how to choose the best USB flash drive (or pen drive)

Are you currently in the market to buy an USB flash drive? Well, if not you can always do with a better one for your key chain, office or car…right? There are some obvious specifications that you look for in the flash drive…such as the capacity, compatibility, physical size etc. But there are also some other and probably more important specifications that you should look for that will make sure that you get the most for your money.

Before you venture out to buy one of these, assess your needs.

  1. What are you going to store in the flash or pen drive? Is it photos, videos, music or something else ?
  2. How often are you going to carry it with you?
  3. Will you be reading files from the drive more often than writing to it? Or is it the other way around?
  4. Is there a specific feature that you absolutely need (or want)?
  5. What is your budget?

It is best if you can write down the answers for the above questions before you start looking for one. That will keep you focused on your needs rather than be swayed (or distracted) by the advertised functionalities of the drive. Depending on the answers you gave to the question above, consider the following factors and specifications…

1) Storage Space : Get more than you need

Depending on the files that you want to save or transfer, the need will vary. If you are planning to use it for music, videos or photos you will need much more space than if you are using it to transfer or save text files.Take a look at the sizes of the files in your computer that you are planning to copy to the USB flash drive to get an estimate.

Always buy a bigger capacity drive than you think you need. You will always need more in the future. 32GB or more is pretty much the norm these days. Also, the storage is pretty cheap.

2) Physical Size : Smaller the better

This may not sound like a big deal, but if you plan to carry it around all the time in a key fob or in your pocket, then smaller the better. Also, look for something which has a fold-able design or has a cap to protect the metal part which plugs into the USB port. Then again the cap should not be something which falls or get loose off all the time. This will protect the drive from wear and tear in most cases.

3) USB 3.0/2.0 : Get both

Unless it is completely out of your price range, get a drive which supports USB 3.0 but is also backward compatible to USB 2.0. That will make sure that you get a long life out of it and will be compatible with the most number of machines out there.

Unless you have one those latest model computers, it is unlikely that you have USB 3.0. And it is highly unlikely that you want to buy a new one just to plug this USB drive in. But buying a USB 3.0 compatible drive will make sure that you can have faster speeds when you do buy a new computer in the future.

4) Brand : Avoid cheap knockoffs

Most USB flash drives work pretty reliably and I do not have a personal favorite. But beware of cheap knockoffs! If something is much cheaper than other brands and it is a brand name you have not heard of before, beware. Do some research before buying one of those.

Now for the features that manufactures may not necessarily advertise and you will have to read the fine print. Some of the packing i saw in the market did not even have these specifications in the fine print, so you will have to do your research beforehand. Well, as a rule of thumb if they are not already telling you about any of these then it is probably not very good. If they are any good in any of these factors, trust me they will put that on the cover.

5) Read speed : Faster the better

This is the speed at which you will be accessing the files that you copied on to your flash drive. The faster this is, the better. If you are copying large music files or video files you will certainly appreciate the speed. Beware of the wording in the package in this case, some mention the maximum speed supported by the USB 3.0/2.0 specification rather than the actual speed the drive itself can support. Most of them will claim “high performance” and “the fastest” but that is hardly the case.

USB 2.0 claim upto 60 MB/s, but something around 30 MB/s is more the norm. Look for something around this or more. If you are looking at USB 3.0 then you should be looking at something around 100 MB/s.

6) Write speed : Faster the better

Do you plan to use the drive to do backups of files or applications often? Then this is the speed at which you will be writing the files on to the drive. The faster it is, the faster your backup will be. I have seen differences of up to 20 minutes between drives for the same number of files. Again as with the read speed, beware of the wording.

I have found the norm to be around 5 MB/s which pretty slow for writing. Look for something which is at least 10 MB/s for USB 2.0 specification. The USB 3.0 is much faster and you should be looking at something like 100 MB/s.

7) Encryption : Hmm…maybe

Do you plan to walk around town with classified information in your drive or do you have anything that you do not want somebody else to see if you accidentally lose it? Then you might want to look at the encryption (some makers call it “secure”) features of the drive. You can choose between either hardware or software encryption. You might have to delve into the user manual or detailed specs for the drive to find more about it.

8) Other features : Nah..Forget it.

Some makers provide additional software with the purchase of the drive like MP3 players and games and such. I tend to avoid these drives as much as possible as i find it more of a nuisance than anything else, especially when it starts downloading all kinds of software and installing it on your machine. I just want to plug play and go. But your taste may vary…

So now you have identified the features that are important to you. I recommend that read and write speed top your list in addition to the storage space. Once you have identified these, do some research to find at least five appropriate drives which match your criteria and rank them in the order you like to have them.

9) Price : Ahhh….

Now, the one thing which might probably influence your decision the most, the price. That is why I wanted to keep it till the end. Compare the prices of the drives that you have chosen and select the one which you wanted the most (remember you ranked them at the top of the post!) and is actually within your budget.

Remember that the cheapest is not always the best option. You will get more bang for the buck in the long run no matter what the cost, if you choose the right one.

Note: A USB flash drive is also known as a Jump drive, Flash drive, Pen drive or a Thumb drive depending on the make (and your location).