USB flash drives have been ubiquitous for two decades now, as they've remained the go-to option for anyone who needs local, pocketable access to important files. Flash drives are still sold everywhere (including chain drug stores, usually at extremely inflated prices), despite companies like DropBox, Google, and Microsoft making cloud storage a convenient and often free alternative (depending on capacity).
For many, a flash drive that you can carry around in your pocket or on your keychain is still a better option – and faster if you don't have a fast internet connection on every device you use. You may also need a USB flash drive to do a clean and quick install of your favorite OS (see how to do a clean install of Windows).
Plus, a good flash drive can be shockingly tough to kill. Over the years, I've had flash drives go through the wash and I even drove over a flash drive with my car, but in all cases, my data remained intact. However, because these drives last forever, you could be hanging onto one that’s pitifully slow by today’s standards and too cramped to hold all the data you’d want. Capacities of up to 2TB are possible (and 1TB is becoming common), and performance on the best flash drives approaches that of some SSDs.
If you've been hanging onto a drive for several years, now's a good time to upgrade. To help you choose, we’ve tested more than a dozen different products from leading brands and listed the best USB flash drives below. However, if fast performance is important to you and you can live with a device that's just a little bit bigger, one of the best external SSDs might be a better buy.
But because these drives often seem to work forever, and storage companies are always working to increase speed and capacity, you could be hanging on to a drive that's pitifully slow by today's standards, and too cramped to hold all the things you might want to store on it.
One thing to keep in mind while you're shopping is what type of ports you'll be plugging your flash drive into. Some drives are offered with either a USB-A connector or USB-C, and some come with adapters to convert from USB-A to USB-C or vice versa. A few drives have both connectors on the same drive, which is certainly more convenient than having to keep track of an adapter and have it with you every time you need it. But all of the faster flash drives we've tested have a single Type-A or Type-C connector.
Also note that drives that promise speeds of 500 MB/s or more use USB 3.x Gen 2 (10 Gbps) ports. That means if you're plugging those drives into a USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gbps) port (those are still far more common than the faster Gen2 ports), performance won't be as fast as it could be. Still, the performance differences between the lower-cost, lower-performing drives in our testing below and the higher-performing 1TB drives that top our test results are at times nearly a factor of 10, especially when it comes to write speeds. So even when you plug one of the fastest drives into a slower 5Gbps port, you should still get much better performance than you would if using an older or cheap sub-$20 flash drive.
Best Flash Drives You Can Buy Today
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This drive from networking and storage stalwarts at Buffalo stands out for being a good balance between fast performance and affordable pricing. It usually costs about $20-$30 less than the faster Kingston DataTraveler Max, while still delivering 616.9 MB/s sequential read speed and 543.9 MB/s sequential writes in our CrystalDiskMark tests. It's a bit bulky at about 3/4 of an inch wide at the port, and 0.9 inches wide at its maximum width. It uses a USB Type-A port, although a USB-C adapter is included in the box.
Selling for around $70 for the 1TB model when we wrote this, it's more affordable than many 1TB alternatives, and it's even available in a 2TB model, which usually sells for less than $150. I just wish the drive's plastic shell felt less creaky and cheap, although that's an issue with the pricier Kingston DataTraveler Max, as well. There's a slot at the back of Buffalo's drive for attaching it to a lanyard, but this drive doesn't feel like it would last that long getting jostled around everywhere alongside your keys.
If you feel the need for flash drive speed, Kingston's DataTraveler Max will get your data where you want it faster than any other flash drive we've tested. Its PCMark Data Drive benchmark score of 1079 was more than twice that of most of the competing drives we tested. And in our CrystalDiskMark sequential test, it sailed past all other drives, delivering 977.9 MB/s reads and perhaps even more impressively, 910 MB/s writes. In our 10GB file transfer test (using Diskbench), the real-world numbers were lower, at 593 MB/s reads and 447.4 MB/s writes. But that was still faster overall than any other flash drive we've tested.
The fatal flaw of the Kingston drive, at least for desktop users, is that its USB-C connector, which slides out from its (also somewhat cheap-feeling) plastic enclosure, isn't long enough to plug into USB-C ports on the back IO plate of motherboards. This was never an issue with laptops, but I tried it on three desktops and each time I had to physically snap half of the plastic housing off the top of the drive in order to get the DataTraveler Max to successfully plug into a desktop PC. This isn't that hard to do, and the drive has successfully snapped back together several times without issue. But obviously, this design flaw will be a major pain point for some. Although again, it wasn't ever an issue with laptop USB-C ports, and I was able to plug the drive into front-panel ports on a couple desktops without having any issues.
