Like most forms of digital storage, USB flash drives have gotten progressively bigger and more affordable over time. And when you’re dealing with size over 32GB, chances are you actually want the extra speed that USB 3.0 can theoretically provide — otherwise you end up sitting around for hours waiting for copies to finish.
While all the drives we tested for this story proudly displayed a USB 3.0 specification, the flash chips and drive controllers inside each varied significantly — and what that means in terms of real-world performance is actually quite stark.
In car terms, “supports USB 3.0” is basically the same as saying “runs on unleaded petrol” — which tells you nothing about how fast a car can go. To test the drives then, we plugged each one into the rear USB ports of an SSD-equipped Z97 desktop PC and used CrystalDiskMark to benchmark the read and write speeds of each, with wildly varying results. Read on to find out which drives deliver on the USB 3.0 promise.
BlueEye ThunderDisk Pro 256GB
We’re bending the rules a bit to include the ThunderDisk Pro because, frankly, it’s a beauty. This is basically a fully-fledged SSD — albeit a miniature one, like what’s used in thin and light laptops — that’s been whacked in a USB housing.
The caveat is that the housing doesn’t have a USB connector — meaning you’ll need to carry a small USB cable with the drive. If you’re after the ultimate in high-speed transfers, however, that could totally be worth it: we measured sustained reads and writes of 396MB/s and 333MB/s, respectively. That’s the fastest here, by a wide margin. And though $250 might seem pricey, on a cost-per-gigabyte basis, it’s actually one of the best-value drives here.
This is a fantastically fast little drive that can basically keep pace with the SSD in your laptop or desktop. If you need to transfer a lot of data fast, this is our top choice.
Verdict: It’s not the most convenient of portable flash drives, but it’s fairly priced and super fast.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Kingston HyperX Predator 512GB
This is a big drive — both in capacity and physical dimensions. It’s a hunk of solid metal that’s roughly about four times the size of most others, with a retractable USB connector on one end. Kingston has sensibly provided a short USB extension cable, without which it’ll crowd out USB ports on the back panel of a desktop PC. That big size also means that if you insert it into the USB port o a thin laptop — like a MacBook Air — it’ll lift the edge of it off the ground.
And while the Predator is fast, at 289MB/s read and 168MB/s write, it’s not quite the speed demon the name might suggest… and that the whopping price might deserve. A tough metal keyring helps increase the value some, but considering you could buy three of the ThunderDisks for this price, we know what we’d choose.
Verdict: Kingston’s Predator offers a ton of storage, but its very large and more than a bit overpriced.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Lexar JumpDrive S33 128GB
Lexar’s JumpDrive is a bit of an old-school design, but one that’s quite functionally groove. It’s got two parts — the white bit is the key itself, and the coloured (or black) section swivels around this, acting as a kind of cap to protect the USB connector. And the latter recesses back in when you start swivelling the coloured section around, meaning that when closed this is a very compact (and comparatively well protected) key.
Of the plastic keys, it doesn’t quite feel as tough as the Verbatim, but it was a little better than the Transcend. Speed-wise it was actually pretty close to the latter though, with 99MB/s reads and 67MB/s writes. That’s reasonably well-balanced, but nowhere near the speed of say, SanDisk’s Extreme Pro, which has writes over three times faster — and you can find the latter for around $25 more. This isn’t a bad key by any measure, but we’d be tempted to spend a little more for the extra speed found elsewhere.
Verdict: Not bad in terms of speed and we dig the swivel-cap design, but it doesn’t stand out otherwise.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Transcend JetFlash 790 128GB
In some ways, this Transcend key is almost the prototypical USB drive — with a plastic housing, retractable USB connector and a loop for a keyring, it checks all the basic boxes. That said, it’s not the sturdiest feeling — compared to the Verbatim below (which is also plastic, but of a thicker gauge) the Transcend doesn’t feel like to could take as much physical punishment, so if you want a key with a bit of ruggedness, it’s best to look elsewhere.
In terms of performance, the JetFlash 790 was middle of the road — 96MB/s reads and 74MB/s writes. That’s a better balanced than the aforementioned Verbatim — and significantly faster than what you’ll see on a USB 2.0 flash drive — but nothing noteworthy in the company of the other drives here. The JetFlash 790 range hadn’t quite hit the Australian market at the time of testing, so the price quoted below is RRP. As such, you should be able to find it a bit cheaper than this.
Verdict: Doesn’t feel as tough as some other plastic keys, and could use a bump in speed at this price.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.0 128GB
At this 128GB size, SanDisk’s option is a little more pricey than most others we tested, but there is some justification for it. Its body is made up of a metal shell that wraps around a plastic slider, with the latter required to flick the USB connector in and out. Despite being basically the biggest 128GB key, we’d be far more comfortable sticking this one on our keyring thanks to the loop being metal. And its performance was excellent for both reads and writes at around 260MB/s and 240MB/s, respectively.
Our only real gripe here is that the sliding mechanism can be a bit sticky when it locks into place, requiring a small press to retract it. Still, that’s better than it being too loose — and retracting when you’re trying to plug it in. If you need speed though, this one’s got the goods — and we’ve seen it selling from reputable stores for as low as $155 online, so shop around.
Verdict: A great combination of speed and a tough metal chassis, but shop around for the best price.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Verbatim Store’n’Go V3
Verbatim’s thumb drive is one of the more sedate-looking models, with a plain black black housing and a grey slider that pops the USB connector out. It’s also the least-expensive of those on test at well under $1 a gig. Yet it’s not completely devoid of features. Password protection software can be downloaded from Verbatim’s site and the drive includes a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects — meaning if it just up and dies (and you haven’t treated it like a piñata) Verbatim’ll replace or repair it.
You do get what you pay for in one respect, however, and that’s write speeds which, at just 34MB/s, were the slowest here. That means it’s not the greatest choice for doing quick backups on the run — although getting those files off is still reasonably speedy, at 148MB/s read speeds. What’s also a tad annoying is that if you loop a keyring through the hole at the back of the slider, you can’t actually slide the whole USB connector out
Verdict: The performance is a bit imbalanced, but it’s hard to argue with the value on offer here.