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I tested this $14 USB flash drive and was in for a speedy surprise

It's 2024, and yes, I'm still using USB flash drives.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
PNY Elite-X Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 1 Flash Drive in hand

The PNY Elite-X Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 1 Flash Drive.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • I tested a 128GB PNY Elite-X Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 1 flash drive, available on Amazon for only $14.
  • Excellent write speeds, solid performer, and robust enough to survive being carried attached to keys.
  • Slip-slide cover on the USB-C connector can be difficult, and there's no built-in hardware encryption. 

It's strange to still think about -- let alone use -- USB flash drives in 2024, but they remain the quickest and most convenient way to move data between systems. Sure, I could beam the data as a string of zeros and ones via the cloud, but this soon becomes cumbersome when I need to move gigabytes of data.

This is why the USB flash drive is still relevant. The PNY Elite-X Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 1 flash drive is a decent drive for anyone looking for one in 2024, and it features an unexpected twist.

Also: The best M.2 SSDs you can buy

What's that twist? To find out, we need to take a closer look at the packaging.

View at Amazon

The surprise with the Elite-X is that, during testing, I recorded read speeds that are faster -- some 15% faster -- than the quoted speeds, which is an unusual but rather pleasant surprise.

What are read speeds? It's the speed at which your computer or Android device can access the data. If read speeds are too slow, you can't play media files stored on the drive, and accessing larger files becomes a chore.

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And it's not just videos. I stored some large image files on the drive -- between 100 and 200MB -- and they loaded into Adobe Photoshop almost instantly.

Well done on PNY for quoting realistic performance data, and for engineering a speedy drive.

Benchmarking the PNY Elite-X with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test

Benchmarking the PNY Elite-X with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test shows the real-world read speeds to be some 15% faster than the 200MB/s quoted.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Write speeds are not as important. It doesn't matter if loading files onto the drive takes a minute or two minutes. It's not critical, and doesn't affect the usability of the drive.

But don't let me leave you with the impression that this drive is a slouch at write speeds -- I copied a 650MB file to the drive in about 13 seconds. 

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The drive has a sleek, modern design, and fits in well with modern devices. It looks the part plugged into my MacBook Pro or my Android smartphone or tablet.

The sleek design of the PNY Elite-X fits in well with modern devices.

The sleek design of the PNY Elite-X fits in well with modern devices.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

PNY has put thought into protecting the USB-C connector. Rather than use a removable cap that can get lost, the Elite-X uses a sliding mechanism that covers the connector, protecting it from damage.

The upside is that there's nothing to lose (I don't know about you, but I can lose those caps in minutes). The downsides are that the slider can be a bit awkward to use and doesn't protect the port from dirt ingress.

PNY Elite-X USB-C flash drive closeup

The sliding mechanism protecting the USB-C connector is a much-welcomed upgrade on the removable caps that many manufacturers use.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The drive is encased in tough plastic and has a shiny black piano finish that seems to resist scratches and scuffs quite well. There's also a loop built into the end to attach the drive to keys, which is a nice touch. It's clearly quite tough too, since I've not yet broken it off.

The PNY Elite-X

The PNY Elite-X has a shiny black finish that does a good job of resisting scratches.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The 128GB storage is also plenty for a flash drive. If you need more than this, I'd highly recommend getting an external SSD, which would offer greater flexibility and performance.

Note that there's no hardware encryption built into the drive -- you're not going to get that for $15! -- and if you want that you're going to have to buy something like the Apricorn Aegis Secure Key 3NX, which will cost ten times as much.

ZDNET's buying advice

For $14, the PNY Elite-X USB-C is an excellent flash drive. It's sleek and modern, and the USB-C connector makes it perfect for those running more modern devices where USB-A and microUSB ports are a thing of the past.

Also: How to create a bootable Linux USB drive

I've been using mine as a repository for Adobe Photoshop files that I move between systems. The drive isn't super fast, but for making small edits or tweaks to an image, it's fast enough that I don't need to copy the files of the drive to use.

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