With cloud storage systems, external hard drives, and the ever-popular tape backups, there are many ways to store your data but few of them are as portable, reliable, and easy as the USB flash drive. Servers crash, hard drives bug out, and tapes are just so ghetto that you really don’t want to put all your snazzy data onto them. Thumb drives are not beset by the same problems that each of these formats have. Plus, you can swallow a thumb drive if you need to hide your Sailor Moon fan fiction quickly .
Though most flash drives look the same, there are subtle differences that set apart the good from the bad. Good ones are able to take a hit without being damaged, they are able to transfer data quickly so that you can upload the virus to the alien mothership before the drones catch you, they offer on-board security, and they are able to give you enough space to keep all of your pics of the world’s cutest kittehs LOL! For a few dollars, you can get a decent drive, but when your data is a matter of grave importance, you need to upgrade to the big leagues.
SanDisk Extreme Pro
All In One: The Extreme Pro only comes in one size, 128 gigs. This is a cocky move on the part of SanDisk, but there is purpose to it. The larger size helps them implement their Secure Access 128-Bit AES security system. From the first time you plug it in, every file you store on it is encrypted so that even if you lose the drive, it would take some serious skills to crack it. Not only is it protected from intrusion from the inside out, but the solid aluminum body and padding mean it can take a beating.
The data transfer speed on the Extreme Pro are fast. Like, ninja fast. It pushes the USB 3.0 technology to the limit with 240MB per second write speed and 260MB per second read ability. It uses a FAT32 file system making it plug-and-play compatible with both Windows and Mac systems. For you rebels, it works with almost any Linux distribution out there, but it might take a little extra work. The only issue is that SanDisk is trading on their illustrious name, meaning you’ll pay a little more to keep your data away from prying eyes. [Purchase: $150]
Corsair Survivor Stealth
Protection from Punishment: While the average USB thumb drive can survive being submerged in water for a few minutes without too much damage, not many can take a full turn through the washing machine or hours sitting in floodwater. That is why the Survivor was created. It uses a housing with a screw cap and internal gaskets to ensure that the drive itself remains bone dry and safe no matter how rough your lifestyle. It can even take up to 40G’s of impact force.
While it is tough as nails on the outside, it doesn’t bear any standard security on the inside, so you’ll need to implement your own encryption. It comes in sizes ranging from 16 GB to 256 GB, so the capacities are moderate. The maximum read speed is only 85 MB/second and it writes at about 70 MB/second, so speed isn’t it’s strong suit either. The Survivor is intended for taking indispensable data behind enemy lines and very little else. Uses USB 3.0 and works with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems from the word go. [Purchase: $28+]
Kingston DataTraveler HyperX Predator
Size Does Matter: The Predator is very expensive, but given the massive storage size it offers, the expense isn’t actually exorbitant. You’ll spend slightly less than a dollar for each gigabyte of storage space, which is better than you’ll get from most quality drives. Your storage size choices are limited to either 512 gigs or a full terabyte, part of which will be eaten up by the third-party encryption software you will need to install.
In addition to extreme size, the Predator also has read/write speeds that can go up to 240 MB/second when reading and 160 MB/second writing, which makes it one of the quickest cats in the digital jungle. You can store entire programs on it and run them right from the drive itself, so no dragging, dropping, or installing necessary. The exterior is protected by a zinc-metal alloy, so standard impact won’t injure it. The whole package is bulky, but well worth it when you have the scratch on hand and hundreds of gigs you can’t lose. [Purchase: $505-$980]
By Spies, For Spies: This is the first tiny flash drive to use USB 3.0 while keeping a 5mm profile. The transfer speeds get close to 150 MB/second, which is nearly double what you can expect for comparable drives. The tiny footprint means it can only reach 64GB in storage capacity and it bears absolutely no internal security out of the box. You’ll also be forced to import it.
What the K’1 does is offer a very low-profile and high concealability. If push comes to shove, it can always be implanted under your skin with relative ease – and a surprising amount of pain. It virtually disappears when plugged in, so there is no risk of snagging or snapping off, even if you are constantly moving your computer. The aluminum body is very sturdy and hard to damage. Works with Linux, Mac, and Windows systems. [Purchase: $100]
Fortress Grade Security: When you buy an Ironkey, you’re paying to know that your data is as safe as if it were resting atop a pile of gold in Fort Knox and as well guarded as it would be on Alcatraz during it’s heyday. The D250 gives enterprise-grade encryption to the average consumer with full 256 AES protection that is FIPS level-3 certified so you can move government and military data on it securely. It also has self-formatting algorithms in place so even if it falls into enemy hands, a few failed logins or attempts to crack the security will cause the drive to wipe itself clean, erasing everything on it.
While the interior protection is stellar, the exterior is not nearly as hardy. It is unlikely to break, but it isn’t wise to test it too stringently. The end cap is fine, but also easy to lose which can leave the USB plug exposed. Due to the extreme encryption the reading and writing speeds are relatively low at about 120 MB/second each. [Purchase: $113]
Money to Burn: If you want a jewel-encrusted thumb drive with embarrassingly small storage that will cost you thousands of dollars and looks like something you would loot from a pharaoh’s tomb, then the Magic Mushroom from La Maison Shawish will meet all of your criteria. It only has a storage capacity of 32 megs. Transfer speeds are ridiculously low, but the tacky thing is 9.18 carats, so it will flesh out your bling collection nicely. Rumors abound that Bieber and Kim Kardashian both have one in their “swag” collection, so you’ll be in the absolute best company. [Purchase: $37,000]
Honorable Mention: The iStick isn’t especially good as a true USB flash drive, but it is the only one that comes with an on-board Lightning interface. If you are merely looking to transfer data, there are simpler (and much, MUCH cheaper) ways to do it. What the iStick does that is unique is it expands the capacity and abilities of any iOS device, making it a must-have for the Apple fanatic that needs to push their iPad or iPhone to the limit. It has a video player built in that can handle file types normally forbidden on Apple devices. It will play .AVI, .WMV, and even .MKV with ease as well as expand your storage. [Purchase: $129+]