There was a time when flash drives were considered exotic and somewhat expensive. As tech has progressed, those prices have plummeted and the best flash drive today can run circles around the previous generations. While you may think choosing a solid flash drive is simple, you would be sadly mistaken as there is more to think about than the speed rating on the box.
How to Choose the Best Flash Drive
Before we talk about the size of modern flash drives, you first need to ask yourself if you’re a casual or professional PC user? This may seem like an odd question for anyone that uses their machine on a regular basis, but it’s important nonetheless.
Casual users will still want top-tier speeds, and nobody wants to deal with a shoddy design. Pros may require a flash drive with a bit more security, however, something gamers may care less about. If you only plan to use your new flash drive for music, movies and other types of media reliability should be more important than security.
When the flash drive is your primary means for transporting and transferring important information, data recovery and encryption are paramount. Most models provide a measure of security and every pick on our list is reliable. That said, there are different classes with similar price points which is where features and the guts come into play.
Speed and Ports
If you’re new to the world of flash storage, it can be quite confusing when you see a half-dozen drives that all offer the same speeds with different price points. In some cases, it could be due to those additional features, but it usually has to do with the quality of components inside the flash drive.
The first step in figuring out which stick is right for you is looking at the ports on the machine you’ll use with the flash drive. If you’re unfamiliar with ports and the speeds they provide, here’s the scoop:
- USB 2.0 – This is the old standard, but one commonly used by millions of PCs today. USB 2.0 speeds can go up to 60 MB/s regardless of the port on your PC. While USB 2.0 sticks will get the job done, they are not as fast as your next option.
- USB 3.0 – If you are reading this on a PC or laptop made in the last several years, it’s going to have a USB 3.0 port. Some of the best USB flash drives are USB 3.0 enabled, but also backward compatible with 2.0 ports. Speed-wise, they are capable of up to 625 MB/s and the most common option is obtainable today.
- USB 3.1 and 3.2 –The newest and fastest ports in the game today are known are USB 3.1 and USB 3.2. They utilize SuperSpeed+ data modes, and the 3.1 port can hit 1,250 MB/s or 10 Gbit/s under optimum conditions. 3.2 ports can handle up to 2,500 MB/s but will only be found on machines released after September of 2017.
USB Type-C flash drives are another new style you’re likely to encounter. They are “reversible” so there’s no right or wrong way to plug something in which makes it the universal option around in a sense. USB-C enabled flash drives work hand-in-hand with 3.1 ports, but those ports can come in different sizes. This should be required reading if this particular style of a stick is on your radar.
Figuring out your storage needs on a NAS drive or an external SSD is relatively simple. While it may be tempting to save a few bucks and opt for the bare minimum, bigger is better with flash drives. People store a wealth of information on these nifty little gadgets which makes it difficult to figure out a perfect size. If you’re saving photos, it all depends on the resolution, and a few 4K videos will fill up large drives rather quickly.
For example, you could hold over 40,000 images on the best 128GB flash drive if they are only 8MP. When you kick the resolution up to 24MP, that number drops dramatically to around 15,000. Whether it’s hundreds of family photos or your entire mp3 collection, consider the resolutions beforehand. If you do opt for a large flash drive, make sure it’s 3.0 or higher as you need high speeds when transferring files.
Security and Data Recovery
Every flash drive will allow you to secure your files in some fashion, but the best encrypted flash drive will have additional protection built-in. While expensive and somewhat rare, there are flash drives with fingerprint scanners or other means of encryption.
For the casual consumer, you’ll need to download software in most cases to in order to password protect a folder on the drive. It’s usually provided free from most manufacturers, but the quality is hit or miss. There are plenty of free and paid alternatives available however if you don’t like the options out of the box.
Design and Quality
Flash drives don’t have too many “flagship features” compared to a high-end external hard drive which makes it tough to thin the herd. Design and durability are two areas that can make your buying decision simple. With the design, it’s a matter of preference for some and pride for others.
