What can replace a flash drive?

Flash drives have long been a popular way to store and transport files, photos, videos and other data. Their small size, affordability and ease of use made them an indispensable tech accessory for many years. However, in recent years, flash drive usage has declined as people turn to cloud storage and other alternatives. This is largely due to the rise of smartphones and the preference for wireless sharing, as well as increased access to high-speed internet connections. According to one study, in the 16-24 demographic, 35% reported using cloud storage solutions in 2015 – a number expected to grow as cloud services become even more ubiquitous.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage has become one of the most popular ways to replace flash drives for storing and accessing files from any device. Services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud allow you to store files in the cloud and access them from any computer, smartphone, or tablet. Google Drive offers 15GB of free storage and integrates with Gmail and Google Docs. Dropbox provides 2GB for free and is easy to use across platforms. iCloud seamlessly syncs content across Apple devices and provides 5GB free. The main benefits of cloud storage are availability from any location, automatic syncing and backup of files, and collaboration capabilities.

External Hard Drives

External hard drives can be a convenient replacement for flash drives. There are two main types of external hard drives – HDDs (hard disk drives) and SSDs (solid state drives).

External HDDs have high storage capacities, with most models ranging from 500GB to 5TB. They are relatively affordable compared to SSDs. However, HDDs rely on moving mechanical parts, making them slower and more prone to damage from drops or shocks. Portable external HDDs like the WD Elements offer durability features for on-the-go use.

External SSDs are faster, lighter, and more durable since they have no moving parts. Popular portable SSDs like the Samsung T7 Touch can reach transfer speeds up to 1,050 MB/s. However, SSDs have lower capacities, with most models ranging from 500GB to 2TB. SSDs are also typically more expensive per gigabyte compared to HDDs.

USB Thumb Drives

USB thumb drives, also known as USB flash drives, are one of the most common replacements for flash drives. These small, lightweight drives plug directly into a USB port and provide portable storage. Most USB drives today use the USB 3.0 standard, which offers faster transfer speeds compared to the older USB 2.0 standard. USB 3.0 drives can transfer data at up to 5 Gb/s, while USB 2.0 maxes out at 480 Mb/s.

USB drives come in a wide range of storage capacities, from 4GB up to 1TB and beyond. Lower capacity drives like 16GB or 32GB may be ideal for transferring documents or other small files. Higher capacity options like 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB offer more versatility for storing photos, videos, music, and other large files. The smallest USB drives are about the size of a thumbnail and super portable, while higher capacity drives may be a bit larger but still very compact compared to traditional external hard drives.

Overall, USB thumb drives provide a convenient way to store and transfer files on the go. Their plug-and-play functionality works on almost any computer. While not as spacious as external hard drives, USB drives strike a nice balance of portability and capacity.

SD Cards

SD cards, or secure digital cards, are a type of removable flash memory card commonly used in cameras, phones, and other small electronics. Like a flash drive, SD cards can be used to store and transfer data between devices. SD cards come in different sizes and speeds – while the smallest tend to be around 1GB, high capacity SD cards can store up to 2TB. The speed of an SD card is measured in MB/s – faster cards have quicker read/write speeds, which is especially important when recording video or high resolution images.

Some of the benefits of using an SD card over a traditional flash drive include the small size, ability to add portable storage to devices like phones and cameras, and fast transfer speeds. However, SD cards may be less convenient for frequently connecting to different computers, since an SD card reader or adapter is required. They also may be more prone to failure or corruption if not properly ejected from a device before being removed. Overall, SD cards offer a lightweight and high-capacity storage option, but require more care when handling to avoid data loss.

According to reports, high performance SD cards optimized for applications can offer faster speeds than USB flash drives in some cases. However, reliability may be a concern with SD cards compared to flash drives designed for constant plugging/unplugging.

Online File Storage

Online file storage services like Google Photos, Amazon Photos, Apple iCloud, and Dropbox provide convenient ways to store and access your photos and videos in the cloud. These services offer secure storage, automatic syncing and backup across devices, sharing capabilities, and powerful search tools to help you find specific photos easily. According to Tom’s Guide, some of the best online photo storage services in 2024 are:

Google Photos – Offers unlimited free storage for photos up to 16MP and videos up to 1080p resolution. Photos are compressed to save space but you can pay for additional original quality storage. Syncs across Android and iOS devices and the web. Provides facial recognition search, editing tools, and sharing options.

