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Best USB Flash Drive For The Money  
Everything You Need to Know to Get a Great USB Flash Drive at a Great Price
Top Five for the Money (Based on our Frugal5 Formula)
How do we pick these products? We spend many hours doing unbiased research to only give you the highest rated products at the best price. We first come up with a list of features, which you can see below, that we feel the majority of people will need. We then look for the highest quality products with these features and only show you the top five with the best value. Our mission is to provide you with the best five options based only on the facts. Don't see the product you were thinking about getting? Click here to calculate it's frugal score.
SanDisk Cruzer Fit 16GBSilicon Power Ultima 16GBSanDisk Cruzer 32GBKingston Digital DataTraveler SE9 16GBPNY Attache III 32GB
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Product Rating
Average Price
Cheap ($10)
Cheap ($10)
Cheap ($20)
Cheap ($11)
Cheap ($16)
Frugal5 Score
Additional Info
Small, black-and-red finish
Aluminum Case, weather and shock-proof
Sleek black-and-red scheme
Simple Metallic Exterior
Sleek Black with tight-fitting plastic cap
1-year with free tech support
Features Needed
At Least 16 GB Storage
- 16 GB
- 16 GB
- 32 GB
- 16 GB
- 32 GB
Sturdy Case
USB 2.0
Features Not Needed
Additional Software
- 2GB Online Backup included
- 2GB of online backup for peace of mind
Excessive Storage (Over 64 GB)
Keychain Attachment
Security Features
- Optional encryption software
USB 3.0
What You Need To Know In 5 Minutes

Flash Drives are a handy tool to have around. They're also pretty simple in the grand scheme of things, and the parts making up a typical flash drive have gotten incredibly affordable in recent years.

Thumb drives, as they're also quite affectionately known, come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, styles, and storage capacities. People tend to focus on storage capacity, and while that's important, there's really a lot more going on behind the scenes. This guide, in addition to recommending a few products, hopes to teach you a thing or two about portable USB storage.

So what do you actually need in a flash drive? That question can best be answered by first explaining what people commonly use such drives for. USB Thumb Drives make decent backup storage in a pinch. They're great for moving your data with you, reasonably quickly and easily.

In recent years, a lot of tech-savvy folks have started storing operating systems (usually a Linux distribution) on thumb drives, and carrying them with them. You can tell your computer to "boot" (start up) from a USB drive, typically. This is great if you move around to different machines that you have full access to, and want to carry your desktop with you without lugging around an expensive laptop.

Also, because flash drives use flash memory, it's important to remember that over time the amount of space on them will degrade. Eventually, the drive's internal components will stop working. This generally takes a few years of constant writing, however, so it's likely you'll move on to a new one before the drive "burns out".

With all this in mind, here's what you absolutely need. Because flash drives are so cheap, and because they can be used for a variety of purposes and media types (bringing digital movies with you, for instance), you should look for one with at least 16GB of storage space. If you want to try turning your USB stick into a Linux boot drive, opt for something closer to 32GB instead; that should give you plenty of room to breathe.

You generally shouldn't have to worry about type of USB connector. Most drives are at least USB 2.0, and that's plenty fast for normal usage.

One thing that is very important is type of cover. Many manufacturers see a USB Thumb Drive's case as an afterthought, but it's important you get something that keeps the USB connector reasonably covered. Dust and heat can damage the internal components of a USB drive, so protection is crucial. Having a clip on the case for a key chain is a big plus, too, but not necessary. If your thumb drive is attached to your car keys, you're far less likely to leave it behind!

Excessive storage is happening for marketing reasons right now, with some manufacturers opting to build 512 GB storage drives. Buying something in that range would be a mistake for the typical consumer. If you need to carry around that much data, a portable hard drive is generally more durable and secure. Because flash drives eventually burn out, when a large flash drive goes, you lose not only an expensive drive, but lots and lots of data you were likely dependent on.

Several manufacturers bundle software intended to be used to encrypt all data that goes on a drive. This can be a nice touch, but is hardly necessary - most IT experts recommend private, personally-identifiable data be stored on drives that are less easy to steal and break into.

These drives aren't typically the best security option. They don't offer the security features of a true external HDD, and they're easy to misplace. By all means, use a thumb drive to carry your music library or perhaps that draft of this year's holiday letter, but things like tax returns are better-suited to more secure storage. While most drives these days offer password protection and encryption, don't rely on those features to keep data with personal information safe. Even the best security measure can be beaten.

Additionally, some manufacturers of USB Thumb Drives, particularly SanDisk, provide free cloud storage with your USB drive purchase. The truth is, you don't really need both USB storage and cloud storage. Both address the same problem.

As a last note, don't be misled into thinking a USB 3.0 drive is better than USB 2.0. While it's true that such drives are technically faster, there's not a real performance difference you'll notice unless you're moving large files. Keep in mind, it's still a minority of computers that even have ports USB 3.0 can take advantage of.

The looks of a thumb drive don't really matter. Feel free to pick a color you like best, but always concern yourself with performance and usefulness first.

It's also important to remember that USB Thumb Drives are reasonably simple tools - don't let marketing statements confuse you. In general, things marketed as "extra features" are just that - extras. They might be useful, but they don't change or improve the functionality of the device.

Don't rely on warranties with thumb drives. These devices do eventually fail, it's the nature of the technology, and manufacturers will be the first to point this out. Don't let a warranty sway your purchase decision.

SanDisk is by far the market leader in USB Thumb Drives (and portable storage in general), and for very good reason. Their devices are stable, come with security features (while you don't need them, if they're there, why not use them?), and are very competitively priced.

PNY and Kingston also make great drives.

Typically, the rule of thumb (pun intended) with these drives is to check user reviews if you're unsure about the brand name. Devices that are cheaply made often stop working after a few months of use and can rapidly turn into money pits.

Thumb Drives are great for carrying less-sensitive data with you. They're cheap, fast, and while they do eventually stop working, easily replaceable. Don't let yourself pay more than $40 for one, and you're golden.

Features You Need
At Least 16 GB Storage, Sturdy Case, USB 2.0
Features You Don't Need
Additional Software, Excessive Storage (Over 64 GB), Keychain Attachment, Security Features, USB 3.0
What You Should Pay
Between $10.00 - $20.00
Top Of The Line Price
Over $150.00