Playing video games from an external hard drive is indeed possible and can offer several benefits, particularly when it comes to storage capacity and portability. However, it’s essential to understand that this method is not universally recommended due to several factors that can impact gaming performance and the longevity of the hardware. Let’s explore these factors in depth.
Key considerations when using an external HDD or SSD for gaming
Real-time game speed and load times
The performance of games when played from an external hard drive is a nuanced topic. Generally, the type of drive (HDD or SSD) and the connection interface (USB, SATA, etc.) are crucial factors. When it comes to real-time game speed, such as the pace of gameplay or character movement in a first-person shooter, the drive type typically doesn’t influence performance. This is because, after a game loads, most of the critical data is stored and accessed from the computer’s RAM, allowing for seamless real-time play regardless of the drive’s speed,
However, the drive speed significantly impacts load times. Games usually run slower on external drives compared to internal ones due to slower drive speeds and connection types. Although in some cases, you might not notice a significant difference in performance. For example, once a game has loaded into memory, factors like CPU, RAM, and GPU become more pivotal for performance, not the HDD’s speed.
Virtual memory and speed of drive
Virtual memory plays a crucial role in some gaming scenarios, where the speed of the drive becomes more critical. This is particularly evident in cases where the game uses the storage drive resources for virtual memory. If a game relies on virtual memory, and the external drive is slower, it can lead to choppy gameplay and a diminished ability to perform quick actions within the game.
Related resource: How to Allocate More RAM to a Game in Windows 11 or 10
When comparing external SSD vs internal HDD
For gaming purposes, external solid state drives (SSDs) are generally recommended over hard disk drives (HDDs). SSDs, even when external, offer better performance than HDDs due to faster data transfer rates. This difference is especially pronounced in loading times and when the game requires quick data access.
Connection types (USB 3.0, USB-C, etc.) and their impact
The connection type of the external drive significantly impacts its performance. Standard USB connections (like USB 3.0) are slower than modern internal drive connections like SATA. However, USB-C (USB4) can reach speeds comparable to SATA and potentially outperform SATA internal drives. This implies that an external drive with a USB-C connection could offer better performance than older internal drives, but traditional USB connections will likely result in slower performance.
On PCs designed for gaming, the most common internal drives are NVMe drives connected via PCIe, offering the fastest available option. External drives on these systems vary significantly, with many still using USB 3 connections, leading to much slower performance compared to internal drives. USB-C external drives can provide adequate performance for most games. Some PCs also offer external eSATA connections, which, while slower than USB-C, are better than standard USB 3 connections.
Installation and accessibility
To play games off an external drive, the computer needs to recognize the game’s location on the external drive. During installation, you can select the external drive as the installation location. This process ensures the computer can access and run the game from the external drive.
Most gaming platforms, like Steam, allow you to manually choose where the game is installed. It’s important to note that while you can move downloaded games to an external drive, installed games can’t be simply copied and pasted; they need to be installed on the external drive initially.
How to play Steam games from an external hard drive or SSD
Playing Steam games from an external hard drive can be a practical solution for gamers with limited internal storage space. This process involves either installing games directly onto an external drive or transferring existing games from the internal drive. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do both:
Method 1: Install Steam games directly on external drive
The steps below will show you how to add your external drive as a new Steam Library Folder and install games on it.
- Open Steam and select the Steam menu at the top left corner of the Steam client. Then, click on “Settings” and choose “Storage.”
- Click on the drop-down menu to view all the drives recognized by Steam. If Steam hasn’t recognize your external SSD or HDD yet, click “Add Drive“.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to add your external drive.
- Next, when you install a new game, you will get to choose which Steam Library Folder you would like Steam to install the game in. Simply select the external drive you have added.
- You can play the games as usual after the installation is complete. Note that an external SSD connected via USB 3.1 is recommended to reduce lag and loading times.
Optionally, modify your volume label for easy recognition of your external Steam drive via File Explorer by right-clicking on the external drive, selecting properties, and changing the volume label in the General tab.
