10 Best USB Sticks: Reviews and Buying Guide

USB sticks, the handy small mass storage devices that can be used as a removable disk as well as for backing up the computer or as a bootable backup medium, are omnipresent. They hang on keychains, dangle as a pendant on a chain, disguise themselves as a bracelet or are in trouser pockets, handbags or on the desk.

Whether for private or business, in business or leisure, on a USB stick you can store data that can then easily be transferred to another device or retrieved directly from the stick. So you have an important presentation for business customers as well as the latest holiday photos for your friends or a feature film for the common TV evening.

Here at we took a close look at the handy little memory sticks and in our guide, you will learn everything you need to know about the USB stick. What does USB mean, why can you use the USB stick, how are USB 1.0, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 different, how much storage space should a USB stick have and what do you need to look out for when buying a USB stick? Read this and more in our guide.

Top 10 USB Sticks

What does USB mean?

USB ports are now the standard of computers, mobile phones, tablets, and Co and on the TV and in the car are USB ports to find. An everyday thing that most of us use regularly in everyday life. But what does USB mean anyway? The answer to this question is not as well known as practical small connectors and connectors.

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and refers to a universal and serial bus system with which a computer can be connected to different external devices. Of course, the bus does not mean a bus or omnibus in this connection, but rather a bus system in the sense of data processing is a system for data transmission. With its help, data can be transmitted between several different devices via a common transmission path, wherein a direct transmission can only ever take place between two users at the same time. In practice, this means that you can connect the USB stick to the computer, save data to it and then connect the stick to another device, such as a notebook.

Using a USB port, which is also referred to as an interface, so different devices can be connected to each other, for example, to transfer data. Today, USB is also standard for chargers and a cable is used for charging and data transfer.

The history of the USB stick

By the standards of modern computer technology, the USB port is already an old hand. He has been around since 1996 and was launched by a business combination that included major computer companies such as Microsoft, IBM, NEC, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard. Significantly involved in the development was a development team led by the Indian-American computer scientist Ajay Bhatt, who in 2013 received the European Inventor Award for the USB port.

The basic idea behind the development of a universal serial bus system was to standardize PC interfaces. So mouse and keyboard, but also other peripherals such as scanners or printers should be provided with unified ports. The storage of data via USB only came later in the plan, because for mass storage such as the hard drive, the first USB interfaces were not suitable due to the then low data transfer rates of up to 12 Mbit / s and the USB stick was not invented.

The first USB stick came in the year 2000 on the market, had a storage capacity of 8 MB and cost 50 US dollars. Considering that a USB stick today is cheap to buy and has much larger storage capacity, you quickly realize how rapidly the practical sticks have developed since their invention.

The practical memory stick was invented by the Israeli inventor and engineer Dov Moran. Dov Moran founded M-Systems in the late 1980s, which focused on storage technologies for flash memory. In a planned powerpoint presentation for investors, which was only stored in his notebook, because the amount of data was too large for a floppy, just gave this notebook on the ghost. This event prompted inventor Moran to invent a small and rugged storage device that was able to store more data than a floppy disk: the USB stick.
Dov Moran was awarded the Eduard Rhein Prize in 2012 for inventing the USB stick. He sold his company M-Systems in 2006 to the company SanDisk, which claims to be the world’s largest supplier of flash memory and one of the best-known manufacturers of USB sticks.

USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0

USB has evolved a lot since its invention in 1996 until today. The first USB interfaces of type USB 1.0 had a maximum data transfer rate of 12 Mbit / s. In 2000, the version USB 2.0 was introduced, which was significantly more powerful with a data transfer rate of 480 Mbit / s. Since 2008, there is the third standard USB 3.0 with transfer speeds of up to 625 MB / s. Finally, in 2014 USB 3.1 followed with a data transfer rate of up to 10 Gbit / s and the latest development is 2017 introduced USB 3.2 with transfer rates of up to 20 GBit / s.

This is a great development that has taken place within about 20 years and that, of course, has a big impact on the USB stick. However, the most widely used standard for USB sticks today is still USB 2.0, while USB 3.0 sticks, which are characterized by significantly higher speeds of writing and reading, have not yet gained widespread acceptance. Technically, however, USB 2.0 is already outdated.

