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The best USB flash drive 2021: small size, massive storage

best USB flash drive
(Image credit: Karl Tapales/Moment via Getty)

The best USB flash drives are small and pocketable, allowing you to easily carry critical files around with no risk of them being corrupted or lost. USB storage is the ultimate in digital convenience, whether it's an affordable flash stick (or thumb drive), a fast and powerful solid-state drive (SSD) or a hard disk, usually no bigger than a matchbox and without the need for a power supply. Even with increased use of cloud storage, a good USB flash drive can still prove essential, acting as the floppy disk of the modern age.

For creatives, USB storage is a straightforward way to keep important project files backed up, to carry a portfolio for demonstration or to house a sizeable amount of the media you like to enjoy while on the move. The best USB flash drive for you will depend on your needs. Most drives still use the traditional USB Type-A connector, but you'll also see the smaller, rounded USB Type-C. Apple Macs are available only with Type-C, and you'll need a dongle or alternative cable to use older USB devices.

The performance of USB storage devices can vary wildly. Older USB 2.0 flash sticks would chug along at under 20MB/sec which could make backing up a lot of 4K video take hours. USB 3 sticks are much faster and you can expect speeds as high as 450 MB/sec. If you're looking to store a lot of files, you should also see our guide to the best cloud storage. Below, we pick out the best USB flash drives available now, with a range of capacities, speeds and price points for every budget.

The best USB flash drives available now

Best USB flash drives: Samsung Fit

(Image credit: Samsung)

01. Samsung Fit Plus 128GB

The best USB flash drive overall

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.1
Connector: Type-A
Capacities: 32GB-256GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Compact design+Good amount of storage+Fast read/write speeds

The Samsung Fit Plus range offers the best USB flash drive overall for our money. It comes in capacities from 32GB up to 256GB – the 128GB option priced above strikes a great balance between cost and storage space. All models support USB 3.1 connectivity with data-transfer speeds up to 300 MBps – faster than many other USB memory sticks. The drive is also water-, shock-, magnet-, temperature- and X-ray-proof, which means you can bring it just about anywhere without fear of damaging your content. 

The device is tiny, so it's easy to carry around. That also has the downside that it might be easy to lose, but then that applies to many USB drives. It's also back-compatible with USB 2.0, it should work in any device you might have. 

Best USB flash drive

02. Patriot Supersonic Rage 2

Great performance, reasonable price

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.0
Connector: Type-A
Capacities: 128GB - 512GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Fastest drive there is+Available in 512GB 
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive -No smaller than 128GB

The Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 is the best USB flash drive right now. The connector retracts with a push, without needing a separate cap you might lose down the back of the sofa, and it comes in massive capacities ranging from 128GB to a fairly pricey 512GB

Storage performance is everything, particularly if you suffer from slow internet speeds and can’t make use of cloud storage. Whether you’re backing up an absolute ton of files, or running large installers such as the Adobe Creative Suite off an external drive, the faster it goes, the less waiting around there is.

Thanks to some clever internal design, Patriot has managed to push USB flash storage to the performance limit here, with blistering speeds up to 300 MB/sec - outpacing most hard disks.

best USB flash drive: DataTraveler 100

(Image credit: Kingston Technology)

03. Kingston Technology DataTraveler 100

The best value 64GB USB drive

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.0
Connector: Type-A
Capacities: 64GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Plenty of space 
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast as other USB 3.0 flash drives

The Kingston Technology DataTraveler 100 Generation 3 is a very compact, and also very affordable flash drive. In some cases, the cost of shipping a drive is more than the price of the device itself, but this is a case where the shipping won't cost much. It's the most affordable 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive on the market and offers respectable read/write speeds of 150Mbps and 70Mbps respectively. Not the fastest, but very good value.

best USB flash drive: PNY Turbo 256GB

(Image credit: PNY)

04. PNY Turbo 256GB USB flash drive

A solid flash drive with larger storage

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.0
Connector: Type-A
Capacities: 256GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Huge capacity+Good speeds
Reasons to avoid
-No built-in encryption

PNY is a memory manufacturer that entered the USB market. Its PNY Turbo 256GB USB drive is one of the best options if you're looking for more capacity, offering a hefty 256GB. It offers decent – though not spectacular – read/write speeds of 80Mbps and 20Mbps respectively, while the capped design helps protect the device. If you need faster performance, there are other options in our list, but if you need a reliable device with decent amount of storage capacity at a good price, this is a good option.

