USB flash drives are a relatively cheap, compact and convenient form of data storage, but reliability has never been their strong point. Despite having no moving parts internally, they can be infuriatingly fickle and sometimes fail for no apparent reason (see our test, Pocket storage review and compare for more information).
They're also relatively slow, compared to a hard drive, so they're mostly used for temporary data storage and transfer. And their very size advantage can actually work against them – they're small and easy to lose.
However, new technology is making them more robust and secure. Some devices now come with built-in 'military grade' hardware encryption. There's also a whole class of “ruggedised” devices designed to take just about anything you can throw at them. These impact, dust and water-resistant devices cost more, but should outshine their generic cousins in performance and toughness. So, we put them to the test.
We bought and tested 18 USB flash drives with 16GB capacity from 14 manufacturers and included low-cost top-selling standard models, as well as “ruggedised” models where available. We put them through a series of tests to see how well they would withstand the possible rigours of daily life. What we found was quite surprising, with some of the standard devices putting their supposedly tougher cousins to shame. USB flash drives tested in this report are:
Buffalo RUF2-PS series
Clickfree Clickfree Traveler
Comsol FlashIT secure
Corsair Flash Voyager
Kingston Datatraveler Ultimate 3.0
Kingston DataTraveler Vault Privacy Edition
Lexar Jumpdrive Firefly
PQI Intelligent Drive i812
Sandisk Ultra Backup
Shintaro Key Pocket Disk (8GB)
Shintaro Rotating Pocket Disk
Sony Microvault Click
Transcend JetFlash V70
Verbatim Store 'n Go Micro USB drive
We pit rugged USB drives against standard models in a series of torture tests - with surprising results.