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Best flash drives of 2021: USB memory sticks for all your data storage needs

Included in this guide:

A USB flash drive with the words "best USB flash drive" next to it on a gray background
Here are the best USB flash drives of 2021. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

If you think that flash drives are obsolete, think again. These days, the best flash drives still very much serve their purpose of making your files portable without forcing you to spend $100 / £100 or more. They’ll let you bring any file you need with you without forcing you to lug your laptop around.

Storing your important files and documents in a tiny pocket-sized device that’s robust and dependable have been these flash drives’ main purpose. But, to keep up with the times, they’ve increased their data transfer speeds and storage capacity to up to 256GB as well, in case you need something for storing videos, music or long term storage. Of course, if there is sensitive information you’d like to save, there are many that come with data encryption and security to ensure that your files are safe.

Also known as memory sticks, USB drives will offer plenty of storage space despite their small size, as well as be durable enough to survive the perils of transport. So, we gathered the best ones for every need and budget below. Unlike external SSDs or hard drives, they won’t cost you a small fortune.

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Kingston DataTraveler Max

The Kingston DataTraveler Max features a slim plastic chassis which makes it light and extremely portable. (Image credit: Future)

1. Kingston DataTraveler Max 1TB USB flash drive

Packs the performance of an NVMe SSD

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB
Interface: USB-C
Reasons to buy
+Small and compact+Excellent performance
Reasons to avoid
-Type-C port limits compatibility

The Kingston DataTraver Max is a blazingly fast USB flash drive that packs in the performance of an external SSD in small chassis. It also features a keyring loop for additional portability and its sliding cover means that you won't have to worry about losing a cap.

While the 1TB model will allow you to bring all of your most important files with you, Kingston also offers both a 256GB and a 512GB version. The USB-C port does limit compatibility with older devices but this USB flash drive will pair well with most modern Android smartphones.

Read the full review: Kingston DataTraveler Max

Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 at an angle with its cap off on a white background

If your flash drive needs demand blazing fast speeds, then the Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 is an excellent choice. (Image Credit: Patriot)

2. Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 USB flash drive

High-end USB

Specifications
Capacity: 128GB
Interface: USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
+Extremely fast+Huge capacity
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

If your flash drive needs demand blazing fast speeds, then one of the best USB flash drives to consider is the Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 is definitely the one for you. Sure, the price is high, but we were blown away with just how fast this device is. If you need to move around large files quickly, then this is definitely worth the cost.

It also comes with 128GB of storage space, which is a phenomenal amount to carry around in your pocket. Just make sure you don't lose it! 

SanDisk Extreme CZ80 at an angle on a white background

The SanDisk Extreme CZ80 offers plenty of storage space and fast file transfer speeds. (Image Credit: SanDisk)

3. SanDisk Extreme CZ80 USB flash drive

Fast, reliable and cheap

Specifications
Capacity: 32GB
Interface: USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
+Cheap+Fast
Reasons to avoid
-Not quite the fastest stick out there

The brilliantly priced SanDisk Extreme CZ80 is among the best USB drives, as it offers plenty of storage space and fast file transfer speeds. Be prepared to be impressed as while it’s priced more towards the budget end of USB sticks, its performance is anything but budget. This one’s is a speedy little performer. 

Plus, the slide-out design of this stick means you can tuck the USB interface into the body when not in use, protecting it and minimizing the risk of it getting damaged when you're carrying it around.

Verbatim Pinstripe at an angle on a white background

The Verbatim Pinstripe is the cheapest USB 3.0 drive on the market per GB. (Image Credit: Verbatim)

4. Verbatim Pinstripe USB flash drive

Best 128GB USB drive

Specifications
Capacity: 128GB
Interface: USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
+High capacity+Good price
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most robust drive-Not very fast

This is the cheapest USB 3.0 drive on the market per GB. It comes with a two-year warranty as well as a capless/retractable cap design. 

It’s worth noting that Verbatim - a very well-known Japanese storage and memory manufacturer - sells it on its website where you’ll often find excellent deals on the device. As if it isn’t cheap enough as it is.

