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Cloud storage is great, but the humble USB flash drive is tried and true — and it isn’t going anywhere just yet.

From backing up your data to installing operating systems Install Ubuntu On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive Install Ubuntu On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive Want to install Ubuntu but don't have a spare blank DVD? Don't worry! After downloadin the ISO file, you can use a highly-reusable USB flash drive to get the job done. Read More , it’s still incredibly useful. But there are some things you should know before you purchase your next flash drive so that you can get the most out of it.

1) Similar Specs Can Be Deceiving

If you find yourself with two similar flash drives and asking, “Both of these have USB 3.0, are made by the same brand, and have 64GB of storage. Why does one cost more?”, the answer is quality of components, which dictate how well your drive will perform.

usb-flash-drive-Sandisk-extreme-usb-3

Two things determine the speed of a flash drive: the USB port itself and the flash drive’s components.

USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0 USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0 beats USB 2.0 in so many ways. Here's everything you need to know about why you should always pick USB 3.x when possible. Read More , but the standard must be supported by both the USB port and the drive itself. If your flash drive is USB 3.0 but your computer’s port is USB 2.0, transfers will happen at USB 2.0 speeds. (Roughly speaking, USB 3.0 transmits data at 100 MB/s while USB 2.0 transmits at 15 MB/s.)

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The other thing that affects speed is the type of flash memory and controller used in the stick. The best drives use the same types of advanced controllers and quality of memory that are found in solid state drives (SSD) while cheaper drives use cheaper components, which aren’t as good at transferring and storing data.

SanDisk Extreme 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive With Speed Up To 190MB/s- SDCZ80-064G-G46 SanDisk Extreme 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive With Speed Up To 190MB/s- SDCZ80-064G-G46 Super-Fast Transfer Speeds (up to 190 MB/sec for USB 3.0 enabled host) Buy Now At Amazon $29.95

Here’s an example that illustrates: the Sandisk Extreme USB 3.0 drive writes at around 200MB/s while most other USB 3.0 drives transmits at 100 to 110 MB/s. They might seem like “the same” on the surface, but you get nearly double the speed. Worth it? You bet.

2) Smaller & Thinner: Not Always Better

One problem with most flash drives is that their bodies are so big that they make it troublesome to use adjoining USB ports when plugged in. The good news is, flash drives tend to follow Moore’s law What Is Moore's Law, And What Does It Have To Do With You? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Moore's Law, And What Does It Have To Do With You? [MakeUseOf Explains] Bad luck has nothing to do with Moore's Law. If that is the association you had, you are confusing it with Murphy's Law. However, you were not far off because Moore's Law and Murphy's Law... Read More , which means that they’ve become smaller and smaller over the years.

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The trade-off for size, though, is speed. Smaller flash drives are convenient and portable, but once they get too small, they can’t fit those quality components that were mentioned above.

Better components usually require more physical space, and cutting size means compromising. As Moore’s law picks up in coming years, we’ll eventually see thinner and smaller flash drives that offer the kind of performance you see on higher-quality drives — but they aren’t here yet.

Transcend JetFlash T3 Series 16 GB Ultra-Slim Metallic Flash Drive (TS16GJFT3S) Transcend JetFlash T3 Series 16 GB Ultra-Slim Metallic Flash Drive (TS16GJFT3S) Refined zinc alloy body and stainless steel protection plate Buy Now At Amazon $22.36

So if you need convenience and portability, a smaller drive is fine, but if you want a powerful drive, then you may need to settle for bigger. Need a flash drive that’s small enough to carry around anywhere, looks good, and isn’t expensive? We recommend looking at the Transcend JetFlash Ultra Slim.

3) Limited Lifespans, But That’s Okay

On average, flash drives last for 3,000 to 5,000 write cycles Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More . Seeing a hard number after which your flash drive will stop functioning might cause panic, but don’t worry. That’s a lot of cycles, and most flash drives won’t ever last that long. (For comparison, most flash drives last for millions of read cycles.)

usb-flash-drive-lives-limited

You’re much more likely to damage your flash drive’s connector while inserting/ejecting it, or even end up losing it. At the bare minimum — 3,000 write cycles — that’s still more than four years of life if you use that pen drive twice every single day.

The only situation where you need to be slightly worried is if you’re using a flash drive as a portable PC Keep A Portable Ubuntu Installation With You Wherever You Go Keep A Portable Ubuntu Installation With You Wherever You Go There's so much you can do with an Ubuntu installation. But what if you could take that same Ubuntu installation and make it portable so you can have it with you wherever you are? Read More , in which case those cycles will run out faster. But even then, you’ll be fine as long as you keep regular backups of your data.

4) MicroUSB Ports: When They’re Useful

Android users are always tempted by flash drives that have both a normal USB port as well as microUSB port, like the Kingston Micro Duo. “I can transfer stuff from my PC to my Android phone so easily!” Well, kind of.

