The fastest Flash Drive on the planet

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.

Here are six other drives that deliver speed and capacity.

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 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/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.

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%. 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 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

One thing I wasn’t so crazy about with Corsair’s drive is the fact that it 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 open-source software and it uses the highly-secure 256-bit AES encryption algorithm — but it’s software based 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, Corsair’s version of TrueCrypt is compatible only with Windows 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.

TrueCrypt also allows you to choose the size of the volume to be encrypted in either kilobytes or megabytes.

This is a nice feature for reserving disk space for specific tasks, such as encrypting a small contact list, personal medical data, or bigger files with photos or video, while at the same time leaving other files on the drive in the clear.

I created a 1GB volume with TrueCrypt. It took about one and a half minutes to generate. I then ran a speed test to the volume by downloading a 1GB folder with 303 files made up mostly by high-resolution photographs and half-dozen small videos.

That took four minutes and 30 seconds. It was roughly the same amount of time it took to download the same folder onto the IronKey drive.

I found it interesting that the “GT” model of the Flash Voyager only comes in as 16GB model, while the standard Flash Voyager comes in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB models. The company did not readily offer an explanation for that, though I suspect they figured that if someone wants the added speed of this device, they’ll likely be downloading a lot of files. Corsair’s Flash Voyager GT has the competition beat on price. A 16GB Flash Voyager GT retails for just $169.00, while a 4GB IronKey Secure Flash Drive lists for $149. But, keep in mind that you’re paying for SLC memory and a higher level of security with the IronKey.

The Flash Voyager and Flash Voyager GT are enclosed all-rubber housing, which makes the drive water-resistant and also gives it a nonslip, comfortable feel.

The Flash Voyager GT is compatible with Windows Vista , XP, 2000, ME, Linux 2.4 and later, and Mac OS 9 X. The drive is also ReadyBoost compatible, which means you can boot your Windows PC off the drive. Like most quality flash drives these days, it also comes with a sturdy lanyard and a USB extension cable.

Overall, I think the Flash Voyager is an extremely fast, quality flash drive that’s easy to use, has good security, and is very inexpensive compared to competing products.

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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