Best Cheap USB Flash Drives

Everyone should have a cheap USB flash drive. They're eminently practical and extremely portable. Use one to store a few key work files to be handed over to a colleague, say, or back up important photos and other documents you can't afford to lose. There are USB drives that are large enough to serve as a backup drive, although most people stick to smaller, cheap USB flash drives for quick and easy storage.

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Our Top Pick

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Our Picks
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Speed is the notable feature of this USB 3.0 flash drive, according to Adata S102 Pro reviews. Many of the more than 200 five-star ratings at Newegg highlight how quickly this drive reads and writes data; one user, though, asserts that read speeds beat the specified maximum while write speeds fall way short. Regardless, reviews award points for value, reliability, durability, and overall functionality. Similar comments show up in reviews at Amazon, where one user goes so far as to say this is the best USB flash drive he's ever used. Reviewers also express appreciation for the sleek design and solid build quality. Some users aren't keen on the flash drive's detachable cap, which they fret is easily lost despite a holding place in the back of the device, and a couple grouse about the accompanying software.

The S102 Pro (starting at $15) is available in four sizes -- 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. It sports a USB 3.0 interface, which is backward-compatible with USB 2.0 connections. The drive has an aluminum body for extra durability and a maximum read speed of 100MBps, compared with 30MBps for USB 2.0 flash drives. (Note: Both are theoretical maximums under ideal conditions. Real-world data transfer rates are slower.) As mentioned above, the Adata S102 Pro sports a detachable cap to protect the business end of the flash drive.

If you need a fast USB flash drive to store larger, more complex files or for larger backup jobs, the ADATA S102 Pro is a very good choice. It's faster than any USB 2.0 drive you'll find, affordable, reliable, and durable. Just keep a close eye on the cap so it doesn't go missing.

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The varied uses of this tiny flash drive earn frequent mention in Verbatim Store 'n' Stay reviews. It's the size of a dime, making it ideal for tasks where you'd like to plug in an unobtrusive flash drive and simply forget it's there. After being loaded with favorite MP3 files, users often put it to the test in car stereos, according to reviews at B&H and Amazon, further noting that the flash drive is so small it fades from sight when plugged into a USB port. Reviewers also say this tiny thumb drive is a nifty way to expand storage capacity of Xbox game consoles and that data transfers pretty quickly. We did, however, come across a few reviews at Newegg grousing about drives that ceased functioning after a year or so.

This USB 2.0 drive is available with storage capacities of 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB. Because it's so small, there is no retractable USB connector or cap. In fact, the Verbatim Store 'n' Stay (starting at $16) hardly has any "body" to speak of; it looks almost identical to a tiny RF receiver for a wireless mouse.

Most people think of USB flash drives as a way to transport data from one device to another. You could certainly use the Store 'n' Stay for this purpose, but the diminutive design affords a nearly-invisible way to add more storage to all your USB electronics. It's ideal for car stereos and game consoles, but is also a low-cost and easy way to give your laptop a quick, simple backup drive.

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A good value, proclaim Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn reviews, in part because this USB flash drive can survive some adversity. One review at Office Depot notes how well the folding case protects the USB contacts, and points out there's no cap to lose. At Amazon, a review suggests that over-eager pets wouldn't be able to chew through the case. And at Newegg another user writes that the drive sailed through a complete cycle of the washing machine without any loss of functionality. Contrary assessments emerge here and there, with some Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn reviews expressing concern about the durability of the plastic body (and keychain loop) and reporting crashes after a short period of use. And while the majority of users describe the JumpDrive as plenty speedy for a USB 2.0 model, some complain about slow data transfers.

Buyers of the Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn (starting at $14) have a choice of five storage capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. It features a flip-out "switchblade" design and a built-in activity light so you can see when it's reading or writing data.

The JumpDrive is a good choice for users looking for a traditional USB 2.0 flash drive on the cheap. The drive's design is attractive, and its unusual twist opening protects the connector without a cap. Most users say the drive seems to run faster than the average USB 2.0 model, and it's very affordable.

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Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 reviews award points for a rugged design but hedge when it comes to speedy performance. A review by PC Mag notes that this flash drive can't quite keep pace with other USB 3.0 models although it runs circles around USB 2.0 flash drives. The review also lauds the rubber housing, which protects against moisture and rough handling; a post at Newegg, however, retorts that it takes longer to pull out of a pocket. Predictably, some reviewers grumble about the cap, with the common refrain being "it's easy to lose." Read and write speeds seem to satisfy users although we came across quite a few complaints about limited durability; some Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 reviews report total failure within weeks and others after about a year. Apparently, this drive isn't as tough on the inside as it is on the outside.

You can find the Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 (starting at $18) with four different storage capacities -- 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB -- or chose the USB 2.0 version. (The USB 3.0 version is, as you'd expect, the faster of the two by far.) The device is water-resistant and shockproof thanks to its tough rubber casing.

