How to Buy a USB Flash Drive That's Right for You

by Benjamin Aries

A USB flash drive holds data, similar to a computer's hard disk drive, but containing solid flash memory rather than moving parts, allowing it to be small and portable. These drives come with several different capacities and security features. Some USB drives can hold very large amounts of encrypted data for long-term storage, while others are simpler and are designed for transferring small files. You should consider how you intend to use the device, and select an affordable flash drive that meets your specific storage requirements.

Consider how much drive capacity you require. Flash drive sizes commonly range between one and 32 gigabytes of storage space. For reference, a one-gigabyte drive can store approximately 300 MP3 song files, while a 32-gigabyte drive can be loaded with over 10,000 songs. A large flash device is useful for storing computer backups or transferring large multimedia files, but is more expensive than a low-capacity drive.

Decide how important transfer speed is for the intended application. This speed determines how quickly files can be moved on and off of the drive. Flash devices are available in USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 formats. A USB 3.0 drive provides the highest transfer speed, but may not be fully compatible with computers that are several years old. Higher speed is useful if you need to frequently access the drive.

Determine the necessary level of data security. Some drives contain encryption algorithms, which scramble the data and make files unreadable to users without the password. This feature increases the price of a drive, and can slow down the transfer speed. Despite these disadvantages, data encryption may be a smart option for buyers who need to safeguard confidential files.

Compare different drive case designs to find the best option. Many flash drives are housed in a simple plastic case. This is inexpensive, but does not provide a high amount of protection. Other drives use metal cases, and are more resistant to damage. Some drives have cases that can be sealed for protection from water or dirt. These more rugged drives can be valuable for travelers or users who work in harsh climates.

Think about the level of physical security that is required on the drive. Like encryption, physical safeguards can help prevent data theft. A flash drive with physical security features requires the owner's combination or even a fingerprint before it can be connected to a computer. This provides an additional layer of protection for the data, but raises the cost of the drive.


  • A flash drive from an established and reputable manufacturer is often a good choice. The Sandisk company, for instance, has been in business since 1988, and offers the popular "Cruzer" line of drives. Similarly, the Gagaware brand of drives is produced by Radio Shack, which has been in business for many decades.

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