Kingston Digital 32GB Data Traveler Micro Duo USB 3.0 Micro USB OTG (DTDUO3/32GB) Kingston Digital 32GB Data Traveler Micro Duo USB 3.0 Micro USB OTG (DTDUO3/32GB) USB OTG (on-the-go) - a standard which enables host functionality in certain phones/tablets with microUSB ports, enabling connectivity to USB devices like Kingston's DT micro Duo Buy Now At Amazon $10.00

You still need to check if your Android phone supports USB OTG (On-The-Go), a standard that allows your Android to read external flash drives. The easiest way to figure that out is to check your phone’s box, your manufacturer’s website, or just Google it.

If your device doesn’t support USB OTG, then buying a flash drive with a microUSB port is pointless. However, if your phone does support USB OTG, then it’s a nifty way to add some extra storage Get Extra Storage On Android With A USB Flash Drive Get Extra Storage On Android With A USB Flash Drive Want to add more storage to your Android device using a USB flash drive? We can show you how to do that, step by step. Read More .

5) Rugged & Secure Flash Drives

Several flash drives are designed specifically for users who want to keep data safe on their person at all times. Rugged drives offer protection from physical damage, like when you leave it in your pants and throw it into the wash. Secure flash drives offer protection from humans who want to hack or steal your data.

Is your data so sensitive that it must be encrypted in addition to being password-protected? If yes, then buy a secure USB drive, such as the ones offered by IronKey or the Aegis Secure Key, which actually has a physical keypad for entering a password.

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Apricorn Aegis Secure Key 120 GB FIPS 140-2 Level 3 Validated 256-bit Encryption USB 3.0 Flash Drive (ASK3-120GB) Apricorn Aegis Secure Key 120 GB FIPS 140-2 Level 3 Validated 256-bit Encryption USB 3.0 Flash Drive (ASK3-120GB) FIPS 140-2 Level 3 Validated Buy Now At Amazon $188.17

Honestly though, most users don’t need this level of security and can save a lot of money by getting a regular flash drive and password-protecting the USB for free How To Password Protect Your USB Sticks: 3 Easy Ways How To Password Protect Your USB Sticks: 3 Easy Ways USB thumb drives are small, portable, and can be read on any device with a USB port. These features make them the perfect vehicles to transport data between computers. Due to their portability, however, they... Read More .

As for rugged drives, they aren’t as useful. Cloud storage is cheap enough Free Cloud Storage Upgrades: Grab 100GB of OneDrive & 2GB of Google Drive Free Cloud Storage Upgrades: Grab 100GB of OneDrive & 2GB of Google Drive Cloud storage is getting cheaper by the day, but nothing beats downright free. Some of the top services have come up with a few schemes that will raise your online gigabytes without spending a dime. Read More to create backups of whatever non-sensitive information you are putting on your flash drive, and in case the drive gets crushed or demolished, you’ll still have the data. If that happens, just buy a replacement and transfer the data onto it.

So, What Should You Buy?

We looked at some of the best USB flash drives 5 Of The Fastest USB 3.0 Flash Drives You Should Buy 5 Of The Fastest USB 3.0 Flash Drives You Should Buy Which are the fastest USB 3.0 flash drives you can buy, without having to spend a small fortune? We've covered five of the fastest, ranging in price from $20 to $200. Read More a while back, and most of those recommendations still hold true today:

SanDisk Extreme 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive With Speed Up To 190MB/s- SDCZ80-064G-G46 SanDisk Extreme 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive With Speed Up To 190MB/s- SDCZ80-064G-G46 Super-Fast Transfer Speeds (up to 190 MB/sec for USB 3.0 enabled host) Buy Now At Amazon $29.95 Silicon Power Marvel M50 32GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Read 90MB/s Write 60MB/s, Champagne Gold (SP032GBUF3M50V1C) Silicon Power Marvel M50 32GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Read 90MB/s Write 60MB/s, Champagne Gold (SP032GBUF3M50V1C) Aluminum surface with modernistic wavy design Buy Now At Amazon PQI i-Mini 32GB Super High-Speed USB 3.0 Flash Drive PQI i-Mini 32GB Super High-Speed USB 3.0 Flash Drive World's smallest USB3.0 COB Pen Drive, 32GB Buy Now At Amazon $28.00 IronKey 64GB Windows To Go (WGHA0B064G0001) IronKey 64GB Windows To Go (WGHA0B064G0001) IronKey 64 GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Buy Now At Amazon

That being said, you might want to wait because a new wave of wireless USB flash drives is coming in. So far, we’ve only seen the SanDisk Connect, which works across different devices and connects to phones and tablets wirelessly. Kingston and others are working on similar technology, but haven’t released products yet.

SanDisk Connect 32GB Wireless Flash Drive For Smartphones And Tablets- SDWS2-032G-E57 SanDisk Connect 32GB Wireless Flash Drive For Smartphones And Tablets- SDWS2-032G-E57 Wirelessly store, share, stream movies, photos, music, and documents across your smartphones, tablets and computers Buy Now At Amazon

USB flash drives have been around for years now, so tell us which ones you’d most recommend. And truthfully, how many have you lost over the years? Share in the comments!

Image Credits:cracked ground by Adam Vilimek via Shutterstock

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