Extremely fast 420 MB/s read and 380 MB/s write speeds. Tough aluminum case with slide-out USB-A jack. USB 3.1 Gen 1 standard. Includes activity indicator light.
Design is noticeably thick, especially on slim laptops.
Tough metal construction with keyring hole. Sleek design eschews cases and caps entirely. Fits into crowded ports. Good 300 MB/s read speed.
Write speeds can be slower than rated 40-60 MB/s.
Fast 400 MB/s read and 180 MB/s write speed. Slider design with retractable USB-A jack does without a cap. Offers keyring attachment cutout.
Actual write speed can be slower than rated. No indicator light.
Built-in numeric keypad for secure encryption code entry. Real-time, software-free encryption secures data independent of device. Available in multiple storage sizes.
Battery-powered. Longevity may be a concern.
Stylish and sturdy, with a very low profile. Fast transfer speeds. The plastic end makes for easy removal, particularly when the drive gets hot.
While it doesn’t affect performance, the drive can get quite hot. Lack of a connector cover may turn off some users.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Backing up data from a computer or mobile device has never been easier. You can transmit data to the cloud, save it to an external hard drive, or transfer your data easily and quickly to a flash drive. Now, we’re not going to judge you on how often you’re backing up your data. (We’ll just assume you’re like most people and it’s probably not often enough.) Instead, we want to help you successfully back up your data by figuring out how to pick the best flash drive.
The great thing about flash drives is that they’re easy to use. You can also carry important files with you wherever you go and protect your files with encryption on a flash drive, which makes these devices very versatile.
A flash drive is a small portable device that uses a type of electronic memory storage called flash memory to store your data. Flash memory requires no moving mechanical parts, and the flash drive has no moving parts either.
To store individual bits of data, the silicon in the flash drive uses a grid layout. Each section of the grid, called a cell, contains two transistors that work together to store a bit of data. The method of application of an electrical charge between the transistors determines whether the cell has a zero or a one stored in it.
The flash drive needs electrical power to read and write data, but it works so well because it holds the zero or one setting in the cell (the data) even after you’ve removed the drive from its power source.
A solid-state drive (SSD) also uses flash memory technology to store data, the same technology in a flash drive. However, an SSD offers permanent data storage inside a computer or mobile device, which differs from the portable storage of a flash drive.
An SSD might be a substitute for a hard drive in a computer or it may work alongside a traditional hard drive. SSDs are faster at reading and writing data than traditional hard drives with spinning platters, or read/write heads.
If you drop a hard drive, the platters can break, meaning you lose your data. Because SSDs store data electronically rather than with moving parts, they aren’t susceptible to this particular sort of damage and data loss. However, it’s more expensive to save data on an SSD than on a traditional hard drive.
The vast majority of flash drives make use of a USB connection to share data with other devices. USB ports are so common on so many types of devices that using USB flash drives gives you a lot of versatility.
Most flash drives use the most common USB Type-C connector. However, you occasionally will see a few other options for connecting a flash drive.
USB Type-C: USB Type-C is the largest connector option among USB standards, and it’s the most common on computers as well as on flash drives.
Micro USB: This connector is smaller than USB Type-C and shows up on mobile devices more often than computers because of its size. Micro USB flash drives are not common.
Lightning: A few flash drives contain a Lightning connector instead of a USB connector, enabling you to use the flash drive with newer Apple mobile devices, like iPads or iPhones.
Some types of flash drives have multiple connection options built into them, giving them an X shape. You may find Micro USB and USB Type-C connections along with a Lightning connection in this type of flash drive.
One other thing we should mention: because a memory card uses the same type of flash memory technology as a flash drive, some people think of memory cards like flash drives. You certainly can use them for backing up data or sharing data between devices, but because memory card slots aren’t as common as USB slots, USB flash drives are more popular.
USB flash drives use one of two transmission speed standards.
USB 2.0: This is a common standard for flash drives. USB 2.0 flash drives have a maximum transfer speed of 60 Mbps (megabytes per second), but most drives top out at about 30 or 40 Mbps.
USB 3.0: Many newer flash drives support this standard, but you’ll pay a little extra for these versus the USB 2.0 drives. The maximum transfer speed is 640 Mbps, but most flash drives top out at 150 or 200 Mbps.
One final thing to note: regardless of the USB standard used by a flash drive, it will still be able to use any USB port to share data. Because USB technology is backward compatible, you can use a USB 2.0 flash drive in a USB 3.0 port on a computer, for example.
Storage capacity is the primary factor that determines the cost of a flash drive. Smaller-capacity drives cost less than larger-capacity drives. Flash drive capacity in measured in gigabytes (GB).
The other factor that determines price is the USB standard in use by the flash drive. Flash drives with a newer USB standard and faster transmission speed will cost more. You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $40 and more for a flash drive.
You can find USB 2.0 flash drives with 8GB or less storage capacity under $5. You often find these older drives sold in packages of four or more.
You can find 16GB USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 flash drives for $5 to $12, as well as some 32GB USB 2.0 flash drives.
You can find 32GB USB 3.0 flash drives and 64GB USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 flash drives for $12 to $25.
Most 128GB USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 flash drives cost between $25 and $40, although some 128GB USB 2.0 drives are cheaper.
Flash drives that have 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of data storage cost $40 and more. (Understand that 512GB and 1TB or larger USB drives are very rare right now, and their build quality is questionable.)
You also will pay in this price range for flash drives that contain a Lightning port for use with Apple iOS mobile devices.
A. Because flash drives are so small, they’re perfect for taking computer files with you from one location to another. Some people use a flash drive as a backup data option for their computer and carry the flash drive with them. You can also copy a file to a flash drive and print it at another location.
A. Certainly, some people like burning backup copies of computer data to CDs, but this process takes a lot longer than using a USB flash drive. Also, a flash drive can hold a lot more data than a single CD. You’ll need to use several CDs to match the data storage on a single flash drive. Finally, USB technology is more commonly available in modern computers than CD drives, so you can use the data on a flash drive in more locations.
A. If you’re worried about losing your flash drive and someone else gaining access to your data, you have some options for protecting the data. Some flash drives can encrypt the data, and it can only be unlocked with a password or key. You can use various third-party apps or software to encrypt a flash drive on your own, too. Some flash drives require a thumbprint to unlock the data.
A. Any type of computer can access a flash drive, as long as the computer has the right port. You just plug the flash drive into the device, and you should be able to read the files stored on it. Desktop computers, network computers, laptop computers, and some mobile devices like digital cameras and phones can read USB flash drives.