Review, Teardown: Corsair Flash Voyager LS 32Gb USB 3.0 Flash Drive

Corsair has been a trusted name in DRAM memory for a long time, which resulted in a brand expansion into peripherals, accessories, power supplies and more. It seems like whatever Corsair puts their brand on is a product you can trust.

I’ve always been partial towards Corsair, having owned many memory modules and flash drives from them. For my whole undergraduate career of 5 years, I relied on a Corsair Flash Voyager – a rubberized, ruggedized 4Gb flash drive. It was no slouch and commanded a premium price. Mine lasted the distance, being in use at least once a day, although the connector did need to be re-soldered in the end. I never lost any data with it.

While browsing the ARC catalogue, I came across the Corsair CMFLS3-32Gb Flash Voyager LS for AU$17.90. It wasn’t a bad price, as it was a USB 3.0 drive and it carried the Corsair badge. Curiously, this product didn’t note any speeds, even on the Corsair website, despite saying “high-performance”. I was aware that anything starting with an L likely denotes “low cost”, just like anything starting with V likely denotes “value” (e.g. VS – value select), but surely Corsair knows what’s good, right?

Unboxing

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The product, likely many other flash drives, comes in a glossy cardboard and plastic-bubble style packaging. This still features the yellow/black/white/teal colour scheme of the original Flash Voyager series, which is comforting. It advertises “high-speed USB 3.0” and “premium retracting design”.

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It comes with a 5-year warranty. There is a picture at the back illustrating the retracting design.

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The drive itself is a swivel-type drive with a brushed stainless “clip”. Both sides are laser engraved with the Corsair logo, and a small slot is provided through the clip to see the activity light. A short keyring attachment is provided.

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The drive swivels as described, to reveal a real USB 3.0 connector with laser markings – no plastic here. The body of the drive has CE and FCC markings and is finished in a soft-touch plastic finish.

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The retracting design seems like a rather unnecessary gimmick given the connector retracts when it is protected by the metal swing-arm, and thus, there must be space inside the casing to house the connector. No further protection for the open end of the port is provided. A non-retracting port would have the drive at exactly the same size.

corsair-ls-vidpid      The unit has a customized VID and PID combination.

It seems the drive is formatted with a CORSAIR volume label, but is otherwise free of included software or bloatware – which is just the way I like it.

Teardown

I can already hear the people asking – hey, why didn’t you tear down the other USB drives? Well, as it turns out, some of them are more obvious as to how to break them apart without damaging them, and for those, I will risk a teardown. This belongs to the category of easily disassembled – without tools in fact.

To open it up, it’s a simple as spreading the clip apart and sliding the “middle” out, being careful not to lose the round disc with two chevrons.

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The disc itself falls away from the drive, and acts as a simple rotational-to-linear gearing to “push” the centre of the drive out of the body. The little protruding knob on the disc rides along in the slot of the heart of the flash drive.

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The main body can be split into two halves to reveal some of the insides.

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Several observations can be made. The first and most shocking is that this is not a Corsair developed product at all. The moulding has a very light printing that says UDF303. This is tracked down to Topdisk being the OEM. Is it of enough quality? Maybe.

The second is that of the retracting design – no space is saved. Instead the flash drive is inside a plastic housing with bumps so it can slide around the inside of the outer case without damage.

Lets examine the PCB for further details. It can be released from its carrier with light pressure around the corners of the plastic frame.

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The top of the PCB reveals a Phison PS2251-03 controller. It seems Phison controllers are generally quite popular with value drives, although I have experienced poor small-block performance with many of them back in the USB 2.0 days. The PCB itself has spaces for inductor filters over the USB data leads, which are not fitted, as well as space for what appears to be an external crystal reference, which is not fitted at all. This is rather surprising, as the crystal “can” is often something which affected the size of flash drives, and it may have been integrated in the IC now, or relying on the USB 3.0 host clock instead.