The Flash Voyager would claim a higher spot on our list if it had a better track record for long-term reliability. It's ironic that a drive designed to take a beating on the outside seems inclined to break down so quickly. Still, it's inexpensive enough and while we wouldn't recommend using it to back up your most important files, it's a good choice when you need to move large amounts of data quickly.

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SanDisk offers several versions of its Cruzer line of USB flash drives, but Cruzer Edge reviews suggest this is one version you should pass on. The drive's plastic construction seems insubstantial, reviews at Newegg, assert; one user claims the device failed within a few months. Quite a few posts at Amazon say the SecureAccess software included with the SanDisk Cruzer Edge is a turnoff; reviewers complain that it's tedious to use, the interface is awkward, expected icons don't appear, and files can't be accessed. Others simply confine their critiques to slow transfer speeds and generally say the device is a nonstarter.

The SanDisk Cruzer Edge (starting at $13) is a 2.0 model that's available with storage capacity of 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB. The drive has a sliding mechanism that retracts the USB connector, obviating the need for a cap. The security software creates a password-protected folder on the flash drive for secure access to some of your files.

Two big knocks against this flash drive, according to reviews: the fragile plastic shell and security software that looks good on paper but fails to deliver. There are other low-cost thumb drives on the market that come far closer to meeting, and sometimes exceeding, users' expectations.

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This small flash drive from PNY is bargain-priced, but most Compact Attache reviews say it's simply too slow, even for one with a USB 2.0 interface. Despite complaints about read/write speeds, some users who posted comments at Best Buy consider it a decent value. PNY Compact Attache reviews at Walmart express similar sentiments, with some adding that the plastic case is prone to cracking and even falling apart.

The PNY Compact Attache (starting at $10) is a thumb drive with no frills. It has a USB 2.0 interface and is available with storage capacity of 4GB, 4GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The plastic case is designed with a sliding collar that exposes the USB connector when you need it, so no worries about losing a cap.

It's a well-known fact that USB 2.0 drives aren't particularly fast. But PNY Compact Attache reviews indicate this drive seems slow even by USB 2.0 standards. And with a plastic case that doesn't seem to stand up to everyday wear and tear, that's two strikes against this low-cost device.

Buying Guide

Cheap USB Flash Drives Buying Guide

Even a cursory online search turns up scores of USB thumb drives in the under-$20 territory. (All the starting prices noted in this buying guide refer to models with 16GB of storage capacity.) Most are simple, utilitarian devices but some add a dash of whimsy with novelty designs featuring favorite cartoon characters or the shape of a surfboard or snowboard.

The best cheap flash drives on our list are the ADATA S102 Pro (starting at $15), a speedy USB 3.0 device that's pretty durable thanks to its aluminum body, and the Verbatim Store 'n' Stay (starting at $16), which is no bigger than a wireless mouse receiver and can hold several gigabytes of data. Sitting in second place are the Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn (starting at $14), which sports an attractive, capless design and is relatively fast for a USB 2.0 model, and the Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 (starting at $18), which is a tough cookie, owing to its rubber, shockproof case, and far faster than any USB 2.0 drive but not quite as peppy as other USB 3.0 devices.

We also identified two budget thumb drives that can't compete with the best: SanDisk's Cruzer Edge (starting at $13), whose included software security seems to annoy users and whose build quality feels flimsy to many. PNY's Compact Attache (starting at $10) is a 2.0 model that takes heat from users for being slow and for a plastic case that cracks easily.

Cheap USB flash drives are very simple products without lots of features. The two most important are speed and storage size. USB 3.0 drives are faster and often cost more than USB 2.0 drives, but the price difference is hardly prohibitive. The size of a flash drive has a far greater impact on price. You'll find plenty of smaller drives in the 2GB to 8GB range that cost less than $10 while those in the 64GB range typically cost $30 or more. (Very large drives, 128GB and up, may cost more than $100.) Flash drives with 16GB of storage are ample enough for everyday needs and priced to appeal to budget-conscious users.

The performance of a USB flash drive depends on its interface (USB 2.0 or USB 3.0) and the number and size of the files you're copying. Quick data transfers are important for some users, especially if they want to copy large files (such as video) or many files to a thumb drive. For those users, a USB 3.0 flash drive is essential. However, if you simply want to back up basic files, such as documents or a few photos or songs, one of the best cheap USB 2.0 flash drives will do just fine.

USB Flash Drive Reviews

Speed is the primary performance criterion, according to USB flash drive reviews. The best budget models run at a decent clip but only one of the two 3.0 drives on our list impresses with its speed. The other drives we researched -- nearly all featuring a 2.0 interface -- generate at least some comments about pokey performance.

