Flash drive's quickness matches marketing hype

The Flash Voyager is an extremely fast, quality flash drive

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 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/second 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 with the visual quality of this one -- even if it was on a 15-inch laptop. It also occurred to a colleague of mine that a USB flash drive will use far less battery power than my laptop's DVD drive, meaning more uptime on a cross-country flight.

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/second burst speed, an average read rate of 29.6MB/second and a 6-millisecond random access time. But, at 22 per cent, 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/second average read rate and 31MB/second 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 per cent was lower than the IronKey, it was still well above other flash drives we have tested.

SanDisk, which recently released its fastest 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 per cent. But its average read rate is 25.5MB/second -- more than 5MB/second slower than the Corsair Flash Voyager. A 16GB Contour retails for US$199.

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 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.

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