Computers, Laptops & Tablets Accessories & Hardware 515 515 people found this article helpful How to Choose the Right Flash Drive The best one to buy depends on your size, speed, and security needs by Lisa Johnston Writer Lisa Johnston is a former Lifewire writer and an editor who covers computer peripherals and other consumer electronics since 2004. our editorial process LinkedIn Lisa Johnston Updated on May 28, 2020 Accessories & Hardware HDD & SSD The Quick Guide to Webcams Keyboards & Mice Monitors Cards Printers & Scanners Raspberry Pi Tweet Share Email USB flash drives (also known as thumb drives) are super handy for backing up or physically transporting files, and for many other uses. But which one should you buy? That depends on what you need it for. Here we take a look at the variety of flash drives available and the factors you should consider when purchasing one. Storage Capacity Tim Wege / EyeEm / Getty Images USB flash drive capacities range from under 1 GB to over 1 TB. There's no "right" size for a flash drive; the amount of storage you need depends on how much data you want to store. For example, if you just want to store a few Word or Excel files from one computer, a 1 GB flash drive might give you more than enough capacity. However, if you plan to back up all your files, you could need anywhere from a few GB to 500 GB or more. If you want to store all the images and videos from your phone, go into your phone's settings and see how much space your media files are taking up. It could be anywhere from 1 GB to several dozen GB. Whatever it is, that's the minimum amount of storage you need, considering you might add more files in the future. You can use the same method for other types of files, such as MP4s. Remember to consider what other types of files you might want to store on the same drive. The price of flash drives is directly related to their size; as the size increases, so does the price. See this list of the best USB flash drives for some quick price comparisons. Transfer Speed Another factor you need to consider when shopping for a flash drive is transfer speed. There are two types of USB flash drives: USB 2.0, which is an older standard, and USB 3.0, which is a newer one. The transfer speed for USB 2.0 is 480 Mbps and USB 3.0 is 4,800 Mbps or 4.5 Gbps. That means USB 3.0 is approximately 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Generally, a 16 GB file, like a digital video project, will transfer in less than a minute using USB 3.0, but will take nearly nine minutes to transfer using USB 2.0. The USB type you choose depends in part on the device you're transferring data from and the port you're using. You can confirm which standard the USB ports on your computer supports In its device management settings. Type "Device Manager" into the Windows search bar and select it from the list of options. Double-click on Universal Serial Bus Controllers. Here, you can see which standard the USB ports on your computer support. Security JakeOlimb / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images With the convenience of USB flash drives come some security risks: Their small size may cause them to be lost or overlooked.They're hard to track physically (some companies ban their use for this reason).They can transfer malware from one computer to another. A thumb drive's small size can't be changed without giving up its portability but software encryption and hardware encryption can help prevent malware transfer and unauthorized access. Full disk encryption programs offer on-the-fly encryption of removable media. Another type of protection is a built-in keypad on which users must enter a PIN to use the drive. These extra capabilities might not be necessary if you're just transferring a few non-confidential files from one home computer to another. But if you're transferring files between multiple computers or are archiving important or proprietary data, you need to protect the device. Data security adds to the cost of USBs but, in making your purchasing decision, you should compare it to what the cost would be (in time, money, and aggravation) if your unprotected drive fell into the wrong hands.