegg, the Corsair Survivor doesn't get rave reviews for read/write speeds or warranty, but it does get excellent ratings for its reliability and build quality. Before I purchased the 16GB survivor, I knew I wasn't getting the fastest USB drive on the market and it didn't have the longest warranty, but I did know the build specs on it, and I had read many positive reviews about its reliability especially with regard to outdoor enviornments. Having that information, I felt like the Survivor would best fill my needs with regard to storing my important data.
Now, there are some USB drives on the market that do have lifetime warranties and also have some very reliable products with good read and write speeds. Corsair's product only comes with a 10 year warranty in comparison to some other brands' (such as Patriot and OCZ) lifetime warranty. While Corsair's warranty is dramatically shorter than some of the others, the overriding factor for me in choosing this drive was the actual drive construction and build quality. My main concern was not whether a company will replace my drive down the road if something happens to it, but whether or not the drive, and more importantly my data, will be protected in the first place. That was the main reason for picking the Corsair Survivor. I felt it had the best balance of features for the task and environment in which I would be using it. Also, I figured even before the next ten years gets around, there will probably be even better and more durable technology available to serve this function.
Most people are snapshot shooters, and probably shoot in JPG format when they go on their vacations or adventures off the trail. A 16GB flash drive can hold thousands of JPG files. Even if you have a laptop computer with you on your adventure, it would be great to know that you've also got your pictures and other data (such as music files, audio books, etc.) backed-up on such a small, portable device like the Corsair Survivor in case something happens to the laptop like theft or damage to the drive. Also, there are now small devices on the market that allow you to plug two flash drives into them and tranfer data from one to the other. That allows friends and family to be able to share data amongst themselves. Because of the Corsair Survivor's build construction, it can serve these functions quite well in environments that are less than ideal. That could include rainy weather, dusty and gritty conditions, and other conditions where most flash drives wouldn't hold up. Furthermore, I believe the Corsair Survivor and other USB flash drives can serve a far more important role, especially for those people that want to be prepared for emergencies.
Remember Hurrican Katrina? Evacuation orders were given, and people had to pack up and leave their homes. In some cases, it took people months to get back into their homes and in other cases, people never made it back. In the end, a lot of personal property was lost. Most importantly, vital records were either lost or destroyed during that catastrophe. Such information included insurance information, prescription numbers and supply companies, medical information, phone numbers, creditor information, social security numbers (yes, some people can't remember them), passwords for online sites (in the case of damaged computers), or just those personal family pictures they didn't want to lose. One example that I consider vital are receipts for items I have bought. A lot of items I have purchased have long warranties on them, even up to a lifetime. But, you have to have proof of purchase on almost all of them to exercise the warranty. One of the things I do every time I make a purchase is scan the receipt into PDF format and keep digital copies of that receipt. That way, if something happens to destroy the paper copies or even my main computer, I've still got a folder of of those digital copies stored on 2-3 flash drives. So, if a person takes the time one afternoon or evening, they can get all of their vital information pulled together in one place and copy that information to a couple of places for redundancy. The nice thing about USB flash drives is that most of them can be kept in your pocket or even on a necklace at all times. Even if something happens absolutely last minute where you don't have time to pack or prepare, you can have comfort in knowing that you've got all your vital information at your fingertips--or hanging from your neck!!
One step that Corsair took as far as providing the "extras" with the Survivor Drive is providing a version of TrueCrypt on the drive itself. TrueCrypt is an open-source program that performs many different types of encryption functions. It is widely considered the best open source program for encrypting data whether on hard drives, USB drives, or even on CD/DVD media. Since TrueCrypt is open-source, the code is able to be reviewed by anyone, so all can be assured that there are no "back doors" to the encryption lock. A "back-door" is a secret way used by corporations and government entities to bypass the encryption. Since TrueCrypt is open-source and free for review, there's no reason for worry in that regard. So, for all that vital personal information I was talking about above, you now have a way to make sure that it's only accessible by you. With the TrueCrypt program you can either encrypt the entire USB flash drive or you can just encrypt just part of it. There's reasons for doing it either way, but my choice would be to encrypt about 15GB's on the drive and leave the other 1GB open, and there are a couple of reasons I'd do it that way. First, by leaving part of your USB flash drive open, you can have the TrueCrypt program executable installed on the USB flash drive itself which will allow you to run the program on any computer. The program will actually load from the flash drive. If you encrypt the entire flash drive, you can only run it on computers where you have administrator privileges. So, if you're out of your zone of comfort, you might not be able to find a computer where you have administrator privileges.
