- The Best Overall Thumb Drive: SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB
- The Fastest USB Thumb Drive: Lexar 128GB JumpDrive P20
- The Most Secure USB Thumb Drive: Apricorn Aegis Secure
USB Thumb Drives use flash memory to store and transfer data. These little guys have been around for awhile, and are a quick and effective means of transferring data. There are a couple factors to keep in mind when purchasing a USB thumb drive. The first is speed. The era of slow-as-molasses thumb drives is gone but not forgotten, and many of today’s USB 3.0 drives still leave something to be desired.
You also want a drive with encryption. The sad truth is that USB drives are easy to lose, especially if you use shared computers. Get a device that can encrypt your files so strangers can’t access them if they find your drive.
Finally, you want a durable device. While the exact level of ruggedness you want may vary, make sure to get a well constructed product that doesn’t overheat or jam up in a slide.
The Best Overall Thumb Drive: SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB
For the pasts few years, California-based SanDisk has produced the best USB 3.0 thumb drive. Their 64GB Extreme CZ80 is fast, affordable, and secure.
This drive delivers read and write speeds at a significantly faster clip than most competitors. SanDisk advertises read speeds up to 245MBs and write speeds of 190MBs, and user benchmarks confirm that these speeds are mostly accurate. This means you can transfer a full-length SD movie in about 10 seconds. That’s 50x faster than old USB 2.0 drives (and double the speed of many 3.0 drives). This drive is ideal for transferring large files, both due to its capacity and speed relative to other options on the market.
The drive also protects your files with AES 128-bit encryption and a secure access vault that works on both Macs and USB. It also includes RescuePRO data recovery software. The Extreme is made with durable plastic, not the most rugged USB drive on the market, but it is solidly constructed and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. It’s also not the most discrete, coming in at 2.8 inches long. But the speed and value of this device cannot be beat for most users.
The Fastest USB Thumb Drive: Lexar 128GB JumpDrive P20
USB drives get a bum rap for their slow speeds. Earlier models had read and write speeds in the low teens, while even many of today’s USB 3.0 drives take twice as long as an external hard drive. But the Lexar 128GB Jump Drive P20 delivers an impressive read/write speed of 400/270MBs. That speed is fast enough to transfer an HD movie in less than the time it takes a Netflix video to load and buffer.
The JumpDrive P20 is housed in a sturdy metal alloy case with a glossy black mirror finish. It’s a retractable drive, which made me suspicious at first, as retractable drives are prone to jamming or otherwise breaking. But the P20 slides along solidly (if not a little stiff) and is protected by a lock mechanism that keeps it safe when extended. At 25 grams, it has a nice heft to it. Lexar includes a limited lifetime warranty. I also like the 256-bit AES encryption via EncryptStickTM Lite software.
The main draw is the drive’s USB 3.0 capacity. This drive runs faster than many external HDDs. While it doesn’t touch SSD speeds, it gets the job done fast enough to be a viable option for large data transfers. Transfer 1000 photos in 1 minute 15 seconds or a full-length HD movie in 36 seconds.
The Most Secure USB Thumb Drive: Apricorn Aegis Secure
The Apricorn Aegis Secure Key is the perfect storage device for a small amount of data. There are two steps to protect your data. First, it requires you to enter a 7-15 digit code on an alphanumeric keyboard.
The second layer of security comes from 256-bit AES Military Grade Hardware Encryption. The Secure Key is tested by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and receives a FIPS 140-2 Level 3 cryptography specification. It doesn’t need any software or firmware to run. That means there’s no risk of a firmware hack. Finally, it protects against brute force attacks with a mechanism that deletes the encryption key if an incorrect PIN is entered too many times.
You can set up an Admin PIN as well as individual user PINs, so companies can recycle the keys if they are granted to new users. The keypad is powered by a battery and is convenient to use. It also resits dust and water ingress. The rest of the device is also solidly constructed in water-resistant aluminum casing. This version uses USB 2.0. A USB 3.0 version exists, but has a few issues (like overheating) that this version doesn’t have.