From cheap universal storage to high-speed data transfers, these flash drives get the job done for me

Image of PNY USB flash drives.
(Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

They may not be exciting or as crucial as they once were, but USB flash drives are still an important tool used by millions all over the world. There are several companies known for creating quality, reliable flash drives that you can depend on, and one such company is PNY. Flash drives are highly portable, incredibly versatile, and can come in clutch whenever you need to backup important information, transfer large files, or simply take your work on the go.

I've been using PNY flash drives for many years, and the company offered to send me two of its latest products on opposite ends of its lineup. One is incredibly cheap and supports practically every device under the sun, while the other offers lightning-fast mass storage in a smaller package than practically any external SSD. I've been testing the duo for weeks now, and my experience has cemented what I already knew: PNY is my go-to for my flash storage needs.

Disclaimer: This article was made possible with sample units provided by PNY. The company did not see the contents of the article before publishing.

Never let down by a PNY flash drive

Both of these flash drives serve very different purposes. (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

Since I was a child and first began using computers, flash drives have always been a regular addition to my bag. Especially in school, I had a multitude of various flash drives for storing and transferring projects, creating backups of photos and videos (before OneDrive took over that particular task), and turning in assignments when the schools of my lower-class childhood didn't have internet access that could be relied on.

Two decades later, I still have many of those flash drives. Plenty came and went in the interim, but a small collection of flash drives that simply refused to quit continued to preserve my past in tiny plastic containers. Of those flash drives, almost every single one is a PNY (the remaining survivors are all SanDisk, another company I wholeheartedly recommend). Even the USB flash drive that has continued to see regular use since I first got it in high school comes from PNY. I've yet to experience one of these flash drives giving out from under me or failing to keep my files safe; this is a trust that has been built up over 20 years of experience.

Of course, none of my PNY flash drives can be considered new. That's why I was interested in seeing the ways in which the company has evolved.

Modern options for ultra-portability or ultra-speed

This flash drive is more than compact and fast enough for me, but my biggest pet peeve is absolutely the soft plastic exterior. (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

PNY sent me two flash drives to test, and they couldn't be more different. The PNY Elite-X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1 flash drive is all about compact, affordable storage that can work with all your devices, including smartphones and tablets. On the other hand, the premium PNY Pro Elite V2 USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 flash drive is only compact in comparison to external SSDs but can actually compete with those drives when it comes to speed. It's for those who need a solid amount of speedy storage but don't want to pay for or store a traditional external drive.

Let's start with the former. Starting at just $14.99 at Amazon, the PNY Elite-X is among the more affordable USB Type-C flash drives, continuing a long line of cheap and reliable USB drives from the company. This drive won't impress you with its read and write speeds (PNY claims up to 200MB/s, but my tests peaked at around 120.9MB/s), but it's still more than fast enough for storing and moving photos, music, documents, and more. As far as compatibility is concerned, it works with pretty much any Type-C device that supports USB storage, so it's the perfect universal, cross-platform flash drive.

The PNY Elite-X USB Type-C flash drive is tiny, barely more than the width of a USB Type-C port. The connector can slide into the casing to protect it from damage, and it's designed to effortlessly attach to keyrings or lanyards for easy access. My only complaint is that the plastic body is both a blessing and a curse — this flash drive is ludicrously light, but it's also prone to scratches and scuffs, and it can be very finicky to reveal or hide the connector. I also had to format the flash drive at first use to transfer larger files, which I thought was odd, especially since the default format type (exFAT) and allocation size (128KB) seemed fine and worked great after formatting.

By comparison, this PNY flash drive boasts exemplary construction that feels like it could take a lot of hits. (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

The PNY PRO Elite V2 USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 flash drive is considerably more straightforward because it just doesn't seem to have any cons other than its cost. Yes, it's more expensive than most people are probably used to paying for a USB flash drive, but the trade-off is excellent, durable build quality, and some impressive speeds. This is a heavy flash drive with a thick metal shell enclosing the inner plastic flash drive (which also feels very solid); that shell also protects the connector when you're not using the flash drive.

You can get up to 1TB of storage with the PNY PRO Elite V2, which is in the same range as premium SD cards and external SSDs. It starts at $49.99 at Amazon for the 256GB version and goes up to $109.99 at Amazon for the 1TB version. I can't attest to the speeds of smaller storage capacities, as PNY sent me the 1TB model, but my tests actually saw this flash drive exceed PNY's promised 600MB/s. Read speeds peaked for me at 649MB/s, and write speeds honestly didn't seem to be significantly slower than that.

That meant transferring a 6GB video file took mere seconds, and moving batches of a dozen JPG photos back and forth was so fast it felt instant. Yes, you can find faster speeds with external SSDs like the Samsung T7, but you'll be paying more for those speeds and giving up a lot of portability. The PNY PRO Elite V2 is no larger than your average USB Type-A flash drive and still has a holder for storage on a keyring or lanyard. I was honestly really impressed with this flash drive in general, although it's starting to get into price ranges where additional encryption and privacy features start to appear in premium flash drives.

Still the only flash drives I need in my computer bag

I definitely prefer the PRO Elite V2 as an overall better product, but both of these flash drives earn my recommendation. (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

There is room to improve with PNY's ultra-portable USB Type-C flash drives, but overall, it's still a great value for the incredibly low price. Having that kind of compact, universal storage around makes it a lot easier to get files from one device to the other, especially when you really need those photos you just took on your phone and your cellular signal is low. As I stated above, though, maybe take the flash drive for a test run on a PC before fully committing to cross-device use, and be prepared for that plastic body to show some marks over time.

There are no such warnings with the PNY PRO Elite V2 USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 flash drive. If you need speed, durability, and portability in one USB drive, this is a great option. More expensive flash drives offer encryption and additional privacy features for those who need extra protection for their data, but this flash drive is a reliable middle ground that's definitely finding a permanent place in my laptop bag. PNY is still making quality storage products, although, of course, it's not the only company out there.

As a general PSA, please do not buy random flash drives or microSD cards from random, unknown companies just to save a few bucks or cents. When it comes to storage (especially affordable flash storage), scammy and unreliable products are all too common. PNY, SanDisk, Samsung, and Western Digital are all excellent sources for all your storage needs, from flash drives to internal PC SSDs. For me, PNY is still the champion of the former, but both Samsung and Western Digital have also won my heart for external, portable SSDs.

If you're in the market for a new USB flash drive, you can purchase both of the PNY options I thoroughly tested below.

PNY Elite-X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1 Flash Drive — $14.99 at Amazon (128GB) | $25.99 at Amazon (256GB)

PNY Elite-X USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1 Flash Drive — $14.99 at Amazon (128GB) | $25.99 at Amazon (256GB)

It's not perfect, but at this price point, it doesn't have to be. It still offers decent speeds in comparison to the competition, will work with all your devices, and is so small and light you're actually liable to forget it's there at all.

PNY PRO Elite V2 USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 Flash Drive — $49.99 at Amazon (256GB) | $76.65 at Amazon (512GB) | $109.99 at Amazon (1TB)

PNY PRO Elite V2 USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 Flash Drive — $49.99 at Amazon (256GB) | $76.65 at Amazon (512GB) | $109.99 at Amazon (1TB)

One of the best choices for those who need lightning-fast portable storage that can still fit in any pocket or attach to your keyring for ultimate ease of use. It's quick, it's built like a tank, and it comes with the same reliability that has made me trust PNY with my data for many years.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.