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Top-rated flash drives for general use

Something that becomes evident in reviews of USB flash drives is that the "best" drive is often a matter of circumstance; not everyone requires enough space on their flash drive to download years' worth of home videos or enough durability to survive being submerged in 200 feet of water, or enough security to cause the device to self-destruct should it ever slip from its owner's fingertips. Extra features mean extra money, and even though flash drive prices have dropped substantially, an increased cost of 30 to 50 percent is not insignificant.

The Patriot SuperSonic USB 3.0 flash drive offers a combination of features that earn it top marks from a variety of reviewers. The aluminum casing is shock-resistant, so while the drive is not considered "rugged," it offers extra protection to data inside. Its tested speeds are very fast indeed Ð faster than the drive's packaging claims, according to reviewers' tests. Its price per gigabyte is extremely reasonable for a USB 3.0 drive, making it competitive with USB 2.0 drives for users who think they might upgrade computers in the next year or two. (Like all USB 3.0 drives, it is compatible with USB 2.0 ports, dropping to USB 2.0 speeds when used on those systems.)

Laptop Magazine calls the Patriot SuperSonic USB 3.0 flash drive "blazing fast," putting it at the top of their comparative speed test, though against mostly USB 2.0 flash drives. They recognize it as a good value, but note that it does not include backup software. OverClockersClub.com gives it an OCC Gold designation, recommending it highly, based on their benchmark speed tests. It earns a Tech Power Up! Editor's Choice, a NeoSeeker Recommended designation, a Hi Tech Legion Editor's Choice and a Recommended Award #1 designation from ThinkComputers.org.

Cons noted by professional and user reviews are relatively minor: the casing of the Patriot SuperSonic, which is used to disperse heat, can get hot during extended read/write sessions (data transfer). There's nowhere to attach the cap when the drive is in use, making it easy to lose if you're not careful. And a few users report reliability issues.

The top two competitors for the Patriot SuperSonic in reviews both come from Kingston Technology Corporation: the Kingston DataTraveler HyperX 3.0 (*Est. $145 for 64 GB) and the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2 (*Est. $70 for 32 GB) . Both are USB 3.0 drives. Both earn Editor's Choice awards from LegitReviews.com. The Kingston HyperX earns an Extreme Performance Award from U.K. site eTeknix.com, while the Kingston Ultimate takes a Gold Award. CravingTech gives the HyperX a perfect 5-star review, also giving the Ultimate a very positive unrated review.

The DT HyperX 3.0 is only available at larger capacities (64 GB to 256 GB), and is the flagship USB flash drive in the Kingston lineup, commanding a premium both for the size and the speed of the drives. It advertises high speeds of 225 Mbps for reading and 135 Mbps for writing. The Kingston DT Ultimate 3.0 G2 offers smaller capacities and speeds of 100 Mbps writing, 70 Mbps writing, which is in line with the speeds that 3.0 technology promises. Neither is as well-reviewed overall as the Patriot SuperSonic, though the HyperX beats the 64 GB SuperSonic in speed tests, backing up its claims.

The Corsair Flash Voyager line of USB drives is worth mentioning. Previous generations of the drives have gotten accolades from a number of top sources. The drives were recently replaced with USB 3.0 models, which have not been on the market long enough to accumulate significant numbers of user or professional reviews.

Rugged USB flash drives

While the Best Reviewed Patriot SuperSonic USB 3.0 flash drive (*Est. $60 for 32 GB) has an aluminum housing that is rated for some amount of shock resistance, it is not sold specifically as a rugged drive.

The Corsair Flash Survivor USB 3.0 flash drive (*Est. $55 for 32 GB) is our Best Reviewed pick for durable drives, based on user reviews of the current model and expert reviews of previous, USB 2.0 models that had different innards but share the same aircraft-grade aluminum casing. The Flash Survivor 3.0 is made of aircraft grade, shock resistant aluminum and is water-resistant to 200 meters. Reviewers run over Survivor casings, drop them from rooftops, boil them and subject them to other torture tests with no ill effects to the data stored in them. Users report that repeated trips through the washer leave them working fine.

TomsHardware.com also gives a positive review to the LaCie XtremKey All-Terrain USB 2.0 Flash Drive (*Est. $75 for 32 GB) , calling its 2 mm thick metal pipe casing "near indestructible." However, users aren't as enthusiastic as they are for the Flash Survivor USB 3.0, with complaints about speed (as low as 5 MB per second (Mbps) in their tests) and data failures, as well as its relatively high price. The Corsair Flash Survivor 3.0 is also considerably faster, for those with USB 3.0 ports.

While the flash media inside portable USB drives is generally considered to be reasonably reliable, at least one company is taking an alternate approach to saving your data. Super Talent's USB 3.0 RAIDDrive (*Est. $230 for 32 GB) pairs two flash drives inside one chunky USB key. The two drives contain the same data, following the same pattern used by RAID-configured hard drives. If one flash drive fails, your data still survives. Reviewers from sites such as LegitReviews.com and TomsHardware.com like the Super Talent USB 3.0 RAIDDrive, but it's several times more expensive than reliable drives of the same capacity. Reviewers' tests show that it is speedy, but not necessarily the fastest USB 3.0 drive on the market at this point.

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Corsair 8GB Flash Voyager USB 2.0 Flash Drive CMFUSB2.0-8GB
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Corsair Flash Survivor 32GB USB 3.0 (CMFSV3-32GB)
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Patriot Supersonic 32 GB USB 3.0 High Performance Shock Resistant Flash Drive (PEF32GSUSB)
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Kingston Digital HyperX 3.0 DataTraveler (DTHX30/64GB)
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NEW - 32GB USB 3.0 DATATRAVELER ULTIMATE G2 - DTU30G2/32GB
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Super Talent RAIDDrive 32 GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive STU32GSRK (Black)
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LaCie XtremKey 32 GB All-Terrain USB 2.0 Flash Drive 131077
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