Linked issue: Fixing “Failed to Add New Steam Library Folder”
Method 2: Transfer existing Steam games to an external drive
- First, connect your external hard drive to your computer. Ensure it has enough space to accommodate the games you want to transfer.
- Follow the steps in “Method 1” to add your external drive as a new Steam Library Folder.
- Open Steam and go to your Steam Library.
- Right-click on the game you want to move and select “Properties“.
- Under the “Installed Files” tab, click on “Move Install Folder“.
- Select the new library folder you created on the external drive and confirm.
- Steam will now move the game files to the external drive. This may take some time depending on the size of the game and the speed of your external drive.
Using an external drive for gaming involves a trade-off between the convenience of additional storage and portability against potential performance limitations, particularly in load times and scenarios involving virtual memory. The choice between an external HDD and SSD, as well as the connection type (USB 3.0, USB-C, etc.), plays a significant role in determining the extent of these limitations.
For optimal gaming performance, an external SSD with a high-speed connection like USB-C is recommended. However, for many gamers, the differences in load times may not significantly impact the overall gaming experience, especially once the game is fully loaded into the computer’s RAM.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you play games from an external hard drive on PS5 or PS4?
- PS4 Games on PS5: You can play PS4 games directly from a USB extended storage device on your PS5. This helps free up space on the PS5’s internal storage, which is reserved for PS5 games.
- PS5 Games: Unfortunately, you cannot play PS5 games directly from an external drive. PS5 games need to be copied back to the PS5’s internal SSD storage to be played. However, a PS5 system update allows you to transfer both PS5 and PS4 games to an external USB or SSD hard drive for storage. You will need to move them back to the internal drive to play them.
Can you play games from an external hard drive on Xbox Series X or S?
- Non-optimized games: On Xbox Series X or S, you can store and play non-optimized games, like Xbox One games, directly from USB external drives.
- Games optimized for Series X or S: Games optimized for Xbox Series X or S cannot be played from external USB drives. They can only be stored there and need to be transferred back to the internal SSD or a compatible expansion card to be played.
Can you play games from an external hard drive on PC?
You can play games from an external HDD or SSD on a PC. The computer needs to recognize where the game is located on the external drive. Once set up, you can run games as you would from an internal drive.
What kind of external drive should I use for gaming?
Opting for an external SSD is generally more beneficial than an HDD due to faster read and write speeds, which translates into quicker load times for games. SSDs also tend to be more reliable with less risk of mechanical failure. However, SSDs can be more expensive per GB compared to HDDs, so budget and storage needs should be considered.
Does using an external drive affect game performance?
While external drives, especially those with USB 3.1 or higher connections, provide sufficient speed for gaming, they may still have slower load times compared to internal drives. However, once a game is loaded into the system’s RAM, the external drive’s impact on in-game performance, such as FPS, is minimal. This makes external drives a viable option for storing and playing a wide range of games.
Can I use the same external drive across different platforms?
Using the same external drive across different platforms (PC, PlayStation, Xbox) is technically possible, but each platform formats drives differently. If you plan to use the drive interchangeably, you may need to reformat it for each platform, which erases all existing data. Therefore, it’s more practical to dedicate a drive to a single platform or have multiple drives for different platforms.
What should I consider when buying an external drive for gaming?
When purchasing an external drive for gaming, consider its storage capacity to accommodate large game files, the connection speed (USB 3.1 or higher is preferable for faster data transfer), and compatibility with your gaming platform. Also, look at the drive’s durability and reliability, as gaming can involve frequent data reads and writes. Balance these factors with your budget, as higher-performing drives can be more expensive.
Can I play online multiplayer games from an external drive?
Yes, you can play online multiplayer games from an external drive without any issues, provided the game is properly installed and recognized by the system. The drive’s speed might affect the game’s loading time, but it won’t impact your online connectivity or multiplayer performance. Regular updates and patches for these games should be managed similarly as if they were installed on an internal drive.