Differences between the standards, therefore, exist above all in the speed with which the data transfer is carried out and this is also noticeable with the USB stick. For example, standard USB 2.0 USB sticks have a read speed of about 28 MB / s and a write speed of about 6.5 MB / s. However, a modern USB stick 3.0 can bring it to speeds of 100 MB / s and more and is thus much faster than the devices of the 2.0 version. However, especially with regard to the latest USB 3.2 specification, the hardware is not yet sufficiently widespread, for example, since these SuperSpeed + connections with data transfer speeds of up to 20 GBit / s cannot provide their maximum performance even with USB 3.1 Gen2 ports.

Functions of the USB stick

The USB stick is a small, lightweight and portable storage medium that can be used to load different types of data. The data is stored on the USB stick and can either be transferred from there to other devices or, if the memory stick is connected to another device, directly read from the stick and processed. This function as a removable disk is the most common use of the USB stick.

To use the USB stick as a removable disk, you must first format it on your computer. After formatting, you can easily drag and drop data such as documents, photos, MP3 or videos onto the stick. That way you can, for example

  • Create backup copies of important files
  • Archive files
  • Store business files so they 
    can be used on different devices
  • Save music to play on the stereo or in the car
  • Save photos and videos to view on TV or another device
  • store different types of data to share with others. This option is useful both in the home and business environment or at school or at university, where a lot of paper can be saved by dragging and ejecting content that is otherwise copied to paper on USB sticks.
  • Run computer applications directly from the USB stick
  • Speed up operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows Vista with programs like Windows ReadyBoost

But the USB stick can do more than just use it as a removable disk. Also suitable as a backup medium is the handy little stick on which a so-called rescue image is stored for this purpose. This turns the small data carrier into a bootable USB stick, from which the computer can be started to run diagnostic tools or repair software.

Another very useful application for USB sticks is the backup of the computer. Instead of backing up the computer with just a password, USB sticks with appropriate software can be used to lock the computer as soon as they are no longer connected to the device. Only when you plug in the USB stick, the computer is unlocked again.

This is how the USB stick works

All in all, a USB stick is a handy little tool that can do more than just save data. But how exactly does the memory chip work? We explain this to you on STERN.de in simple words.

Inside the USB stick are flash memory cells. With the development of flash memory, the company of the USB stick inventor Dov Moran, so it is not surprising that this technology is used in the USB stick.

The data on the stick is stored in a binary code. The binary code consists of 2 characters, 0 and 1, which, in simplified terms, symbolize the states ON or OFF. For example, a simple word like “Hello” looks like this in binary code: 01101000 01100001 01101100 01101100 01101111.

Inside the USB stick are now the flash memory cells on which a positive (ON) or negative voltage (OFF) can be applied. Depending on the voltage, the cells are either in the 0 states (positive) or in the 1 state (negative) and in this way data can be stored and read out. To make this possible, the USB stick contains a very large amount of these flash memory cells. A single flash memory cell is the smallest memory unit, which is referred to as a bit. Every 8 bits result in 1 byte and 12.5000 bytes result in 1 megabit. 1 megabyte, in turn, consists of 8 megabits and 1 gigabyte consists of 1,000 megabytes. A 4 GB USB flash drive has more than 30 billion individual flash memory cells,

Various forms of USB sticks

USB sticks are offered in many forms. Visually, the small mass storage devices are often elongated in shape, but other shapes may also occur. For example, there are USB sticks with a round case or funny USB sticks, which have the shape of an animal or an object such as a bitten candy. Many USB sticks also have an eyelet or a small ring with which they can be attached, for example, to a keychain or to a chain. In addition, there are also unusual models that hide, for example, in a wristwatch, in a bracelet, another piece of jewelry, a pen or a pocket knife. Particularly popular are also particularly flat and small models that hardly protrude when they are connected to a device. They are preferred in tablets,

USB sticks are also available in waterproof or impact-resistant design and there is also a wide choice of materials. Often the memory sticks are made of plastic, but they are also available with a housing made of lightweight metal such as aluminum, silicone or a mix of materials. Also in terms of colors, there is a large selection, so visually for each the right model is there.

