USB flash drives have been ubiquitous for nearly two decades now, as they've remained the go-to option for anyone who needs local, portable access to important files. They're still sold everywhere (including chain drug stores, usually at heavily inflated prices), despite companies like DropBox, Google and Microsoft making cloud storage a convenient and often free alternative (depending on capacity).
For many, local storage 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 install of Windows 11, especially if you want to bypass Windows 11’s TPM requirement. Plus, a good flash drive can be shockingly tough to kill. Over the years, I've had flash drives frequently go through the wash while hiding in a pocket and keep working as if I weren't so careless. I even drove over one once with my car while in college and it faithfully offered up all the papers I was working on, despite a cracked and partially crushed outer shell.
But because these drives often seem to work forever, and tech companies are always hard at work increasing 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.
To get a sense of the high-end flash drive market here in late 2021, we collected four recent flash drives that promise speeds in excess of 500 MBps. These drives also sport capacities that could scarcely be dreamed of back when flash drives first became common. All four drives we're looking at below offer 1TB of storage, although in true storage fashion, you can find these drives in lesser capacities as well.
Just remember though, to actually take advantage of this kind of speed, you'll need to plug your drive into a fast USB port. For the best performance you'll need a USB 3.1/3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) port, or a Thunderbolt 3/4 port which also incorporates fast USB. Note that most of the drives tested below still sport USB-A plugs, so you'll need an adapter of some sort if you want to plug them into a Thunderbolt or USB-C port, although Kingston's DataTraveler Max drive has a USB-C plug. That's nice for modern systems, but then of course you'll need an adapter for that drive any time you need to plug it into something that only has USB-A ports.
With all that out of the way, let's take a close look at the drives themselves. After that, we'll look at our drive testing, then circle back to see which drive (or drives) stand out and if you should pick one for your speedy, portable storage needs, or opt for an alternative like one of the best external SSDs.
Buffalo SSD-PUT Rugged and Portable Solid State Drive Stick 1TB
Buffalo's SSD-PUT Rugged and Portable SSD Drive Stick--we'll call it the Buffalo SSD-PUT for the sake of sanity--comes in 500GB and 1TB capacities (we tested the latter). It's on the bulky side, as flash drives go, at 1.7 x 0.9 x 0.43 inches with its USB plug retracted, though not exactly huge. And at $105 on Amazon with an ongoing $15 coupon (and $64 for the 500GB model with a similar coupon), it's also the most affordable of this flash drive bunch.
Buffalo promises up to 600 MBps of read speeds with this drive, and 500 MBps or writes. Note that this is with a firmware update that the company released after the drive launched. It was as easy to install as any simple application, and we did so before our testing.
The SSD-PUT's shell is made up of textured black plastic that doesn't feel particularly tough, but the feel of its build quality is about par for the course for this recent round of flash drives. Buffalo sells the drive with a three-year warranty, and you'll need to register with the company to get that last year--it's two years of coverage without registering. The other drives here ship with longer five-year warranties but, again, cost more.
Kingston DataTraveler Max 1TB
At 3.2 inches long with its USB-C port housed inside its black plastic shell, the Kingston DataTraveler Max is the longest flash drive of this bunch, but it's otherwise compact, at 0.83 inches wide and 0.34 inches thick. It comes in 256, 512 and 1TB capacities, and the top-capacity model we tested has the highest rated speed of any flash drive we've seen: up to 1,000MBps reads and 900MBps writes. That's pushing into external NVMe SSD territory.
Kingston also sells its DataTraveler Max with a five-year warranty. But along with faster rated speeds and a better warranty than Buffalo's drive also comes a higher price. The 1TB model sells for about $180 on Amazon and Newegg, although we did spot it for a lesser $166 at B&H.
One important thing to note about the Kingston DataTraveler Max, though, is that it has a pretty serious design flaw--at least for most DIY desktop users. The top part of the plastic shell slides forward to cover the USB-C plug when not in use. But its thickness is a problem for functionality: Even with the USB plug fully extended, the edge of the housing blocks the drive from fully plugging in to most rear USB-C motherboard ports, which tend to be slightly recessed to make room for the IO cover plate. We tried this drive on the rear ports of three different motherboards from Gigabyte and Asus, and the Kingston drive would not plug in far enough to any of them to function.
Note that this isn't an issue with USB-C ports on the front of most PC cases, but those ports don't tend to be the speediest of options (although this depends on the case and what the header is connected to on your motherboard). And plugging the drive into our USB-C laptops wasn't an issue either.
For testing purposes, we popped the top of the DataTraveler Max's housing off, which is actually quite easy using a fingernail and the drive functioned just fine that way. But this is lame design error on Kingston's part since most desktops only have a fast USB-C port on the back. At the very least, you may want to pick up a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter, which will solve this problem as well as letting you plug the drive into any of the many USB-equipped devices that still lack a Type-C port altogether.
