Get the storage capacity and security you need with the best flash drives of 2020. Our guide can help you shop smarter. Cloud storage may be capturing all the attention lately, but the need for physical storage still hasn’t gone the way of the dodo. The ability to hold your pictures, files, or videos right in your hand is important, and there’s an extra level of security knowing that information isn’t just floating around in digital space.
Flash drives are a more portable alternative to traditional hard drives that can hold a lot of information and even be used to accomplish complex tasks like dual booting a computer OS. But micro USB flash drives aren’t all created equally, and nobody wants to see their information disappear because of a defect. That’s why we’ve identified 12 of the best flash drives and put together the following helpful guide.
- The Best Flash Drives
- 1. SanDisk Cruzer Glide USB 2.0 Flash Drive
- 2. Corsair CMFVYGTX3C-1TB GTX Flash Drive
- 3. Kingston Digital DataTraveler SE9
- 4. SanDisk Extreme PRO SSD Flash Drive
- 5. PNY Turbo USB 3.0 Flash Drive
- 6. SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C
- 7. Samsung MUF-256AB/AM FIT Plus
- 8. SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive
- 9. Patriot 256GB Supersonic Rage Elite
- 10. Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth 3.0 Flash Drive
- 11. Samsung BAR Plus USB 3.1 Flash Drive
- Best Flash Drives Buyer’s Guide
The Best Flash Drives
1. SanDisk Cruzer Glide USB 2.0 Flash Drive
The SanDisk Cruzer Glide isn't the best of the best in any one category, but it's the featherweight champ for its quality performance across the board. While it's available in all the standard flash drive sizes, the price point is fair whatever capacity you decide to opt for. But it really hits the sweet spot with a 36 GB drive available for right around $6. It supports USB 2.0, so it's not the fastest drive around, but if you're just looking for a portable and reliable storage solution, it's a tried and true model that should serve all of your needs.
2. Corsair CMFVYGTX3C-1TB GTX Flash Drive
The Corsair GTX is arguably the most serious and premium USB memory stick on the market today. Not only does it come with an incredible max capacity of a terabyte - making it tied for the largest flash drive around - but it's also built for the demands of the latest version of USB. The end result is a jump drive that provides you with unparalleled speed and storage. Corsair boasts that the GT can offer the level of performance you'd find in a traditional solid state drive. The zinc-alloy housing and aluminum frame isn't just attractive, it also promises an exceptional level of durability, but you can expect to pay a decent amount for this pen drive.
3. Kingston Digital DataTraveler SE9
We've reached the point of technological advancement where a USB stick can hold as much information as a dedicated hard drive. But sometimes that's significantly more storage (and money) than you need. The Kingston Digital DataTraveler understands that. The largest 32 GB model is large enough to still hold a generous amount of pictures or videos, and it can be had for just $6. It's also one of the smallest USB flash drives around. This very durable and very narrow drive is designed to fit on your keychain so you can access the information you need whenever you need it.
4. SanDisk Extreme PRO SSD Flash Drive
If the Cruzer Glide is SanDisk's entry level flash drive, the Extreme PRO is the opposite. It doesn't offer the incredible storage capacity of Corsair's 1TB flash drive, but with both a 128GB flash drive and 256GB flash drive available in this model, it should meet the needs of almost any user. Built with the demands of the newest USB 3.0 protocol, these are some of the fastest usb flash drives around, and they make use of solid state drive technology to ensure both reliable and nimble read and write speeds. They're also compatible with a couple of useful and free SanDisk software platforms.
5. PNY Turbo USB 3.0 Flash Drive
The fastest and most modern wireless flash drives often come with a pretty steep premium, but the PNY Turbo offers something approaching the power of the best lightning flash drives at an eminently reasonable price. The 64GB flash drive model costs just a few bucks more than comparative entry level models and comes with support for USB 3.0 technology. And despite the fact it sports a slim frame, it's hard to lose track of this thumb drive unless you're meaning to. The collar slides into place to protect the connector, and it comes with an attached loop for your keychain or backpack.
6. SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C
The SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive may cost a little more than the typical model, but that's because it's a USB C flash drive. If you want your data storage to be prepared for the next generation of ports, then the investment could be well worth your time. But you don't need to be worried about being left out in the cold with older computers either. The reversible connector makes this a highly compatible USB flash drive, and the USB C output means that this can also double as an iOS or Android flash drive if you have a newer model phone.
7. Samsung MUF-256AB/AM FIT Plus
Samsung has created potentially the most compact external flash drive on the market with the FIT Plus. The handle of this drive is barely there, constituting a slimmer profile than the actual USB slot, but it comes with a convenient loop to make sure that it never gets lost. But just because it's light doesn't mean it's a lightweight. It's available in sizes up to a quarter of a terabyte, and it offers lightning fast transfer speeds for both reading and writing. It's also built to be incredibly durable and resist everything from water damage to shock to magnets.
8. SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive
In terms of design, the iXpand is one of the most interesting looking USB flash drives you'll find. This USB 3.0 flash drive is designed explicitly for use with Apple devices, but of course it's compatible with any computer that accepts USB type A outputs. But instead of being a single, rigid stick, the traditional USB slot comes with a flexible Thunderbolt connector that can slot right into your iPhone. That makes it a one stop solution if you're looking to transfer data directly from your phone or free up space in your iPhone's memory by transferring pictures directly to the external drive.
9. Patriot 256GB Supersonic Rage Elite
The Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite is a loud looking USB 3.1 flash drive with a bright red and black gamer aesthetic, but the ostentatious design is accompanied by some truly stellar performance. The housing is rubber coated to protect it adequately from both spills and shock, while the sliding cover provides an extra level of protection and ensures a tight and secure fit in any USB port. The slide to connect design provides a satisfying click when the USB drive is locked into place. Combine that with blindingly fast read and write speeds, and you have a drive that's great for transferring large files in a snap.
10. Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth 3.0 Flash Drive
Continuing the trend of unique looking flash drives is the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth. One of the biggest advantages of flash drives is how durable they are, but the Survivor Flash takes that to the next level. The uniquely cylindrical design of this drive is perhaps its least interesting feature. Far more practical is the level of protection that it affords. The EPDM rubber housing means that it can be safely submerged in water without having to worry about your data being compromised, and it also comes with a shock damping collar. It might not offer the highest storage capacity or transfer rates, but it's a drive that could practically survive the apocalypse.
11. Samsung BAR Plus USB 3.1 Flash Drive
The first thing you'll notice about the Samsung BAR Plus is its luxury design. The champagne silver finish certainly stands apart from the plain black plastic of most thumb drives, but it's also an incredibly reliable source of flash drive storage with great read and write speeds and some great durability features to boot. The metal case is durable and comes with a key ring to keep it from getting lost, but it's also resistant to practically any threat you could toss at it. And the largest model can be picked up for only slightly more than $50.
Best Flash Drives Buyer’s Guide
Flash drives serve a singular function: allowing you to store relatively large amounts of information securely in a very small and compatible device, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t considerations to keep in mind when shopping. We’ll break down the important specs below so you can make a more educated purchasing decision.
The capacities of flash drives have increased quite a bit in the past few years, and recent technological innovations make the ability to store even large amounts of information more affordable than ever before. While a flash drive isn’t going to offer the kind of capacity you’ll find in a modern high end hard drive, they can store a pretty bulky amount of information and can even serve as a backup for the most important data on your computer.
If you’re seeking out the right size for a flash drive, it’s important to consider what you’re storing. In order of size, documents, pictures, and music, are all fairly lightweight, and if that’s all you’re going to store, you can probably get by with a pretty small drive. Once you start considering backing up TV or movies, software, and video games, you should start looking at drives with capacities approaching a half terabyte to a full terabyte.
But you should also look at pricing. We haven’t even opted to include any options lower than 16 GB on our list because the value isn’t really worth it. Often, drives with more storage of the same model cost the same price or just a few bucks more, so you should compare prices and consider buying in on the larger model if the discrepancy is minimal.
- 16GB flash drives can hold about 7500 photos, 4000 songs, or 30 standard definition videos.
- 32GB flash drives can hold about 15000 photos, 8000 songs, or 60 standard definition videos.
- 64GB flash drives can hold about 30000 photos, 16000 songs, or 120 standard definition videos.
