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Cheap USB Flash Drives Buying Guide

Even a cursory online search turns up scores of USB thumb drives in the under-$20 territory. (All the starting prices noted in this buying guide refer to models with 16GB of storage capacity.) Most are simple, utilitarian devices but some add a dash of whimsy with novelty designs featuring favorite cartoon characters or the shape of a surfboard or snowboard.

The best cheap flash drives on our list are the ADATA S102 Pro (starting at $15), a speedy USB 3.0 device that's pretty durable thanks to its aluminum body, and the Verbatim Store 'n' Stay (starting at $16), which is no bigger than a wireless mouse receiver and can hold several gigabytes of data.

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Sitting in second place are the Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn (starting at $14), which sports an attractive, capless design and is relatively fast for a USB 2.0 model, and the Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 (starting at $18), which is a tough cookie, owing to its rubber, shockproof case, and far faster than any USB 2.0 drive but not quite as peppy as other USB 3.0 devices.

We also identified two budget thumb drives that can't compete with the best: SanDisk's Cruzer Edge (starting at $13), whose included software security seems to annoy users and whose build quality feels flimsy to many. PNY's Compact Attache (starting at $10) is a 2.0 model that takes heat from users for being slow and for a plastic case that cracks easily.

Cheap USB flash drives are very simple products without lots of features. The two most important are speed and storage size. USB 3.0 drives are faster and often cost more than USB 2.0 drives, but the price difference is hardly prohibitive. The size of a flash drive has a far greater impact on price. You'll find plenty of smaller drives in the 2GB to 8GB range that cost less than $10 while those in the 64GB range typically cost $30 or more. (Very large drives, 128GB and up, may cost more than $100.) Flash drives with 16GB of storage are ample enough for everyday needs and priced to appeal to budget-conscious users.

The performance of a USB flash drive depends on its interface (USB 2.0 or USB 3.0) and the number and size of the files you're copying. Quick data transfers are important for some users, especially if they want to copy large files (such as video) or many files to a thumb drive. For those users, a USB 3.0 flash drive is essential. However, if you simply want to back up basic files, such as documents or a few photos or songs, one of the best cheap USB 2.0 flash drives will do just fine.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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