There are plenty of flashy USB drives available today, but they may not hold up as long as models lacking in the flair department. That all depends on its lifespan, and many factors can affect the life of your drive over time. The actual size of the flash drive is also something to consider, especially if you carry around essential data on a regular basis.
Smaller drives are an ideal choice if you want to remain coy, but not if you’re the type of person prone to losing things. They are called “thumb drives” for a reason after all. None of our options have GPS tracking, but a spot that allows you to attach it to your keychain or a lanyard may come in handy.
If you need a rugged flash drive that can make it through an X-ray machine with ease or handle a trip through the desert, rest assured, there is an option out there for you. Just remember the ports and our other tips if you go the rugged route and always keep storage capacity in mind.
9 Best Flash Drives You Can Buy in 2018
Now that you know what to look for, we’re going to take a quick look at nine of the top flash drives available. We’ve included a size for everyone and models suitable for both globetrotters and casual consumers in the mood for something simple.
The Best Ruggedized Flash Drive
If you have a mishap with your PC, you may be temporarily locked out of your data but if you happen to break your flash drive… well, you’re generally out of luck. That won’t happen with the GorillaDrive 3.0 as this baby is basically indestructible.
From water to extreme heat, the GorillaDrive 3.0 is a made to handle the harsh conditions. That includes pressure up to 250 PSI and 65-feet of water when you install the cap correctly. The casing is also scratch-proof and capable of resisting far more than a shortfall. As it’s in the 3.0 standard, you’ll get plenty of speed although your storage options are somewhat limited.
In our eyes, the GorillaDrive 3.0 is the best flash drive if you travel or just need a rugged device. We love the large attachment loop and the fact it’s made from metal along with the tough exterior. The only downside are the sizes, which aren’t small but top out at 128GB.
- Available in multipacks
- Handles heat up to 225-degrees
- Highest capacity is 128GB
The Best Keychain Flash Drive
While a simple feature to overlook, an attachment point for a keychain is a handy feature to have. The SanDisk Extreme Go allows you to carry it on a loop or lanyard, but it’s far from the only thing we dig about this device.
Keychains aside, the highlight of this drive would be the speed as it’s a 3.1 USB flash drive. The write speeds are rated at 150 MB/s while the read speeds clock in at 200 MB/s. The performance is certainly respectable, and you can retract the connector when not in use as well.
If you still want something portable, but don’t like the design of a thumb drive, this one is well worth a look. While speedy, your choices are limited as the Extreme Go is available in two sizes with 64GB or 128GB.
- USB 3.1 compatible
- Keychain attachment point
- Great speeds
- Limited capacity
- Speeds may not live up to the hype
When Size Matters Most
When your gaming hard drive finally hits its limits, and it’s time for a quick alternative, Patriot’s Supersonic Mega may be at the top of your list. They are pricey, but an excellent alternative for gamers that need speed and space.
This drive is built like a tank thanks to a zinc alloy shell. Shocks and drops that would do other drives in won’t affect the Supersonic Mega, and it’s a 3.1 drive to boot. Speeds are listed at 380 MB/s read and 70 MB/s write. That’s fast although several tests have shown this one lags a bit on write speeds which is par for the course with many sticks.
The Mega is a little larger than other drives in this range, but you won’t find many brands that offer up a 512GB flash drive of this nature. Sizing limitations may rule this one out for some, but it’s perfect if you need a quick stick with plenty of room for your files.
- Large capacity sticks at 256GB and 512GB
- Zinc alloy housing
- 5-year warranty
- Speeds are a little off
- Larger than other drives
Style and Speed
The Samsung BAR Plus is hands down the most futuristic looking flash drive we’ve come across, and one we think you’ll dig as well. The transfer speeds are top of the line, and you’ll never need to fear the elements or X-ray machines.
This sleek flash drive has a metal casing and is resistant against shocks, extreme temperatures, and even X-ray machines. The unique design is easy on the eyes; it does not look like a typical flash drive by any means. As it’s a 3.1 stick, you can expect speeds up to 300MB/s and backward compatibility with older ports.
