Can You Play Games From an External Hard Drive or SSD?

Published by Nyau Wai Hoe - Updated on

Yes, you can play video games using an external hard drive, which is great for extra storage space and making your games portable. But, keep in mind, it’s not always the best choice for everyone because of how it can affect your game’s speed and the lifespan of your equipment. Let’s look closer at these points.

Also see: How to Move Origin Games to Another Drive Without Redownloading

Can You Play Games From an External Hard Drive or SSD

Things to think about when using an external drive for games

Game speed and loading times

The effect of using an external hard drive on game performance is quite specific. Whether you use an HDD or SSD and how it connects to your computer (like USB, SATA, etc.) really matters. For the actual game speed, like how fast your game or characters move, the type of drive doesn’t really change anything because after the game loads, it mostly runs off your computer’s RAM, making everything smooth during play.

Game Loading

But, how quickly games load in the first place can be slower on external drives than internal ones because of the drive’s speed and its type of connection. Though, sometimes you might not even notice the difference. After the game is loaded, what matters more for how well it runs are things like your CPU, RAM, and graphics card, not how fast your HDD is.

Pro tip: Play PC Game with PS5, PS4 or Xbox Controller in Windows 11

Virtual memory and drive speed

In some gaming situations, virtual memory becomes super important, and here’s where your drive’s speed really counts. If a game uses your storage as virtual memory and your external drive is slow, it might make your game run choppy and slow down quick moves within the game​.

Related resource: How to Allocate More RAM to a Game in Windows 11 or 10

Choosing between external SSD and internal HDD for gaming

For gaming, external SSDs are usually the way to go instead of HDDs. SSDs give you quicker data transfer rates, which you’ll notice with faster loading times and when the game needs to quickly grab data.

External SSD vs internal HDD for gaming

Different connection types and their effects

The way your external drive connects can make a big difference in performance. Common USB connections (like USB 3.0) aren’t as fast as the connections inside your computer like SATA. But, USB-C (USB4) can match or even beat older internal drive speeds. This means an external drive with a USB-C connection could work better than old internal drives, but regular USB connections might be slower.

USB Type C External SSD

On gaming PCs, the fastest drives use PCIe to connect, which beats external USB 3 connections. USB-C external drives can do okay for most games. Some PCs also have eSATA ports that, while not as fast as USB-C, are still better than regular USB 3.

Learn more: All SSD Connectors Types Explained (SATA, M.2, NVMe, etc.)

Setting up games on an external drive

To play games from an external drive, your computer needs to know the game is there. When you install a game, just pick the external drive as the place to put it. This way, your computer can find and run the game from there.

How to play games from external hard drive

Game platforms like Steam let you choose where to install games. Remember, you can’t just move installed games; they need to be set up on the external drive from the start.

Useful guide: 30+ Windows 11 Services to Disable for Gaming Performance

How to get Steam games to run from an external drive

Using an external drive for Steam games is a smart move if you’re short on space. You can either install games directly onto it or move existing games over. Here’s how to do both:

Method 1: Direct installation on an external drive

  1. Open Steam and go to “Settings” from the Steam menu, then pick “Storage.”
  2. If Steam hasn’t seen your external drive yet, click “Add Drive“. Follow the prompts to add Steam games from an external hard drive or SSD
  3. When installing a new game, choose the external drive you added for the game to install there.Can you play Steam games from external hard drive or SSD on PC
  4. After installation, you can play games as normal. Using an external SSD with USB 3.1 is suggested to minimize lag and loading times.

Tip: Change your drive’s label so you can easily find your external Steam drive in File Explorer by right-clicking the drive, going to properties, and changing the label under the General tab.

Linked issue: Fixing “Failed to Add New Steam Library Folder”

Method 2: Moving existing Steam games

  1. Connect your external drive with enough space for the games you’re moving.
  2. Add the external drive as a new Steam Library Folder following “Method 1.”
  3. In Steam, go to your Library.
  4. Right-click the game to move, select “Properties“.
  5. Under “Installed Files“, choose “Move Install Folder“.How to transfer existing Steam games to an external drive
  6. Pick the new folder on the external drive and confirm.Move existing Steam games to External SSD or HDD
  7. Steam will shift the game files over. The time it takes depends on the game size and drive speed.

To put it simply

Using an external drive for gaming is about balancing the convenience of more storage and being able to take your games with you against the possible slower game load times and virtual memory issues. Choosing between an HDD and an SSD, and the type of connection, matters a lot for these downsides.

For the best gaming experience, go for an external SSD with a fast connection like USB-C. But, many gamers find that slower load times don’t really bother them, especially once the game is running smoothly from 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 from an external USB drive on your PS5, saving space on the PS5’s internal storage for PS5 games.
  • PS5 Games: You can’t play PS5 games directly from an external drive. They need to be on the PS5’s internal SSD to play. But, you can store PS5 and PS4 games on an external drive and move them to the internal drive when you want to play.

Can you play games from an external hard drive on PS5 or PS4

Can you play games from an external hard drive on Xbox Series X or S?

  • Non-optimized games: You can store and play older games directly from USB external drives on the Xbox Series X or S.
  • Games optimized for Series X or S: These can’t be played from external USB drives. Store them there but move them to the internal SSD or a compatible expansion card to play.

Can you play games from an external hard drive on Xbox Series X or S

Can you play games from an external hard drive on PC?

Yes, you can use an external HDD or SSD for games on a PC. Just make sure the computer knows where the game is on the external drive. After that, games run like they would from an internal drive.

What kind of external drive is best for gaming?

An external SSD is usually better for gaming than an HDD because of faster speeds, meaning quicker game loads. SSDs are also less likely to break down. But, SSDs cost more per GB than HDDs, so think about your budget and how much storage you need.

Does using an external drive change game performance?

External drives, especially those with USB 3.1 or faster connections, work well for gaming. They might have slower load times than internal drives, but once the game is running, the impact on things like FPS is minimal. So, external drives are a solid choice for storing and playing many games.

Can I use the same external drive on different platforms?

Technically, yes, but each platform formats drives differently. If you want to switch between PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, you might need to reformat the drive for each, which deletes all data. It’s usually easier to have a separate drive for each platform.

What to look for when buying an external drive for gaming?

Consider the drive’s storage size for your games, connection speed (USB 3.1 or faster is good), and if it works with your gaming setup. Also, think about the drive’s durability and how much you’re willing to spend, as better performance can mean higher prices.

Can I play online multiplayer games from an external drive?

Yes, you can play online games from an external drive just fine. The drive’s speed might affect loading times, but not your internet connection or playing online with others. Manage game updates and patches like you would for games on an internal drive.

Nyau Wai Hoe
Nyau Wai Hoe is the Founder and Chief Editor of With a degree in software engineering and over 12 years of experience in the tech support industry, Nyau has established himself as an expert in the field, with a primary focus on the Microsoft Windows operating system. As a tech enthusiast, he loves exploring new technologies and leveraging them to solve real-life problems.

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