Sandisk 1 or 2TB SSD Portable Storage Drive
One cannot own enough USB storage drives, it is impossible. Let’s discuss the main options we have below to show what types of storage devices are in common use out there today. Generally when talking about data transmission and USB, you should be looking for the newest USB version available when purchasing hardware cables (look for at minimum that it supports USB 3.0, but 3.1 and 3.2 are even better to help future proof your equipment a bit)
Cheap and widely available data storage solutions:
USB Thumb Drives
USB drives 32GB and up to nearly 1TB almost these days, but anything at or below 256GB is fairly cheap to come by. Very valuable for saving backups of computers, backups of just about any type of digital item, pictures, movies, documents, and any work products. I prefer Kingston and Sandisk for USB drives, but there are plenty others out there. Try to get new in packaging to help avoid used drives, if you must use an old unknown drive, consider using an offline Raspberry Pi or other computer to check the drive for malware first before using/reformatting.
It is bad practice to simply plug in unknown USB drives into our daily driver computers with no knowledge of what type of bad ju-ju could be on the USB drive. Bad actors can install all kinds of horrendous malware onto USB drives, use caution before trusting any. (a common example is a special USB drive called a ‘Rubber Ducky‘)
For checking a drive, we can use another computer that has no sensitive data on it, such as a cheap Raspberry Pi, deprive it of internet, and insert your USB drive to scan for malware. Use tools such as BleachBit and ClamAV anti-virus and any others you find useful for this. Once you’re satisfied that it’s clean, proceed to use with your other machines as needed. If you don’t need any of the data on the drive anymore, then reformat it using ‘Disks’ utility in Linux. This wipes the disk, including any malware, without compromising your daily driver machine.
A side note, check out this project, this organization is leading the way to deliver news, info and entertainment to people in highly oppressed North Korea via SD cards and USB drives: https://flashdrivesforfreedom.org/
A quick note on PIN code protected USB drives (pictured above), while a great novelty item with some security benefits, it should be pointed out that many offer ‘encrypted’ USB drives using a PIN code pad, however most are quite poor security if relying on that feature alone. It is far better, and significantly cheaper, to use a standard USB drive with a known, strong encryption option such as VeraCrypt, rather than relying on only a keypad for your security. Should you choose to use a USB drive with PIN code, consider still using your own encryption on the device in order to ensure your data is truly safe. VeraCrypt and Cryptomator are my go to favorites for achieving this.
SD and microSD Cards
SD and microSD cards 32GB and up, are getting cheaper, as well as smaller size with larger storage as time goes on (Moore’s law) so no reason not to have a handful of blank ones ready to use for data transfer/storage. These little guys require no external power, are extremely small and can be hidden just about anywhere, even in the back of your phone, sandwiched between the phone and the case. (keep in mind this may interfere with wireless charging)
The SD and microSD card have become nearly ubiquitous for camera systems of just about all types and flavors, having not only a good supply of microSD cards on hand, but also having a good reader, is necessary to view or add files to the microSD cards. Sizes are running easily towards 1TB which is incredible, for something the size of a pinky nail. Up to 256GB are widely available for reasonable prices currently, smaller ones are dirt cheap. Many smartphones take microSD cards, these are excellent for increasing your phone’s storage space based on your needs.
HDD (Hard Disk Drives)
2.5″ or 3.5″ HDD (Hard Disk Drive) – physical spinning media and older technology than SSD (Solid State Drive, same as USB), considered more physically reliable than HDD spinning media, and certainly much faster speeds, however cost tends to be noticeably higher for SSD drives when compared to HDD. I still rely on many HDD drives for just backup storage where speed is not necessary, but for daily use, consider transitioning to an external SSD drive, and even for you main daily driver machine. Move it to SSD for faster speeds. 3.5″ HDD tend to be a little bit cheaper than 2.5″, although not as big of a difference as between SSD and HDD drives. Note that 2.5″ can run on USB provided power alone, where 3.5″ must have an external power source to run. Currently you can find 3.5″ HDD upto 16-20TB each, quite a large amount of data.
Seagate 4TB HDD depicted (3.5″) top, Seagate HDD 2.5″ depicted bottom
2.5″ SSD (Solid State Drive)
2.5″ SSD – These are getting more popular for regular computers, and use less power, higher reliability, but are still more expensive. Great option to consider when shopping for a new machine, SSD is very fast compared to HDD disks. Sandisk, Samsung and plenty others offer excellent quality, durability and speeds. Pictured is an internal drive, however with a simple cable connector, and some quick disk formatting, you could make this an external drive as well for portability.