- 128GB flash drives can hold about 60000 photos, 32000 songs, or 240 standard definition videos.
- 256GB flash drives can hold about 120000 photos, 64000 songs, or 500 standard definition videos.
- 512GB flash drives can hold about 250000 photos, 130000 songs, or 1000 standard definition videos.
- 1TB flash drives can hold about 500000 photos, 260000 songs, or 2000 standard definition videos.
The numbers will vary according to the size of the file in question, but these ballpark estimates should help you compare the drive to whatever you have stored on your existing computer.
Read and Write Speeds
Read and write speeds determine how quickly a drive can process information stored on it. Read speeds refer to the ability to open up a file from your flash drive when you click on its icon on your desktop, whereas write speeds determine how quickly that information can be saved to the drive. Neither is going to matter much when you’re dealing with a couple of photos or MP3s, but they can have a major difference when you start transferring huge amounts of data.
Read and write speeds aren’t a precise science. In most instances, larger drives will offer higher read speeds, and we’ve opted to include the speeds for the highest capacity model in each of our reviews. Read speeds also tend to have a higher ceiling than write speeds. It’s hard to find a drive that offers a write speed higher than 100 Mbps, but the best drives available in 2020 can offer read speeds approaching 400 Mbps.
One of the most frustrating things when buying new external hardware for computers is whether or not the gear you’re looking for will be compatible with the inputs on your computer. Fortunately, USB manufacturers have made things pretty easy. Each new version of USB devices are designed to be compatible with the versions that came before. The only thing that’s different is how efficient they are.
If you have a USB 3.0 port, it will be compatible with any USB flash drive. That’s the same for USB 2.0 ports, although you’ll be locked into the maximum transfer speeds that USB 2.0 offers even if you’re using a USB 3.0 drive. So if your computer only offers USB 2.0 ports, it might not be worth the cost to invest in a blindingly fast USB 3.1 flash drive.
USB Type-C is the one exception. It makes use of a new, smaller shape. While a USB-C connector can theoretically accommodate higher speeds than traditional USB outputs, that doesn’t mean they always do. A USB-C flash drive may be built on the 3.1, 3.0, or even 2.0 framework. This new shape offers more efficient opportunities, and it will likely be the way forward as new devices come to market.
But for now, an old USB connector will work for most computers. If you opt for a USB-C flash drive, make sure that your device has the appropriate port or that the drive comes with both interfaces built in.
Keeping your data secure is a big deal. When dealing with a flash drive, there are two things to consider: physical and digital security. Physical security refers to how easily the drive itself is protected from the elements. Since flash drives are essentials tiny SSDs, they’re incredibly durable, but you may want to take some extra precautions if you expect to work them hard or hold onto critical information.
Many come with waterproofing cases as well as protection against shock, x-rays, or magnets. And while the tiny size is a major advantage of flash drives, that also means they can get lost easily. The advantage of a ring to connect to your keychain can’t be overstated.
The other issue is digital security. Many flash drives come with hardware and software encryption built in or otherwise offer compatibility with free security software from the manufacturer. It probably won’t be the biggest concern if you’re just dealing with family photos, but good encryption can prevent unauthorized access to your drive or infection by malware.
External Hard Drive vs Flash Drive
Flash drives aren’t the only option available for external storage. External HDDs are also a very popular choice. The big difference between the two is size. While flash drives tend to top out at capacities of 1 TB, traditional hard drives offer significantly more storage than that. They also tend to offer better value, providing you with more storage for a lower price.
That doesn’t mean that external hard drives are necessarily preferable. They manage to be cheaper due to their outdated designs. HDDs require multiple moving parts, and that means that they’re more susceptible to damage. Since flash drives use solid state storage, they can take some serious hits without destroying your sensitive information. They’re also significantly more portable, and they don’t require any cords to plug into your PC. Check out our guide to the best hard drives for gaming if you’re interested in a traditional external drive.
Cloud storage may be the latest and greatest thing, but that doesn’t mean that flash drives don’t have their place. The ability to have all of your important files on your keychain is a huge boon, and it can be accessed even if you can’t find a reliable internet connection. And with prices being so cheap, getting a good flash drive is hardly a serious investment.