Patriot Supersonic Rage Prime 1TB
Patriot's bombastically designated Supersonic Rage Prime is actually the smallest drive of our 1TB bunch, at 2.05 inches with its USB-A port retracted, and it sticks out just 1.5 inches from your USB port when plugged in. It's similarly svelte in other dimensions as well, at 0.82 inches wide and 0.39 inches thick. Its white plastic shell also feels more solid than the other competitors, though the plastic is slick and glossy.
Patriot rates the Supersonic Rage Prime at up to 600 MBps read speeds, but doesn't mention writes. Aside from the 1TB model we tested, the Supersonic Rage Prime is offered in 250 and 500GB capacities as well, and ships with a five-year warranty. In terms of price, the 1TB model is $150 on Amazon, or $170 on Newegg, landing solidly in the middle of this drive pack on price. Like most of the other drives here, it also has a loop at the back for connecting the drive to a keychain. And this is really the only drive here that feels small enough for that to be reasonable.
Team Group C212 Extreme Speed USB 1TB
Team Group's C212 Extreme Speed USB drive is arguably the most traditional-looking flash drive of this bunch, with a nice red button used for retracting and extending its USB-A port. The matte-plastic black shell, though, feels a bit cheap for a premium device. And this isn't helped by the rattle that can often be heard when handling the drive. It seems the internal drive mechanism and USB plug don't fit quite as snugly in the outer shell as they should. It's fine. It just doesn't feel great considering the drive is $155 on Newegg, or $170 on Amazon in the 1TB capacity we tested.
Team Group rates the C212 for up to 600 MBps reads and 500 MBps writes and includes a five-year warranty with the drive, which can also be picked up in 256GB and 512GB capacities. At 2.61 inches long, 0.81 inches wide and 0.42 inches thick, this drive is fairly compact, but larger than the Patriot drive while feeling far less solid.
|Buffalo SSD-PUT 1TB||500GB, 1TB||600MBps read, 500MBps write||3 years (with registration)||$105|
|Kingston DataTraveler Max 1TB||256, 512, 1TB||1,000MBps read, 900MBps write||5 years||$166|
|Patriot Supersonic Rage Prime 1TB||250GB, 500GB, 1TB||600MBps read, ??? write||5 years||$150|
|Team Group C212 1TB Extreme Speed||256GB, 512GB, 1TB||600MBps read, 500MBps write||5 years||$155|
Comparison Drives, Benchmarks and Test Setup
In order to put the 1TB SSDs in perspective, we'll be testing against a couple of alternatives. On the higher end is Mushkin's CarbonX, a 1TB External SSD that's rated to similar speeds as the fastest flash drives, or "Up to 1,000 MBps." But as an SSD, it's much larger than a flash drive (though still pocketable at 2x4.5x0.5 inches), and includes a removable USB-C cable. It also has a true NVMe M.2 SSD inside, along with a metal shell to act as a heatsink. Given all that, you'll see that it does well in many (though certainly not all) of the tests below. But it sells for a lower price than most of our same-capacity high-end flash drives, or about $139 when we wrote this.
On the other end of the spectrum, we wanted to add a ubiquitous and affordable flash drive of the type many may already own and have been using for years. To represent that kind of drive, we've tossed in SanDisk's Ultra USB 3.0 flash drive. This model isn't available in a 1TB capacity, so we opted for the 256GB model, which sells for a quite reasonable $30 or so, depending on where you shop. Its rated read speed is up to 130 MBps--well below anything else in this test group. Expect it to land a distant last in most of our tests.
On most of the tests below, our four 1TB flash drive contenders will land in between one of these two drives. But again, some of the results below will surprise you--especially when it comes to write performance.
To make sure our performance testing wasn't complicated by an operating system still in its teething phase, we ignored Windows 11 and ran our tests on Windows 10 Pro (build 1904.1288). Our test hardware includes an AMD Ryzen 7 3700DX CPU running on a Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master motherboard with 16GB of RAM and an older (but still speedy) Samsung 960 Pro boot drive.
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 both types of drives.
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.
Kingston's DataTraveler Max pulls an upset in the very first round here, outscoring the Mushkin SSD, although the Mushkin drive costs less. These results also set up the possibility of a blowout among the 1TB flash drives here, as the three competing drives manage less than 50% of what the DataTraveler Max delivers. But synthetic performance often doesn't translate to real-world use, as we'll see to some extent in the next benchmark.
