USB sticks are key to how we use our PCs these days. If you want to shift some huge pictures or videos around, then the best option is to throw them on a USB stick.

Need to backup your most important documents? USB stick. Game saves and even games (we're staying firmly on the right side of the law here)? USB stick. You get the idea.

USB stick are small, spacious and incredibly versatile. We use them in the office all the time, for moving everything from screenshots to benchmark suites. And each of us has several smaller drives littering our desks.

Surely a bigger drive is the solution here? Well, yes, that's exactly what we need. Not all drives are created equal though. Some are bigger, faster and cheaper than others, while many ship with all manner of gadgets, utilities and little extras that purport to make them easier or safer to use.

And as boring as it may be, safety is one of those things that hangs around removable storage like a bad smell (especially if you work for a government agency). If, for instance, you have a bunch of personal photos or financial details on your pen drive, and you leave it on the train, then there's a good chance that anyone who picks it up is going to be able to get an eyeful.

The trick with security, especially with something as versatile as this, is that it needs to be as unobtrusive as possible, while still protecting you. We've looked at the security options of each drive we've looked at, and rated them accordingly.

In order to test these USB drives we've used two synthetic benchmarks – the venerable HDTach and the equally taxing ATTO Disk Benchmark. Both of these are available for free download from www.simplisoftware.com and www.attotech.com respectively, so you can bench your current pen drives to see how they compare.

We've backed up these synthetic tests with real world timings, copying across a variety of files and then averaging out the times to get a real write speed.

And to make it easy to see which drives offer the best value for money, we've also shown the price per gigabyte of each of the drives we've tested.

Let's test...

Corsair Flash Voyager GT 64GB
£151.92
Web: www.corsair.com
Shop: www.scan.co.uk

The GT is a rung lower than the all-out performance GTR range, but is slightly more affordable. It's close though – the GTR spin is only £15 more.

Corsair flash voyager gt and gtr

But what does that £15 saving and a slight change in hue equate to in performance terms? Read performance is only marginally slower; it's the writes that take the brunt of the savings; taking almost half as long again to copy across our test data.

As with the GTR, this is a rugged drive that will last you and the sheer amount of capacity on offer should appeal to anyone that wants to shift around large images and media files.

Rating: 71

Corsair Flash Voyager GTR 32GB
£86.76
Web: www.corsair.com
Shop: www.ebuyer.com

The GTR range is Corsair's high-performance family, which quotes 28MB/s writes and 34MB/s reads. In testing we saw figures not far off those numbers, with the real-world test being equal first among the USB drives.

Corsair hasn't thrown in software that you'll never use, but it has included a USB extension cable and a lanyard for those that need to wear pen drives as jewellery.

Build quality is a definite plus, although the price Corsair is asking is a little over the odds, despite the strong performance and build quality, especially in light of eSATA drives.

Rating: 86

Sandisk Ultra Backup USB 64GB
£149.99
Web: www.sandisk.co.uk
Shop: www.expansys.com

How do you use your USB pen drive? Do you slot it into a spare USB slot and drag files onto it using Windows Explorer?

In SanDisk's eyes that's so last year, and in regard to backing up, clicking the small button on the drive is definitely the way it should be done. It works well, although for us old hands, Explorer is still the way to go.

Sandisk ultra backup

It's a natty little drive; physically at least. The USB connector slides out of harm's way easily, and the overall build quality is good – lending an impression of sturdiness to it.

The one downside is that it's only slightly cheaper than the Corsair GT 64GB model, yet is noticeably slower in read and write performance. It took around a minute to copy our test data across, while the faster drives here are capable of doing the same in half that time.

Rating: 80

Transcend JetFlash 620 32GB
£78.90
Web: www.transcend-uk.com
Shop: www.transcend-uk.com

The JetFlash 620 boasts integrated 256-bit AES encryption, which means your data is going to be nighon impossible to hack if it does fall into the wrong hands.

Transcend jetflash 620

Unlike other pen drives that simply password protect the files, the JetFlash 620 creates a whole password protected partition, which does make the whole process of copying files around much easier. If you don't need this level of protection, then the 600 series is slightly cheaper, but effectively the same drive.

In raw performance terms, the drive turned in a good score, producing results only a little behind the Corsair GTR and Verbatim.

And while the drive isn't protected by a rubber sheath, the build quality, size and choice of materials make it a pleasant drive. It's not the fastest or the cheapest, but it's secure.

Rating: 82

Verbatim 32GB eSATA/USB Combo SSD
£91.22
Web: www.verbatim-europe.co.uk
Shop: www.aprmedia.co.uk

We love eSATA for the simple fact that it's much faster than USB 2.0. In testing, this unit was almost twice as fast when used in its eSATA form and easily the fastest drive here.

We do find eSATA a little hit and miss though. One of our test rigs refused to see this drive in eSATA mode even when we used the fugly power cable included. Thankfully this is a fast blighter when plugged in the other way round too, making it a tempting choice for any performance junkie.

Verbatim esata/usb combo

The build quality is a little uninspiring; its cheap plastic shell hardly instils confidence. The white thumb rest enables you to switch between eSATA and USB 2.0 modes, but we'd prefer no-moving parts.

Verbatim's included a copy of EasyLock, but since this is only a 30-day trial, upgrading will set you back a shade over a tenner. But Verbatim's main problem is that the versatile OCZ Throttle can be had for £15 less and turns in similar results.

Rating: 82