Cheapism: Best budget thumb drives

Adata thumb drive

They go by many names: USB flash drives, jump drives, thumb drives. These portable devices no bigger than our opposable fingers have room to house troves of digital files. Marketers hand them out like candy these days, and no doubt many consumers have accumulated a handful of free ones in a desk drawer. For those who’d rather not spread their data among a bunch of 1-gigabyte billboards, a more generously sized USB flash drive still doesn’t cost much. Less than $20 buys 16GB of storage, brisk transfer speeds, and durable construction.

Here are four top picks from

· The Adata S102 Pro (starting at $15 for 16GB) copies files lickety-split, according to online reviews, using USB 3.0 technology. Yet this device costs no more than many slower USB 2.0 flash drives. It has an aluminum body and comes in a range of sizes from 8GB to 64GB; the price increases along with the storage capacity. (Where to buy)

· The Verbatim Store 'n' Stay (starting at $16 for 16GB) looks a little different from a run-of-the-mill memory stick. It’s an unobtrusive, dime-size drive intended to remain plugged in, rather than serve as portable storage. Consumers who have posted reviews online report using it to supplement the internal memory of an Xbox or bring an entire music library to a car stereo. Smaller, cheaper versions start at 4GB. (Where to buy)

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· The Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn (starting at $14 for 16GB) is a cap-less, switchblade-style drive that swivels around to protect the USB connector. The design has earned loyal fans who know how easy it is to misplace a cap. Sizes range from 4GB to 64GB. (Where to buy)

· The Corsair Flash Voyager USB 3.0 (starting at $18 for 16GB) can’t quite keep up with some of its USB 3.0 brethren, but it easily outdoes USB 2.0 flash drives, experts say. Consumers storing crucial files derive peace of mind from the rubber casing that protects this portable device. The storage capacity spans 8GB to 32GB. (Where to buy)

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Verbatim estimates that a 16GB drive can hold 240 minutes of HD video, 5,200 photos, or 4,000 songs. Of course, the actual capacity will vary based on file size, but consumers can use this chart from the company to get a general idea how much space they need.

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Consumers who frequently transfer lots of large files -- or want to back up an entire system -- should gravitate toward speedy USB 3.0 flash drives, especially if the price is on par with older USB 2.0 technology. Others may find that a USB 2.0 flash drive such as the Lexar JumpDrive TwistTurn does just fine. If you don’t have a new computer with USB 3.0, for example, you won’t realize the potential of a USB 3.0 drive anyway.

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