Furthermore, three different construction methods of the housing can be distinguished:

  1. A USB stick with the cap
  2. A USB stick with a sliding mechanism
  3. A USB stick with swiveling cover

A cover for the plug has almost every USB stick to protect the plug from influences such as moisture, dust or dirt. The USB stick with the cap is the most common variant, but it carries the risk that the cap is misplaced or otherwise lost.

The risk that the cap is lost, is not given with USB sticks with swivel cover or sliding mechanism rather. With the swivel cover, the cover can be hinged forward or backward by a hinge, and with the sliding mechanism, the plug completely disappears into the housing and there are no loose parts.

But not only visually the USB sticks differ. There are also major differences with regard to storage capacities, for example. 
The following sizes are available on the market:

  • USB stick 2 GB
  • USB stick 4 GB
  • USB stick 8 GB
  • USB stick 16 GB
  • USB stick 32 GB
  • USB stick 64 GB
  • USB stick 128 GB
  • USB stick 1 TB

The size you choose depends on how you want to use the stick. If mainly texts and documents are to be stored, even USB sticks with a small storage capacity of 2 or 4 GB are sufficient. On the other hand, if you want to save media content such as movies, music, or photos, you should opt for a higher-capacity model. Today, the sticks are standard with a storage capacity between 8 and 128 GB and this is actually the right size for every user.

What alternatives are there to the USB stick?

Without question, the USB stick is a handy helper, especially if you are looking for a removable storage medium. But are there any reasonable alternatives for the practical, small memory stick? At STERN.de we present you the best.

  • External hard drive: When it comes to archiving or backing up data or backing up, external hard drives are a good fit. In order to have the stored data always and everywhere tangible, external hard disks are rather less suitable.
  • Discs: Also CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs are well suited to store, backup or share data and to make backups. They are transportable and can be easily passed on, but are always dependent on a corresponding drive to play and thus significantly less flexible than the USB stick
  • Memory card: Memory Cards, as they are for example as extra storage from mobile phones or as a storage medium for digital cameras know, are also well suited to store data. To read the data, however, a corresponding card slot is required.
  • Cloud storage: In the cloud, many contents such as photos or music or even important documents can be easily stored and it can be accessed by anyone who has the access data across all media. Unlike a USB stick, internet access is required

So there are quite alternatives for the USB stick, especially if the data should not be stored mobile and portable. External hard disks and various disks can be stored well at home for archival purposes, for example. As a real alternative for the mobile and portable storage of data, however, only the cloud is suitable, but in comparison to the USB stick has the disadvantage that you must be connected to the Internet to retrieve the content.

Use and care of USB sticks

USB sticks are almost indestructible, but in the application should be observed some rules and the care of the sticks should not be neglected. Although the small mass storage devices usually survive a wash cycle once they are forgotten in your pocket or even a fall, nevertheless you should handle the memory sticks with some care. The following should be noted in particular:

  • Just make a backup copy of important and irreplaceable data. The USB stick can be damaged or lost and your data is irretrievably lost
  • Protect USB sticks that you use to archive and back up data and that contain important data by storing them in an airtight box
  • Do not expose the USB flash drive to extreme heat, cold or extreme temperature fluctuations
  • Protect the USB stick from moisture. Although a USB stick can easily survive a wash in the washing machine and even a heavy rain shower can usually not harm him. However, you should not do it as a habit and the stick should not be stored permanently in a damp place. If you travel a lot outdoors and carry the stick with you, it is advisable to opt for a waterproof copy
  • Protect the USB stick from impact and other mechanical effects. Again, it is advisable to fall back on a particularly robust, shock-resistant copy, if your USB stick is exposed to special stress in everyday life. If the stick is used on mobile devices or on the car radio, for example, it makes sense to choose a particularly small stick that hardly protrudes from the device. This reduces the risk of sticking to the stick and pulling it out
  • Never remove the stick from the device while data transfer is in progress
  • The USB stick only fits in one direction in the USB port. Never try to connect the USB stick by force, but turn it over instead


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