USB Flash Drives Speed

The maximum theoretical speed of a USB flash drive depends on its interface. Current models are available with USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 interfaces, the former being the fastest by far. In theory USB 3.0 drives, such as the Adata 102 Pro (starting at $15)LINK, can read data at 100MB a second and write data at about 50MB a second, whereas USB 2.0 drives top out at about 30MB a second for read speeds and 20MB a second for write speeds. Real-world performance, however, is considerably slower depending on the specific flash drive, the PC or other device it's plugged into, and the data being read by or written on the drive. In the field, USB 2.0 drives typically read and write at less than 10MB a second. USB 3.0 drives are several times faster, but actual speeds vary considerably from drive to drive.

USB flash drive reviews indicate that the ADATA S102 Pro (starting at $15) is indeed the fastest device we checked out. Comments posted at Newegg and Amazon rave about its lickety-split performance, which is hardly surprising given the USB 3.0 interface. The Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 (starting at $18) boasts, as the name indicates, a 3.0 interface that a review at PC Mag pegs as slower than other such models but faster than USB 2.0 drives.

For the 2.0 USB flash drives we researched, reviews toggle back and forth. Some posts at Walmart, for example, say the tiny Verbatim Store 'n' Stay (starting at $16) transfers data quickly while others consider it a tad sluggish. Most users are satisfied with the pace set by the Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn (starting at $14), according to flash drive reviews at Amazon, while a few at Newegg say it's slower than expected. The Kingston DataTraveler 101 Gen2 (starting at $11), another model we checked out, is described as pretty fast in performance reviews at Best Buy while some USB flash drive reviews at Amazon and Newegg assert the opposite.

Critiques of the SanDisk Cruzer Edge (starting at $13) primarily focus on the awkward security software and dubious construction, but a few posts at Amazon complain that the interface is slow, as well. The sibling SanDisk Cruzer (starting at $15) evades critiques of its design but is prey to reviewer grumbles about speed. PNY's Compact Attache (starting at $10)takes heat for indifferent performance in a few USB flash drive reviews at Best Buy and Amazon.

USB Flash Drives Storage and Design

USB Flash Drives Storage

The amount of data a thumb drive can store is usually the first thing shoppers consider when deciding which one to buy. USB flash drive storage capacity on cheaper models is relatively small -- from 2GB to 16GB -- although the former still provides a decent amount of space. The number of files you can save on a flash drive depends on the sizes of the files themselves, of course, but a chart from Verbatim shows that USB flash drive storage capacity in an 8GB model holds up to 2,600 10MP photos, about two hours of video, and about 2,000 MP3 files. That's a lot of storage for so little money. Prices for thumb drives rise along with storage capacity; some 128GB models go for more than $100.

The USB flash drives we researched come in a variety of storage sizes. The ADATA S102 Pro is available in four versions, from 8GB to 64GB, as is the Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0. Verbatim's little Store 'n' Stay ranges from 4GB to 16GB. Lexar's JumpDrive TwistTurn USB flash drive starts at 4GB and expands into four more storage sizes, topping out at 64GB; ditto for the PNY Compact Attache. SanDisk's Cruzer Edge offers the smallest capacity -- 2GB -- and reaches its limit at 32GB.

USB Flash Drives Design

USB flash drives present with all sorts of structural designs. Drives may have a metal, plastic, or rubberized exterior. Some include a cap to protect the USB connector whereas others adhere to a capless design in which the connector swivels or slides out from the body. Then there are the novelty USB flash drives, some designed to look like pop culture characters from shows such as The Simpsons or Family Guy.

Many consumer and expert reviewers prefer capless USB drives because the caps are so easy to lose; among the models we researched, only the Adata 102 Pro and Corsair Flash Voyager are fitted with a cap. The Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn, Kingston DataTraveler 1010 Gen2, PNY Compact Attache, and SanDisk Cruzer and Cruzer Edge are all capless USB drives.

The body construction may determine how durable the thumb drive is. The Adata 102 Pro features an aluminum shell, which seems quite durable, and the Corsair Flash Voyager boasts a shock-resistant rubber body. Kingston's DataTraveler has a mostly plastic body with a metal cover that slides over the USB connector.

The other drives we researched have a plastic housing that often proves too fragile for users' tastes. The SanDisk Cruzer Edge is dinged by many reviewers at Newegg and Amazon for flimsy build quality. The plastic shell of the PNY Compact Attache cracks easily and falls apart, according to posts at Walmart. Lexar's TwistTurn is tough enough, users at Amazon assert, but a post at Newegg contends the plastic case isn't sufficiently durable.

Verbatim's Store 'n' Stay is a bit of an anomaly among USB flash drives. It's no bigger than a dime and unlike most drives, which are designed to be portable, the Store n' Stay is meant to be plugged into a USB port and left there. This setup is ideal for a little unobtrusive extra laptop storage. We found, though, that many purchasers like to load MP3s on the Store n' Stay and then plug it into a car stereo, giving them easy access to a large library of music. Shoppers at Walmart also point out that this little drive is perfect to use as extra storage for an Xbox game console.