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The underside houses a single chip of flash, and some spaces for other components as well. The flash is not marked in a way I recognize, and could be lower-quality flash from one of the more minor manufacturers. It is marked TT58G2JAJA K1327 DP0534521.00C. A quick search shows other people looking for information, and that this flash “chip” is often used in conjunction with a Phison controller. Without knowing what it is, it’s not possible to determine what arrangement it is, and if it’s MLC or TLC.

This did lead me to a realization that this marking can also be seen on the Patriot Blaze SSD. In this review, also using a Phison controller, the flash is marked in a similar font and format (IP79G5SAPH K1430 7099871.001) – note the K in the second line and . followed by 3 digits on the last line, but are BGA packages. One source states that it is 16nm from Intel Micron Flash Technologies, which would not be a bad thing at all. That being said, all of the IMFT chips I’ve seen are marked either with the Intel ‘i’ or the Micron MT symbols, so I can’t be certain.

Performance Testing

Lets see how this unit performs. I’ve got some high hopes!

HDTune Pro

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On a clean drive, it manages to average 35.4Mb/s read, which makes it just worthy of USB 3.0. The best USB 2.0 drives can manage about 32Mb/s on a “clean bus”, so having USB 3.0 would benefit the end user especially when other peripherals are clogging the bus.

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After a full write, the performance is held for the dirty state as well. No lies going on here, maybe it’s indicative the factory had done a full-surface format rather than a quick format.

CrystalDiskMark

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The read speed performance is similarly echoed here, although the write performance is disappointing. A 14.30Mb/s write performance can be surpassed by better USB 2.0 flash drives, but also stands behind the value end pack. For reference, the Kingston DataTraveler 100 G3 32Gb managed 49.79Mb/s sequential read and 31.92Mb/s sequential write, which improves on the read by 34% and doubles the LS on the write! Even a super-capacity Kingston DataTraveler G4 128Gb managed 84.01Mb/s sequential read and 28.74Mb/s sequential write and was likely impacted by the need to deploy denser flash. These figures have the most bearing when it comes to bulk file transfers (e.g. large ZIP/RAR, ISOs).

The LS lags behind on the read speed compared to other USB 3.0 “value” series drives, but its medium and small block write performance is sort of in the ball park. It seems that 512kb and 4kb writes do slow down the process dramatically, with the Kingston DataTraveler G4 being about half the speed of the LS on 4kb accesses, and the Kingston DataTraveler 100 G3 being about three times faster on 4kb accesses. The 512kb accesses are roughly similar across the board.

The lack of branding about the performance of this drive seems to be deliberate as it has nothing really distinctive to advertise when it comes to speeds.

UPDATE: Well, I just decided to give it a go in my Windows 8.1 laptop with an Intel USB 3.0 controller as opposed to the Renasas/NEC in my main workstation running Windows 7 and it turns out much better read speed results which make it almost entirely different. the write speeds are a little improved but not by much. Alas, it seems there is probably a controller compatibility issue at stake here too. To be fair, all other results were obtained using the Renesas/NEC chipset, so I won’t compare this with the others.

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H2testw

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The drive completed the H2testw sequence with no failure, although the write speed for the whole drive was a measily 12.8Mb/s. High performance is relative, I suppose … it could have been 1.90Mb/s like this one.

Conclusion

The drive has a Corsair branding on it, but does that mean it’s one of the true Flash Voyagers? I’d have to go with no.

It seems Corsair has “diluted” the value of the Flash Voyager branding – this drive does not epitomize the original values of ruggedness, and high performance. The LS “appendage” changes the equation drastically, and it seems this drive is carrying the name, but targeting the value segment.

Has Corsair done a good job with optimising value? Maybe, but on the whole, the products competitors seem to have done a better job. The product is not a Corsair design, instead, OEMed from Topdisk. The drive itself is as “high performance” as a Toyota Camry is to a Porsche. Their main competitors in the value segment are anywhere from on-par to three times faster.

The price may be cheap, but this product isn’t the gold that the Corsair name usually implies. If you’re after an average USB 3.0 flash drive, go ahead, but don’t expect something special.

About lui_gough

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