Compared to the GorillaDrive, Sammy’s USB stock is just as durable, but with more style and speed. It lacks the same rugged exterior, but it’s hard to argue with a device that can deal with temperature swings between -13 and 180-degrees.
- Can go 72 hours in seawater
- X-Ray proof
- USB 3.1
- Cool design
- Write speeds could be better
- Gets a little warm
The Best 256GB Flash Drive
This memory stick falls into the thumb drive category and is powerful despite its stature. It also comes with plenty of goodies like RescuePRO recovery and SecureAccess 128-bit AES encryption software. Obviously, it will be faster than other drives if you have a 3.1 port on your PC and it provides a lot of bang for your buck.
The SanDisk Ultra Fit 3.1 is available in a variety of sizes from 16GB up to 256GB. It comes with the company’s 5-year limited warranty as well and is an excellent option for both Mac and PC users.
- RescuePRO data recovery software
- Compact design
- SanDisk SecureAccess
- Easy to misplace
A Swift Slider
Kingston is a name gamers will know, and they’ve produced plenty of memory modules over the years. That includes flash sticks like the DataTraveler 100 G3, a nimble budget-friendly solution.
One drawback with some memory sticks is the design which can allow the end to become damaged during transport. That won’t be an issue with the Kingston 100 G3, as it sports a sliding cap which keeps the end safe when not in use. The USB stick is backward compatible like the rest of our picks and has a 5-year warranty.
This flash drive is larger than others due to the design, but that’s not a bad thing if you’re worried about losing the drive. You can pick this one up in the usual sizes from 16GB to 256GB or in packs of two.
- Sliding cap
- 5-year warranty
- The design may not be for everyone
Another Affordable 3.0 Drive
If you need a flash drive that provides a lot of bang for your buck, PNY has just the solution. Their Turbo lineup is a swift and affordable solution that provides solid speeds across the board.
From a design standpoint, the PNY Turbo won’t win any awards, and it’s not the most durable flash drive on our list. It performs as advertised however and provides 10x the speeds of an older USB 2.0 device. We also like the sliding collar on this model which adds a bit of protection without increasing the overall size.
This is one of the best USB flash drives if you need something affordable, but want a stick that’s has a little more speed than other basic models. The capacities start at 32GB and go to 256GB depending on your needs.
- The price tag
- Sliding collar
- Good speeds
- Build quality
A Durable Shockproof Drive
Durable flash drives have become more common in recent years, and we love a USB stick that can take a beating. The Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth falls into that category and has a unique design that will stand out in a crowd.
This flash drive is round with a cap on one end and an attachment point at the other. The design makes it easy to grip, and it won’t crack under pressure considering it’s made from anodized aircraft-grade aluminum. It’s a 3.0 drive that’s safe in up to 200 meters of water and plug-and-play compatible with a 5-year warranty.
While the read and write speeds are about what you’d expect, it is an area we feel could be better compared to similar models. The overall durability should keep this one on your list, however, and we appreciate the fact it’s you can pick up a 16GB model as well as larger 256GB sticks.
- Milled aluminum shell
- Unique design
- 5-year warranty
- Quality control
- Mediocre speeds
The Best USB-C Flash Drive
The Silicon Power C80 sets itself apart from other drives for several reasons. The design is one, but the way it allows you to connect with multiple devices is why it’s quickly become a fan favorite among consumers with newer tech.
USB Type-C ports are slowly gaining ground, and the C80 is one of a handful of drives that lets you connect to 3.0 and USB-C port devices. The swiveling design plays a large part in that and also makes it easy to attach to your keys. The zinc alloy casing keeps fingerprints and scratches at bay, and it’s capable of withstanding the elements to a degree.
The design of this USB flash drive is cool and having the ability to go from mobile to PC seconds is indeed a bonus. Unfortunately, the read/write speeds don’t quite live up to the hype and the size options are limited to 128GB.
- 360-degree swivel cap
- USB Type-C and Type A compatibility
- Scratchproof finish
- Compact design
- Slower than other sticks in this class
- Limited size options