Even as cloud storage and wireless file transfers have become more common, sometimes the best option for moving files is to put them on a USB flash drive. The cheapest drives can leave you waiting an agonizingly long time to transfer files. Most $20 flash drives out there will do the job okay, while the best $40 drives will do it noticeably faster so you spend less time waiting—time that adds up when they withstand being tossed in bags and drawers for years to come. After spending more than 40 hours testing seven recent USB flash drives (and comparing them with dozens of previous models), we think the SanDisk Extreme Pro 3.1 (128 GB) is the drive to get.
The SanDisk Extreme Pro 3.1 (128 GB) was significantly faster than every other drive we’ve tested for this guide, and more than twice as fast as our previous pick, the Kingston DataTraveler Elite G2 (64 GB). It has a limited lifetime warranty, but you probably won’t need it—the Extreme Pro 3.1’s casing is very solid, and it features a retractable head with a satisfying click so there are no caps to lose.
It’s taken years, but the Samsung Duo Plus (128 GB) is the first USB-C compatible USB flash drive we’ve tested that we feel comfortable recommending. It’s almost as fast as our main pick when saving data to it, and while its read speeds when accessing data aren’t as fast, it’s still an improvement from our previous pick, the Kingston DataTraveler. And for owners of more modern, high-end notebooks, it eliminates the need for an adapter dongle (while remaining convenient and compatible with other computers that lack USB-C ports).
The time you save with the speed of our top pick is worth a little more money, but if you’d prefer not to spend much more than $20 for something that’s still pretty good, we recommend the Samsung Bar Plus 3.1 (128 GB). It isn’t the fastest drive we’ve tested, but it’s far from the slowest—and worth a couple bucks more than a decades-old model or a no-name brand. What it lacks are minor quality of life features: The head isn’t retractable, and it doesn’t have a cap, so it’s more possible for the plug to get dinged up; and there’s no activity indicator light so you may not be sure it’s working if your computer misbehaves. But the price is right for something that beats the legions of junk out there, and if you manage not to lose it, the Bar Plus 3.1 has a five-year warranty.