Amazon Prime Photos – Free unlimited full resolution photo storage for Prime members. Provides auto-backup on iOS/Android and desktop apps. Offers facial recognition and 5GB storage for videos and non-photo files.

Apple iCloud – Automatically syncs photos across Apple devices and provides 5GB of free storage. Paid plans available for more storage and iCloud Family Sharing capabilities. Provides powerful search and smart albums to organize your photos.

These services make accessing your photo collection convenient while saving space on your local devices. Their search capabilities also make it easy to rediscover forgotten photos years later.

Network Attached Storage

Network attached storage, or NAS, has emerged as a popular option for home media storage and streaming. According to Markets and Markets, the NAS market size is expected to reach $51 billion by 2028. NAS devices allow you to store and access data over a local area network rather than connecting an external hard drive directly to your computer.

For home use, NAS systems like those from Synology, QNAP, and Western Digital provide easy media streaming and sharing. With capacities ranging from 2 bays to 10+ bays, NAS devices offer ample storage for home media libraries. Features like Plex support, 4K video transcoding, remote access, and custom apps allow you to build a full-featured home media server.

Key benefits of using a NAS for home media include centralized storage accessible from many devices, automated backups, remote streaming when away from home, RAID configurations for redundancy, expandable capacity, and real-time transcoding for smooth playback. While more expensive than a regular external HDD, NAS systems are an excellent choice for storing and streaming media throughout the home.

External SSDs

External SSDs, or solid-state drives, are a fast and reliable option for portable storage. Compared to mechanical hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts, making them more durable and shock-resistant. SSDs connect via USB, Thunderbolt or USB-C ports. The latest external SSD models boast read and write speeds up to 1050 MB/s over USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 or Thunderbolt 3 connections.

Top external SSDs offer capacities up to 4TB to store photos, videos, documents and other files. Leading brands like Samsung and SanDisk offer password protection and hardware encryption to keep data secure. The compact size and lack of moving parts allows external SSDs to be very portable without worrying about damage. Models like the Samsung T7 Touch are about the size of a credit card and weigh less than 2 ounces.

For performance, reliability and durability, external SSDs are one of the best flash drive alternatives. Prices have also come down significantly, with 1TB portable SSDs available for under $100. The rugged design, fast transfer speeds, and ample capacities make external SSDs ideal for storing and accessing files on the go.


Optical discs like CDs and DVDs were once very popular for storing data, but their usage has declined in recent years. However, they can still be a useful option for long-term data archiving, as they have some advantages over flash drives:

  • CDs and DVDs are relatively cheap to produce and purchase.
  • They have very large storage capacities, with dual-layer DVDs storing up to 8.5 GB.
  • Optical discs can have exceptionally long shelf lives if stored properly. Tests by the Library of Congress found DVDs can last over 100 years before showing signs of data deterioration.
  • The data is difficult to erase or overwrite accidentally.

The convenience of flash drives has made CDs and DVDs less common for active data use. But for creating a permanent data backup or archive, optical discs still offer unique benefits. According to some estimates, DVD sales have fallen to less than 10% of the total video market in recent years, with total sales around $2.2 billion in 2018. However, they can still play a role for long-term data storage needs.


There are several viable options that could replace a flash drive depending on your needs. Cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox provide easy online access and collaboration, while lacking the ability to directly connect to devices. External hard drives offer more storage capacity at a lower cost but are bulkier and less convenient. USB thumb drives are the closest direct replacement – compact and portable, but with more limited space. SD cards provide removable storage good for media files and cameras. Online storage sites let you access files anywhere with an internet connection and share easily. Network attached storage gives centralized storage for multiple devices on a local network. External SSDs have very fast data transfer speeds. Optical discs hold lots of data cheaply but are slow and outdated. Evaluate your personal requirements around capacity, portability, speed, privacy and price to determine the best flash drive alternative for your situation.