Best USB flash drive

(Image credit: SanDisc)

05. SanDisk Ultra USB-C

The best choice if you need USB-C

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.0
Connector: Type-C
Capacities: 16GB - 128GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Native USB-C connector +Fast
Reasons to avoid
-Large physical size-Limited to 128GB

If you’ve bought a new MacBook or MacBook Pro in the last few years, you’ve had to give up the immediacy of your old USB flash storage since they've said goodbye to the old USB Type-A ports and only offer USB Type-C, which means you need a dongle, dock or converter cable to use them with Type A. 

A handy USB-C flash drive gets around this though, plugging directly into your Mac, and one of the finest examples is the SanDisk Ultra USB-C Flash Drive. It's a native USB-C device, freeing you from the irritating need to carry a converter for USB plugs. SanDisk has long been pushing the boundaries of USB flash drive performance with its super-fast Extreme range, and it has brought that performance over to this drive too. 

Ranging from 16GB to 128GB, it manages read and write speeds of 150 MB/sec, quite an improvement from what you might expect from old fashioned USB 2.0 devices, and a solid entry in this best USB flash drive list.

Best USB flash drive

06. Kingston IronKey D300

Keeps your data safe in numerous ways

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.0
Connector: Type-A
Capacities: 4GB - 128GB
Storage Type: Flash
Reasons to buy
+Most secure storage there is+Wide range of capacities
Reasons to avoid
-Slow write speeds -Wide range of capacities

If you’re nervous about losing your work, the Kingston D300 IronKey is one of the most secure flash drives on our best USB flash drive buying guide, with multiple levels of security and a rugged waterproof design. The drive is password protected with 256-bit AES encryption, to comply with FIPS standards that most corporate environments demand, with all decrypting done in hardware on the drive itself.

It’s also IPX8 waterproof, meaning it will survive being continuously submerged up to one metre, making it safe from drops in puddles, baths and even being placed in the washing machine by mistake. If the worst happens and you lose your drive, with the Managed version of the D300 IronKey, you can remotely delete your files so you can be sure they won’t fall into the wrong hands. Speeds vary depending on capacity - the largest 128GB drive has the fastest write speeds, with 250MB/sec read and 85 MB/sec write.

Best USB flash drive

(Image credit: Samsung)

07. Samsung Portable SSD T5 SSD

The fastest USB storage money can buy

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.1 (Gen 2)
Connector: Type-C
Capacities: 250GB - 2TB
Storage Type: SSD
Reasons to buy
+Fastest external storage+Small
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

We’re cheating a bit by including the Samsung Portable T5  as the best USB flash drive since it's actually a full external solid-state drive, using the same fast storage technology you'll find inside your computer. Because of this, it’s faster than any other kind of USB storage, making the absolute most of the high bandwidth of USB 3.1 to deliver transfer speeds up to 550 MB/sec.

Of course, it’s also considerably more expensive than a standard flash stick, with some eye-watering high prices for the 512GB version. You don’t need this kind of speed purely for file backup or to carry a few JPEG images around. Rather, it’s so fast you can edit and work with large files directly on the T5 itself. In fact, there are all kinds of alternative uses for a drive this fast. It works great as an external boot drive, so you can run an entire operating system from it at full performance, which is handy for Mac users who need to work in Windows too.

Best USB flash drive

(Image credit: Samsung)

08. LaCie Rugged USB-C

Great for large amounts of data in harsh environments

Specifications
Interface: USB 3.1
Connector: Type-C
Capacities: 1TB - 5TB
Storage Type: SSD/HDD
Reasons to buy
+Rugged design +Backwards compatible 
Reasons to avoid
-Ugly orange casing

This is another hard disk option that might be of interest to anyone looking for an alternative to the best USB flash drive. The unique feature of the LaCie Rugged USB-C is its orange rubber casing, which makes it extremely durable. While flash drives don’t have any moving parts, and can survive even severe drops, a hard disk (when powered on) is far more fragile. Drop your laptop while files are copying to a hard disk and there is a real risk the disk could be destroyed and your data lost.

Lacie’s rugged design apparently can withstand a 1-ton car, is resistant to rain (other versions are fully water and dust resistant) and can handle a drop of up to 1.2 meters. That makes it a great choice for content creation on the move. If you’re capturing images and video in harsh environments, and need more capacity than a standard USB flash stick, this is a great choice. One nice additional touch is that Lacie has thoughtfully included both USB Gen 1 and Gen 2 cables in the box, so you won’t need any adapter or dongles, whatever ports are on your computer.

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Beren Neale

Beren Neale is the deals editor at Creative Bloq. After editing several creative and design magazines - including the graphic design mag Computer Arts - he found his home on the biggest global art and design website, helping digital creatives get the best deals on the kit that they need.