The second reason I would only encrypt part of the disk is to provide information about yourself in an emergency. If you are in an accident where no one knows you, you could have prepared a text file in advance that emergency personnel can access. That file could provide information such as your name, insurance company, blood type, next of kin information, etc. By leaving that outside of the encrypted portion of your USB drive, it's available to others in case of your incapacitation. But, even by doing that, nobody can access the portion of your USB where you have your private information encrypted and stored. The reason for this is that TrueCrypt uses the most advanced symmetric cyphers available today including 256 bit AES, Twofish, etc. These are the most powerful encryption algorithms in the world and are absolutely unbreakable. The times where the Corsair Survivor could especially come in handy are in those situations where people are engaged in water sports (i.e. tubing, skiing, rafting) and don't typically have their wallets or purses with them and might run into trouble. The survivor's resistance to water is rated to 200 meters, and it can be easily be worn around the neck. The one caveat I would convey about the TruCrypt program they include is that Corsair is providing a 4.x version of TrueCrypt, but the latest version is 5.1a (as of this writing). I would recommend deleting the version that Corsair provides and downloading the newest vesion from www.truecrypt.org. But, it's the thought that counts, and Corsair at least provided a version that gets people thinking about the issue of protecting their personal information.
While researching this flash drive, one of the concerns I had was about its size. I kept reading about how large it was in comparison to other flash drives, so it's a little larger and tougher to carry. When it arrived, I was looking for something that was the size of a can of Pringle's. When I looked at the package, I was surprised how small it was for the protection it provides. I have provided a picture to the right to give some idea of scale. The picture includes a Bic lighter, my 4GB Sandisk Titanium Cruzer alongside of the Corsair Survivor. As you can see, it's actually not that large at all, and most of it's bulk comes from when you have the two pieces fastened together to provide the aircraft-grade aluminum shell. When you pull the portion out that has the actual USB plug, that part is actually approximately the same depth as the Cruzer except for the aluminum knob at the end. Considering the amount of protection Corsair's design provides to the actual flash drive, I am surprised at how small it actually is.
The Corsair Survivor has been out for about 18 months, but up until this point, the price was a bit prohibitive for the kind of capacities that I wanted. So, I stuck with flash drives in the 2-4GB range. But, recently, flash memory prices for memory cards and USB drives have been dropping quite a bit. Those price drops are putting pretty large capacities of flash memory in reach for the average consumer. And, in the last couple of weeks, I came across a deal I just couldn't pass up on Newegg where I got this 16GB Flash Drive for $89.00 with a $40.00 rebate on top of that. So, I'll end up getting it for a net of $49.00 plus a little for shipping. Not too bad! While I'm on the subject, Newegg is, in my opinion, the best place to shop for anything related to computers. The prices are great, the service is very good, and shipping is very fast. It also has a customer review section with each item so you can read what other people's opinons are about the product.
Along with the TrueCrypt software included on the drive, Corsair also provides a couple of other things as well. The package includes an extension USB 2.0 cable for those tight squeezes where the Survivor might not fit. And, it includes a military style dog-tag and chain lanyard to wear the Survivor around your neck. Personally, I don't think I'll actually wear the dog-tag, but it does put you in that mil-spec frame of mind. I feel like the Survivor design is well thought out and believe it is the most durable USB flash drive on the market, bar none. The one thing that I really like about it is that you screw the two pieces together. I have had too many USB flash drives where there's a cap on the end that eventually falls off and gets lost. That's not the case with the Survivor. It's built to stay intact and to take whatever abuse you throw at it.
One other thing I'll mention which is probably geared more toward the techno-geek crowd, but I thought would be something to consider for some of you is a website called Portable Apps. This website has collected and packaged a number of free software programs together to be installed on your USB flash drive to use while you're away from your main computer. These applications include the Firefox web browser, Open Office (includes word editor, spreadsheet, presentation program), Thunderbird email program, games, an audio player, and even a PDF reader. These programs are nice to have already installed on your flash drive, because you can have the software you need with your personal settings anywhere you go. Believe me, that's a real relief if you do a lot of traveling and have to use different computers wherever you go. From this website, I believe you can download only those programs you want, or download the entire suite of programs they provide. Don't worry, with 16GB available on your Corsair Survivor, you'll have plenty of room for these applications along with your data storage.
In closing, I hope we've provided some good information for you not only on the Corsair Survivor but also on the role that technology (in this case, flash drives) can serve even for people who are in the outdoors a good amount of time. In all honesty, if I'm at home or work and I'm working between computers and need a USB flash drive that has the fastest read and write speeds to help with my time constraints and convenience, the Survivor isn't the one I'm going to use. That's because I'm in a nice air-conditioned enviornment where there's little likelihood of some eco-tragedy happening to my flash drive. That's not to say the Cosair Survivor doesn't have good read/write times--it's just not the fastest. But, when it comes to a flash drive that I want to have good performance, absolutely rugged and water-resistant construction, and the utmost reliability to carry my vital data 24/7 whether I'm hiking on a trail, evacuating my home, or white-water rafting down the New Gauley river, it's going to be the 16GB Corsair Survivor. And, with the way prices are dropping, pretty soon, I'll have a 32GB Corsair Surivor as well. So should you!!