Portable SSD Storage Drive
Portable SSD drives (Sandisk and Kingston are my go to brands, Samsung also has good quality/speed drives) these are portable external drives that can be thought of as nothing more than a larger USB drive, that’s all they are functionally. Somewhat expensive, but not too bad, prices are fairly reasonable these days for 1-2TB SDD drives. (Under $200) These are great for storing your day to day files that you need to access, I run all of my digital life off of a single 2TB external SSD drive, so I can bounce from computer to computer and have all of my files and info at my fingertips, regardless of which machine I’m using. Sandisk is my preferred right now, they offer 1 and 2 TB extremely small external drives for under $200, and have excellent quality and performance specs. (pictured at top of page)
Kingston 2TB drive depicted, this model is my personal daily driver at the moment:
Going further down the data storage solutions rabbit hole, some basics to be aware of is mapping out how you wish to implement a plan for where and how all of your storage devices will be used. I like to have extras built into my home daily driver machine for backup storage, another set of drives for off site storage, and then a handful of SSD drives and USB or microSD cards for on the go. Other things to consider is RAID storage protocols, RAID-1 allows you to run two disks of similar size, this allows data storage up to the size of one of the drives (the smallest if mismatched sizes used, example if you use a 6TB and an 8TB drive, you will only be able to store up to 6TB). The two drives are simply mirrored, and provide a copy of the same data on each. This achieves redundancy, should one drive fail, you simply swap a new drive in that’s been properly formatted, and the data from the other good drive will copy over onto the fresh drive.
This way you end up being back to two fully identical drives that are working correctly. Many will use this RAID-1 concept for their home NAS (Network Attached Storage) device for saving family pictures, work or hobby products and anything you want to ensure is not lost. The only real downside to RAID-1 is that it requires double the memory space worth of drives. Example, you want 8TB of storage space total, so you would have to purchase two 8TB drives to configure a RAID-1 format. However the cost is certainly worth it to provide a safeguard or your precious data. Drives can fail or be corrupted, don’t rely on just one for anything important.
More about RAID configuration here: https://www.prepressure.com/library/technology/raid
Besides owning your own physical media storage hardware, many opt to put their data into a cloud. This is excellent in some ways, as a home theft or fire, flood, etc would not affect your data in a cloud. However, we must remember a very important concept: a cloud is just someone else’s computer. This means you have no physical control of that data and are entrusting someone with it. Services such as Google offer free drive/cloud space, however they also scan your data, and have the ability to see or do anything they wish with it. If you must use a cloud service, pick one that respects your privacy such as Proton Drive, or one of many others such as Mega, Skiff, Zoho, etc. For technically capable folks, consider something self hosted using something like Nextcloud, or purchase a Synology NAS.
You should also encrypt your cloud data before uploading it, programs like Cryptomator are excellent for this task, and is very easy to use. To retrieve your data from the cloud, you would have to enter a unique password to decrypt the content, hiding this data from the cloud provider. For other options, visit our Data Encryption page:
If you are not aware of the connectors/power cables/readers required to use these data storage options, I’ll briefly show the cables necessary to accomplish this. Remember, we are needing both power and data transmission to occur. For fastest data transfer, stick with USB 3.0 and higher for any cables.
Adapters for USB and Power for HDD // Readers for microSD, SD card, etc
SATA cables to interface with 2.5″ and 3.5″ HDD storage drives (3.5″ requires external power source) here
2.5″ simple SATA cable for 2.5″ SSD or HDD drives example here
SD and microSD card readers here
Another important cable is a USB OTG (On The Go) type cable adapter, this is a USB-C male to USB-A female cable which allows you to use USB drives with your smartphone. These come in extremely handy for me quite often for data transfer on your mobile devices.
And of course, no Data Storage tutorial would be complete without at least mentioning Data Encryption as I touched on earlier. Visit our Data Encryption page to learn more about several quick and easy solutions to encrypt your data on any of these storage solution devices. Programs such as VeraCrypt, Cryptomator and LUKS (Linux Unified Key System) will cover most people’s data encryption needs for privacy and security, please check out that section here:
If using a USB or Portable SSD drive and you want to have multiple computers to boot to on the drive, plus additional standard storage space, check out Ventoy, amazing software:
Did you know that on a USB or SSD type storage disk, anything you copy onto it stays on it, even if deleted, until it is copied over? This means that even if you ‘delete’ data off of the drive, it is actually still easily accessible with various software programs. When you delete data, it simply marks those data storage blocks as ‘available’ but the data is still there. This can cause data leakage to occur if you are unaware of this feature, read more about how to securely delete data: https://tails.boum.org/doc/encryption_and_privacy/secure_deletion/index.en.html#index2h1