The 8 Best Mini Flash Drives
8. Lexar JumpDrive
7. Corsair Voyager Vega
6. SanDisk Ultra Fit
5. Kingston Duo
4. Store 'n' Stay
3. Samsung Fit
2. Samsung Duo
1. PNY Elite-X 128
A Long History Of Recorded Media
Ever since Thomas Edison produced the first phonographs in the late 19th century, engineers have sought faster, more compact, more reliable means to store data. The 1950s kicked off decades of rapid technological advancement. IBM pioneered a memory revolution with the RAMAC 305 in 1959, a behemoth that needed 1,500 cubic feet of space and weighed over 2,000 pounds. This massive machine had a memory capacity of almost five megabytes — unprecedented at the time.
Of course, such a device isn't very portable. It wouldn't be until the 1980s before storage media could be easily transferred between computers thanks to the development of floppy disks. Entire operating systems such as Windows 3.1 fit onto just a few 3.5-inch floppy diskettes, and the disks themselves withstood many rewrites. This allowed for easy media distribution and sharing for years. But, thanks to Moore's Law, the floppy's 1.44-MB capacity would soon be rendered obsolete. In 1998, Apple's IMac G3 — the first mainstream home computer produced without a floppy drive — heralded both the end of the floppy disk's reign over portable storage, as well as the arrival of its successor: universal serial bus.
Born in the mid-1990s, USB is a communication standard that governs connections and protocol across a huge range of computers and peripherals. It's been widely accepted by companies around the world as one of the most effective ways for devices to communicate, and it's seen many advancements of its own since its adoption.
With ports capable of transferring hundreds of megabytes per second, it's no surprise that USB is the preferred method for transferring data. With computer chips shrinking in size at impressive rates, we can store more documents, videos, songs, and other files on equipment the size of a thumbnail. We've come a long way since filling a room with vacuum tubes.
One of the most apparent changes to our personal computing devices over time is how much smaller they've gotten. While a laptop once required a sturdy bag with reinforced straps and thick padding, ultralight 2-in-1 laptops now slide out of slim cases with the flick of a wrist. Though a musician once needed a desk on which to set up their external hard drives, artists can now perfect their set on-the-fly using their tablet while heading to the gig. No more cables or external power sources. Today's digital storage is ready to go whenever we are.
So, it stands to reason that a two-inch piece of plastic and microchips is the last thing you'd want sticking out of the side of your MacBook Air. If you're listening to your favorite podcast on the bus or sharing a video with friends at a party, that could easily lead to a preventable disaster. Should your full-size USB flash memory stick be knocked out of its socket accidentally, it could lead to corrupted data or even a permanently damaged port. But with a mini flash drive, these worries can go away.
Possibly even more important than safety is simple convenience. These drives are so tiny, they go almost entirely unnoticed on a keychain, until that crucial moment when you want to show that record producer your new music video on a portable projector. One of these minuscule devices makes it easier than ever to share your groundbreaking multimedia pitch with the marketing department. And there are few better ways to ensure your computer's versatility and security by dual-booting a secure operating system that will easily fit, in full, on a low-profile, go-anywhere USB drive. In this case, smaller really is better.
The Technical Side
NAND flash is the underlying architecture of today's USB memory sticks. This comprises many 128-kilobyte blocks arranged in parallel. Such a setup enables fast read and write times while slowing down random-access operations, making this kind of memory ideal for storing files and less so for running critical instructions within a computer's embedded hardware.
Because they have no moving parts, NAND products are perfect for the on-the-go media demands of many people. Mini flash drives, capable of incredible amounts of storage, are among the most physically resilient pieces of portable electronics you'll carry with you all day long. There's no screen, no motor, and no hinge. Many of them come with a dust cap, helping fight the biggest enemy to digital media: foreign particles. Some are even shielded against moisture and radiation, which is a must if you're traveling through the elements or an airport.
There are a couple minor drawbacks to NAND flash memory. The nature of the system requires each 128 kilobyte block to be erased on a repeated basis even when only a few values in the string are changed. The end result of this is some of the blocks wearing out, increasing the chances of a read/write error. Also, there's a bleeding effect that sometimes occurs between adjacent blocks, possibly corrupting data and filesystem arrangement. To mitigate these limitations, high-end flash controllers have means to label bad blocks as corrupt, preventing errors but slightly reducing total capacity. Some also employ wear-leveling to space out data evenly across a chip, preventing bleed. Both of these help to increase the overall lifespan of a NAND flash chip.
There are a lot of options to choose from in your search for the right mini thumbdrive. Some brands are more reliable than others — look for a company known for building reliable memory equipment. And while every manufacturer releases their own estimates of how fast their products are, remember that not all USB drives are the same. Some really approach those lofty claims, while others fall flat in crucial categories. You'll also find more nuanced differences like metal housing or LED activity lights. Whichever choice you make, you'll have the ability to carry vast amounts of knowledge and entertainment in your pocket whenever you like.