If you're after a drive that's small enough to leave plugged into your laptop most of the time, or you just want something you can clip to your keychain and forget about until you need it, Samsung's FIT Plus stands out. The 128GB model we tested sells for $18, and when we wrote this the top-capacity 256GB model was selling for just $25 direct from Samsung (opens in new tab). At less than an inch long including its USB-A connector, it will stick out of your port less than an inch when plugged in. And it has a hole for a lanyard, it feels solid – in fact, this sub-$20 drive feels better than the most expensive drives on our list. And Samsung says it's rated to survive in up to 1 meter of water for 72 hours. In case it doesn't, the company covers the drive with a generous five-year warranty.
That being said, our testing shows this tiny drive is in a much lower performance class than the bigger, pricier, roomier models. On our real-world DiskBench 10GB test, the Samsung Fit Plus read our files at a decent 319.7 MB/s, but could only write at 58.4 MB/s. That's just over half the read speed and less than 15% of the write speed of Kingston's 1TB DataTraveler Max. That said, the Samsung drive's performance was still significantly better than most of the drives we tested with capacities less than 1TB. SanDisk's Extreme Pro 128GB wrote our test files about twice as fast, but it costs nearly 2.5 times as much and is more than six times longer.
There are loads of insanely cheap no-name 2TB flash drives available on Amazon and sites like Aliexpress if you like throwing your money at scammy garbage tech – but the 2TB Buffalo SSD-PUT is real and (at $160 when we wrote this) a surprisingly good deal. It's cheaper than most larger 2TB external SSDs (although some of those will definitely be faster), and significantly smaller (although still bulky for a flash drive). Overall, this drive did slightly better on our benchmarks than its 1TB sibling, meaning it doesn't beat or often quite match the Kingston DataTraveler Max. But for the price -- and especially considering it's one of a very few 2TB drives available from a known brand, this is a very impressive performer.
On the minus side, the drive has the same creaky, cheap-feeling plastic shell as the 1TB model, and it's nearly an inch wide, making it a tight fit on some laptops where the ports are placed close together. But you get a roomy 2TB of pocket-friendly storage at fast speeds (for a flash drive), and a bundled USB-C adapter should your device not have a USB-A port handy. If Buffalo would just release this drive in solid-feeling metal housing (or even a solid-feeling plastic one), this would arguably be the perfect flash drive for those who need lots of storage in their pocket.
How We Test Flash Drives
We ran our benchmark tests on a custom desktop running Windows 10 Pro on an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU and a Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master motherboard with 16GB of RAM and an older (but still speedy) Samsung 960 Pro boot drive. We also spot-checked our first few drives on a newer system using a Ryzen 5 5600X CPU and a much faster PCIe 4.0 Corsair MP600 Pro XT boot drive. But because none of these drives even get close to the bandwidth limitation of PCIe 3.0, there was no discernable performance differences between the two test systems.
All of our benchmark testing was done with drives plugged into the system's rear USB 3.1 Gen 2/ USB 3.2 (10 Gbps) ports. The Aorus board we used has one Type-C and one Type-A port rated for these speeds, so we were able to accommodate drives with both types of connectors.
To get a sense of how these flash drives compare to a larger (though still usually pocketable) external SSD, we also ran our flash drive tests on the Mushkin's CarbonX, a 1TB External SSD that's rated to similar speeds as the fastest flash drives, or "Up to 1,000 MBps." This drive is no longer widely available, but you can expect similar performance from some of the more affordable options on our Best External SSDs list.
Given the falling prices of external SSDs and their general ability to perform better on longer-duration workloads (and particularly small file writes, which we'll see shortly in testing) an external SSD is often a better option if you are going to frequently be moving large amounts of files on and off your drive, and especially if you plan to run programs from your portable storage device. The larger surface area and improved controllers and components of external SSDs tend to be better at those kinds of tasks, though there are of course noticeable performance differences in that product category as well.
Trace Testing – PCMark 10 Storage: Data Drive Benchmark
PCMark 10 is a trace-based benchmark that uses a wide-ranging set of real-world traces from popular applications and common tasks to measure the performance of storage devices. To test drives that store files rather than applications (in most cases you shouldn't be running programs off a flash drive), we utilize the Data Drive Benchmark in UL's PCMark 10.
Transfer Rates – DiskBench
We use the DiskBench storage benchmarking tool to test file transfer performance, using a custom 10GB dataset made up of 1,204 files of various types including photos, ISO files and videos. First we transfer the files to the drive and record the results. We then give the system at least 5 minutes of idle time before transferring those same files back off the flash drive onto our Samsung 960 Pro SSD.
Unsurprisingly, the Mushkin external SSD is the fastest here, indicating that these larger drives are generally better at moving around large batches of files. That said, Kingston's DataTraveler Max was nearly as fast on the write portion of this test, and wasn't far behind when it comes to reads either. The 2TB Buffalo drive lands in a solid third place.
Synthetic Testing - CrystalDiskMark
CrystalDiskMark (CDM) is a free and easy-to-use storage benchmarking tool that drive makers have used to assign performance specifications to their products. This test gives us insight into how drives handle different file sizes.