PNY Turbo 256GB at an angle on a white background

The PNY Turbo 256GB boasts read/write speeds of 80Mbps and 20Mbps respectively. (Image Credit: PNY)

5. PNY Turbo 256GB USB flash drive

Best 256GB USB drive

Specifications
Capacity: 256GB
Interface: USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
+Huge capacity+Good speeds
Reasons to avoid
-No built-in encryption

PNY is another memory manufacturer turned player in the USB market. The PNY Turbo 256GB USB drive one of the best USB drives right now, featuring a capped design for protecting as well as read/write speeds of 80Mbps and 20Mbps respectively. 

These are not the fastest speeds out there so if you require something with more oomph, then check out some of the other USB drives in this roundup.

Patriot Viper Fang at an angle on a white background

The Patriot Viper Fang has a zinc alloy body with aluminum accent. (Image Credit: Patriot) (Image credit: Patriot)

6. Patriot Viper Fang

Large storage space for gamers

Specifications
Capacity: 128GB – 1TB
Interface: USB 3.1
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Durable
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast

The Patriot Supersonic is a USB 3.1 drive (compatible with USB 3.0 and 2.0) from one of the most established memory players on the market. However, the manufacturer is a relative newcomer to this segment.

Still, this hard drive rightly deserves a spot on this list, with its a zinc alloy body with aluminum accent and read/write speeds of 380Mbps and 70Mbps respectively. Let’s just say that it’s no slouch. Plus, it also comes with a five-year warranty.

Samsung T3 SSD from the front on a white background

The Samsung T3 SSD offers absurdly high read speeds of up to 450Mbps. (Image Credit: Samsung)

7. Samsung T3 SSD USB flash drive

Best 1TB USB Drive

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB
Interface: USB 3.1
Reasons to buy
+Very good performance+Very high capacity
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

If you are looking in the premium territory of the best USB flash drives, then the Samsung T3 is worth taking a look at. Not only does it offer absurdly high read speeds of up to 450Mbps thanks to Samsung's own 3D V-NAND technology, but it also comes with a three-year warranty and has a USB Type C connector.

Note that it is much bigger than a traditional flash drive and it does cost about five times a traditional hard drive of a similar capacity. In comparison, a 1TB SSD like the Samsung EVO 850 costs just £240. It comes with V-NAND like the Samsung Portable T1 and it does boast speeds of 530Mbps and 520Mbps in read/write mode respectively. Note that you will need to get a separate enclosure to get it to work with a standard USB port.

SanDisk Ultra Fit CZ43 at an angle on a white background

The SanDisk Ultra Fit CZ43 is a low-profile USB stick. (Image Credit: SanDisk)

8. SanDisk Ultra Fit CZ43 USB flash drive

Small and unobtrusive

Specifications
Capacity: 32GB
Interface: USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
+Compact and portable+Cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Not very fast

If you don't want a USB stick jutting out the side of your laptop or tablet while you use it or having one is simple not ideal – for example, when you’re using it while traveling, then a low-profile USB stick is an excellent choice. Take the SanDisk Ultra Fit CZ43. It’s small and light enough to easily carry around. And, when it's plugged into your laptop, it doesn't stick out much from the body, making it more secure when you’re using it on the go.

That’s not all; it’s also very cheap, at around £10 for the 32GB version, with 64GB and 128GB versions also available. It's not quite as fast as many of the best USB flash drives we mentioned here, but if you want a small form factor USB stick, it's worth the trade-off.

How to choose your USB memory sticks?

  • It's not worth looking for memory sticks smaller than 64GB simply because the price difference you pay for two or four times the storage is tiny.
  • Make sure you include delivery price when doing the numbers as quite often you end up paying more for the postage than the drive itself, particularly for low cost models.
  • USB 2.0 is sufficient for smaller capacities but not for bigger ones where write speeds can get sluggish. Larger flash drives (128GB or more) often come only with a USB 3.0 connector.
  • If you plan on moving files to and from portable devices (tablets or smartphones), consider a memory stick with a microUSB connector and a full-size USB one.
  • Avoid buying your memory sticks from vendors with little feedback on auction websites as these drives might turn out to be fake. All the vendors listed are tried and trusted ones.
  • Above 128GB, you might want to consider a SSD if you want ruggedness, portability, versatility and better performance without the cost.
  • Note that the capacities are likely to be lower than stated when they are formatted and mounted on an operating system.
Desire Athow

Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology in a career spanning four decades. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. He has an affinity for anything hardware and staunchly refuses to stop writing reviews of obscure products or cover niche B2B software-as-a-service providers.