Transfer Rates – DiskBench
We use the DiskBench storage benchmarking tool to test file transfer performance, using a custom 100GB dataset made up of 13,823 files of various types including photos, ISO files and 1080p and 4K videos. For the write portion of the test, these files are wrapped in an uncompressed RAR file. For the read portion, after a period of at least 10 minutes of idle time, those files are removed from the RAR wrapper and transferred to our host SSD, a Samsung 960 Pro.
When Reading our 100GB of mixed media files, the Mushkin CarbonX pulls back to the front of the pack at an average speed of 804.5 MBps, while the Kingston is a step or two back at 740 MBps. The Buffalo drive here pulls in a respectable third place, with 433 MBps, with the other two 1TB drives managing at or just below about 300 MBps.
Looking at how things settled out when writing that same 100GB of files, the results are quite different. The Buffalo SSD-PUT 1TB pulls in a big win here, with its 455 MBps easily beating both the Kingston drive (366) and the bigger Mushkin SSD (280). The Team Group Extreme Speed looks particularly weak here, not quite being able to write our big file at 180 MBps. And that SanDisk drive may be cheap, but it certainly doesn't earn its Ultra name on this test, delivering just over 22 MBps of real-world write speed. The Buffalo drive was over 20 times faster than the cheap SanDisk on this test.
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.
In CrystalDiskMark's sequential read test, the Kingston drive once again edged out the Mushkin SSD, with a speed of 894 MBps. And again, our other 1TB test drives managed less than half that. SanDisk's smaller 256GB Ultra drive brings up the rear, with its score of 156 MBps being well less than half the speed of any other option we tested.
As we saw previously, though, things get more interesting when it comes to sequential write speeds. Kingston again beats the Mushkin drive for the top spot, with a speed of 856 MBps to the Mushkin's 796. But the Team Group drive puts up a surprisingly good 537 MBps, while Patriot's Supersonic Rage Prime flames out at just above 250 MBps. Again, the SanDisk drive putters in several minutes later with its write speed of 69 MBps.
Moving on to random read speed, things are much closer here. The Team Group Extreme Speed drive manages its first win (albeit just) with its speed of 36.5 MBps just edging out the Buffalo SSD-PUT (36.3) and Patriot SuperSonic Rage Prime (36). Somewhat shockingly (given all the previous tests), the Kingston DataTraveler brings up the rear of the 1TB pack, at just 26.3 MBps. That only looks good compared to the SanDisk's showing of 8 MBps.
In random write performance, the Team Group drive again ekes out a first-place finish, with its score of 80.1 MBps just ahead of the Patriot (79.6) and Buffalo drive (79.1). The Kingston drive was at least competitive here, at 78.3 MBps, with the comparatively bulky Mushkin SSD managing just 66 MBps. The SanDisk drive once again was achingly slow at just 1.4 Mbps.
This does illustrate one of the potential bottlenecks with storing data on USB devices. The USB protocol adds latency to every transfer, which can quickly add up when doing full random accesses. That's not a typical use case for USB drives, but if you plan on storing lots of smaller files on a USB device, the random read/write speeds tend to become more important.
Analysis and Bottom Line
After testing, it's clear that Kingston's DataTraveler Max Max is the fastest 1TB flash drive overall, although not in all of our tests. However, it's also the most expensive of these drives at $180 on Amazon, though we did manage to find it elsewhere for $165. The real problem, though, is that Kingston's own XS2000 portable SSD sells for about $5 less and is rated for twice the speed. So you really have to be wedded to the compact flash drive format for the DataTraveler Max to make much sense — especially given that its top cover blocks it from actually plugging in to most (possibly all) rear-mounted speedy USB-C ports without partially disassembling it or bringing your own adapter.
Likewise, the Team Group and Patriot drives are tough to argue for, given that they're priced roughly in line with faster external SSDs without standing out in our testing. Although we could see some users really valuing the Supersonic Rage Prime's compact form factor.
While it wasn't the fastest on most of our tests, the drive that really stands out in terms of value is Buffalo's SSD-PUT. If you can find it for $105 as it was on Amazon for the last couple of weeks when we wrote this review (don't forget to clip that $15 coupon), it undercuts the price of most 1TB external SSDs while being faster than most competing 1TB flash drives overall. And while it's bulky for a flash drive, it's much smaller than external SSDs that cost a bit more.
If you're willing to spend a bit more time and money, you can still get a faster portable, pocketable storage experience by shopping for a deal on a speedy 1TB NVMe SSD and putting it into an external SSD enclosure. But if building your own external SSD isn't in the cards for you and you want a reasonably fast and spacious flash drive without spending much more than $100, Buffalo's SSD-PUT Rugged and Portable Solid State Drive Stick is easy to recommend. There are faster flash drives, but most of them cost more than the added performance is worth.
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