Review: Flash Voyager GT -- the fastest, cheapest flash drive yet?

Corsair has the competition beat on price

Corsair claims its new 16GB high-performance "GT" Flash Voyager is the fastest USB flash drive made. Although this is a bold claim, my tests showed it's not marketing hype. But there are caveats, so read on.

Corsair released its Flash Voyager GT back in February, but only recently offered models for review. I snapped one up as soon as they were available because until now, IronKey's Secure Flash Drive had been the fastest drive I'd ever tested.

Corsair markets its drive as having four times the speed of average USB flash drive
Corsair's Flash Voyager GT

Corsair markets its GT drive (there is a standard Flash Voyager too) as having up to four times the speed of the average USB flash drive, thereby allowing you to quickly "store-n-go" everything from photos to full-length movies. In fact, Corsair's press release states that the Flash Voyager GT can download a 1.63GB movie in 98 seconds.

That claim was too bold to ignore, but first I wanted to see how long it would take to download it directly from Amazon to the flash drive, so I chose Michael Clayton -- mostly because it's one of the few new movies I haven't seen. The movie file was 2.21GB in size and took 18 minutes, 30 seconds to download, even though Amazon's Unbox video download utility told me I could begin watching the flick after about four minutes of download time. My home network runs off of Verizon FiOS, which affords me a 20Mbit/sec. download speed, and it ran at that pace the entire time. I then transferred another copy of the same movie from my laptop to the flash drive, and that took four minutes and 25 seconds. Not bad, but obviously longer than Corsair's claim even with the added 580MB of data.

I'd never played a movie off a flash drive, but I was impressed that it didn't skip, stutter or pause. It was as smooth as if playing from my laptop's DVD player.

Speed

The only other drive to virtually match this one's speed is still the IronKey, which uses more costly single-level cell (SLC) NAND memory. SLC provides less density (it stores only one bit per cell), but it affords greater data transfer speeds and longer product life. Corair's drive uses multi-level cell (MLC) NAND for greater capacities, but Corsair also claims to pick very high-quality MLC memory.

Using HD Tach's utility, the IronKey showed a 31MB/sec. burst speed, an average read rate of 29.6MB/sec. and a 6-millisecond random access time. But, at 22%, the CPU utilization rate is vastly higher than any other drive we've tested.

By comparison, HD Tach showed Corsair's Flash Voyager GT had a 30.7MB/sec. average read rate and 31MB/sec. burst speed. The random access time was more than five times faster than IronKey's at 1.1 milliseconds. While the drive's CPU utilization rate of 16% was lower than the IronKey, it was still well above other flash drives Computerworld has tested.

See USB flash drive comparison charts

SanDisk's recently-released fast USB flash drive, the Cruzer Contour, had a random access time twice as fast as the Flash Voyager GT at 0.5 milliseconds, and its CPU utilization rate was also lower at 13%. But its average read rate is 25.5MB/sec. -- more than 5MB/sec. slower than the Corsair Flash Voyager. A 16GB Contour retails for $199. (see "A review of SanDisk's fastest USB drive").

Corsair's literature states that the Flash Voyager GT drive has been optimized to take full advantage of its "advanced flash controller technology" as well as having screened and hand-selected NAND flash chips. Although it all sounds like marketing hype experts, including Intel scientist Rich Coulson, have told me that there can be a vast difference in the speed and lifespan of NAND memory based on the quality of the manufacturing process, not just whether it's SLC or MLC NAND memory. So there may be more to Flash Voyager GT's speed than meets the eye.

Security

Corsair's drive uses TrueCrypt, a free, open-source encryption software, that must be set up once you plug in the drive. I don't have issues with TrueCrypt itself -- I like this open-source software and it uses the highly-secure 256-bit AES encryption algorithm. But you have to take into consideration that it is software-based encryption and not hardware-based. In software-based encryption, the keys are placed in the device's memory, so someone with expertise trying to access the keys will know where to look for them by their unique format and can target them for a brute-force attack. In hardware-based encryption, the key never leaves the hardware device, thus you can't access them by simply looking at the device's memory. Even so, chances are slim that whoever steals or finds your lost encrypted drive will be an expert in hacking security keys. Also, the version of TrueCrypt that Corsair is uing is compatible only with Windows Vista, XP and 2000.

You can launch TrueCrypt by double-clicking the file TrueCrypt.exe or by clicking the TrueCrypt shortcut in your Windows Start menu. One of the nice things about TrueCrypt is that it offers various methods for creating volumes, which range from those appropriate to beginners (a single encrypted file) to encrypting only the partition or drive where Windows is running, which forces anyone trying to access data created by the operating system to enter a password each time the computer is booted. You can also simply encrypt the entire drive.

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