On this test, the Kingston drive actually manages to edge out the Muskin external SSD, while the 2TB Buffalo lands in second place among flash drive. The TeamGroup and Patriot drives also look quite good. Remember, though, those drives didn't do nearly as well in our real-world file transfer tests.
This small file test really separates the higher-capacity, higher-priced drives from the more mainstream flash drives. Every 1TB drive blew the lower-end options away. But among those lesser drives, the Samsung Fit Plus (and the no-longer widely available Duo Plus) stood out, delivering over 14 MB/s reads and an impressive 21-plus MB/s writes.
Really, though, if you're going to run programs or an operating system from your drive –the kind of workloads that hammer storage devices with lots of small file reads and writes– you should definitely opt for one of the fastest flash drives or, even better, a speedy external SSD. Note that the Mushkin SSD took the top spot here, with the Orico drive turning in a surprise second-place appearance.
A Note on Temperatures
If you've used a flash drive in the past and written lots of data on it, there's a good chance you've grabbed it to yank it out when you're done and winced at the hot – or at the very least surprisingly warm – exterior. We've certainly dealt with uncomfortably toasty drives before, but perhaps that's becoming an issue of the past.
None of the drives we tested felt hot to the touch after testing. And we used an IR thermometer to check the temperature of several during a long 100GB write test. After several minutes of sustained writing, the Corsair and PNY drives got the warmest, but were still under 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The solid-feeling metal-clad Orico drive got up to just 83.4 degrees. And the tiny Samsung Fit Plus, which barely has any surface area compared to the other drives, topped out at 82.1 degrees in our testing. Doubtlessly the Samsung drive is helped here by the fact that it writes much more slowly than many of the larger drives.
Other Flash Drives We Tested
We tested more than a dozen drives for this list in the quest to find the best flash drives, and will be adding more in the near future. Many of the lower-capacity, lower-priced drives performed poorly overall, proving the adage "you get what you pay for." However, some expensive 1TB drives suffered from disappointing performance in some benchmarks, proving you don't always get a great drive even if you're willing to spend close to $100. Below are some of the drives that stood out but didn't make the list.
Patriot Supersonic Rage Prime (1TB): With a name this obnoxiously aggressive (and $90 price to match), we were expecting impressive things from Patriot's top-end flash drive. And it did quite well in some tests, but struggled on our 10GB file transfer test, managing to write at just 91.7 MB/s–behind all but the lower-capacity, much lower-priced drives on this list.
PNY Pro Elite (1TB): We like the solid metal shell of this PNY drive, but its $130 asking price is higher than any other 1TB drive we've tested. And it struggled on our 10GB write test, managing just 96.9 MB/s, which was slower than even Samsung's 256GB Duo Plus drive. There isn't much that's pro or elite about that.
Orico UFSD-C (1TB): This metal-clad USB-C drive looks and feels great and performed quite well overall, though its benchmark results didn't stand out in any real way. Its main issue is availability. The company sent us the 1TB model we asked for, but it doesn't seem to be for sale anywhere in the US. You can order it on Aliexpress, but even there it's only available at up to 512GB, and its $82 current price is close to what we'd expect the 1TB model to sell for.
TeamGroup Extreme Speed (1TB): This drive was another decent performer, delivering read and write speeds in our 10GB test of between 300 and 400 MB/s. But a few other high-end drives were faster, its plastic shell feels like something you'd expect on a $10 drive, and its $130 price means it's just not competitive when faster drives from Buffalo and Kingston cost less than $100.
Corsair Flash Voyager GTX (1TB): The zinc alloy housing of Corsair's 1TB flash drive feels like it could survive a bomb blast or two, and its performance is better than some competitors at this capacity. But its $286 asking price on Amazon (and even crazier $334 price directly from Corsair) feels like a bomb on your credit card bill. Buffalo's 1TB drive performed better in most of our tests and costs a quarter the price.
Samsung Duo Plus (256GB): This drive from Samsung delivered decent results, feels solid, and has a nicely designed housing that incorporates a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter. But it's no longer available at most major outlets, so we chose the smaller Fit Plus drive instead, which is widely available and performs similarly on many of our tests.
SanDisk Extreme Pro (128GB): While SanDisk's high-end drive performed well compared to other 128GB models, its $43 price at that capacity is about 2.5x that of Samsung's Fit Plus. And while it is available in up to 1TB capacities, the most spacious model sells for between $130 and $200, making it much more expensive than competing drives.
SanDisk Ultra (256GB): SanDisk's plastic-clad Ultra drive is exactly the kind of thing you'll see drastically overpriced at your local pharmacy or big-box store. Online, it seems fairly reasonable at about $20. But Samsung's Fit Plus is much smaller, performed better in most of our tests, and can be found for $5-10 more in the 256GB capacity.
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