Can I run games off an external SSD?

What is an External SSD?

An external SSD is a portable solid-state drive that connects to a computer to store and access data. Unlike a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), an external SSD has no moving parts and instead stores data on flash memory chips. This allows external SSDs to be faster, smaller, lighter, and more durable than external HDDs.

External SSDs connect to computers through USB, Thunderbolt, or other ports. Common connection types include USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3, which provide fast data transfer speeds. This allows external SSDs to have quick file transfer speeds when moving data to or from the drive.

Some key benefits of external SSDs over HDDs include:

  • Faster read/write speeds – up to 10x faster than external HDDs
  • More portable and compact
  • More durable and shock-resistant
  • No noise since there are no moving parts
  • Lower power consumption

In summary, an external SSD is a type of solid-state flash memory storage that connects to a computer externally through various high-speed ports. Its fast speeds, durability, and portability make it well-suited for tasks like transferring files, editing media, gaming, and backing up data on the go.

Can You Game on an External SSD?

Yes, you can game on an external SSD. Using an external SSD for gaming provides some key advantages over using a traditional external hard drive:

External SSDs have much faster read and write speeds compared to external hard drives. This improves loading times for games and levels (according to Crucial, external SSDs can have write speeds up to 10x faster than hard drives). The faster speeds can lead to a smoother overall gaming experience.

SSDs are also more durable and reliable than external hard drives because they have no moving parts. External hard drives with spinning disks are prone to failure from drops or bumps.

However, there are some limitations to be aware of when using an external SSD for gaming:

– The maximum speeds achievable over common USB connections like USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 may be lower than possible internal SSD speeds. This depends on your specific hardware setup.

– External SSD capacity maximums tend to be lower than external hard drives. You may need multiple external SSD drives for large gaming libraries.

– External SSDs have higher cost per GB of storage compared to external hard drives.

Overall, external SSDs can provide a great portable gaming experience with faster load times. But internal SSDs may offer better peak read/write performance depending on your system.

External SSD vs. Internal SSD for Gaming

When it comes to speed for gaming, internal SSDs have a slight edge over external SSDs. Internal SSDs connect directly to the motherboard via SATA or PCIe interfaces which provide faster read/write speeds compared to external SSDs which connect via USB 3.2 gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3 interfaces. According to Crucial’s article External vs internal SSDs, which is faster, internal SSDs can achieve sequential read/write speeds up to 3500/3000 MB/s whereas external SSDs top out around 1050/1000 MB/s.

However, most gamers won’t notice a huge difference between internal and external SSD speeds. The latency on a good external SSD is still very low and provides a much better gaming experience than a traditional hard drive. As one Reddit user commented on r/Steam, “SDD is faster load times, HDD is cheaper per GB. Personally I keep a small SSD for my OS and any games with long load times, or where latency is a big factor.”

When it comes to cost, internal SSDs are generally less expensive per GB compared to external SSDs. However, you can get more storage capacity for your money with an external drive. External SSDs also offer more flexibility if you want to move games between devices or upgrade in the future.

Setting up an external SSD is very easy with USB or Thunderbolt connections. Internal drives require opening up your PC case and installing the SSD which is more complex, especially for laptops. So external SSDs provide simpler plug-and-play functionality.

Choosing an External SSD for Gaming

When choosing an external SSD for gaming, there are a few key factors to consider:

Storage Capacity

You’ll want to choose an external SSD with enough storage capacity to hold your game library. Many popular external SSDs for gaming come in 500GB to 2TB sizes. A 1TB or 2TB SSD will give you room for plenty of games (PC World).


Look for an external SSD with a fast interface like USB 3.2, USB-C, or Thunderbolt 3 to maximize transfer speeds. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and Thunderbolt 3 connections offer transfer rates up to 20Gbps or 40Gbps, meaning you can load games quickly (PC Gamer).

Read/Write Speeds

Faster read/write speeds allow for quicker game load times and better gameplay performance. Many quality external SSDs offer 500MB/s to 1000MB/s sequential read/write speeds.

Brands and Models

Top external SSD brands and models for gaming include the Samsung T5/T7, WD Black P50, Seagate FireCuda, ADATA SE800, and Crucial X8.

How to Set Up an External SSD for Gaming

Setting up an external SSD for gaming is a straightforward process. The key steps are connecting the drive, formatting it, and installing your games.

First, connect your external SSD to your computer via the interface cable that came with the drive, usually USB 3.0 or USB-C. Be sure to connect the SSD to a high-bandwidth USB port on your computer for maximum performance.

Next, you’ll want to format the external SSD. On Windows, open Disk Management, right-click on the SSD, and select Format. Format it to NTFS for compatibility with Windows games (1). On Mac, open Disk Utility, select the SSD, click Erase, and choose a format like APFS.

With your external SSD formatted, you can start installing games on it. When installing a Steam game, for example, you can select the external SSD as the installation folder. Origin and other game launchers work similarly. This will install the game directly to your external SSD rather than the computer’s internal drive.

Once installed, you can play games directly from the external SSD. Load times will be much faster compared to a HDD external drive. The external SSD brings portability as well, letting you bring your games to different computers.

Tips for Running Games on an External SSD

Below are some tips to optimize your gaming experience when using an external SSD:

Avoid overfilling the drive – Most experts recommend keeping at least 20% of the drive space free for optimal performance. A full or near-full external SSD will slow down load times. Remove unused files and games you aren’t currently playing to free up space.

Use a high-speed interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 offer the fastest speeds for transferring data between your computer and external SSD. Using at least USB 3.2 Gen 1 is recommended for good gaming performance.

Disable hibernation – Windows’ hibernate feature will occasionally freeze the external SSD, which can cause lag and interruptions while gaming. Disabling hibernation avoids this issue.

Keep the external SSD cool – Excess heat can throttle the SSD’s speed. Avoid setting it on soft surfaces that trap heat. A stand or external cooling fan can help.

Use the right cables – Use the cables that came with your external SSD for maximum compatibility and speed.

Update SSD drivers – Check for firmware and driver updates from the manufacturer to ensure optimal performance.

Defrag the drive – Periodically defragmenting the external SSD helps organize data and prevents slowdowns.

Troubleshooting External SSD Gaming Issues

There are a few common issues that can arise when using an external SSD for gaming. Some of the main problems include slow load times, interface connectivity problems, and overheating.

If you notice longer load times when loading games from your external SSD compared to an internal drive, there are a few things you can try. First, make sure the external SSD is connected to a USB 3.0 port, as older USB 2.0 ports can bottleneck performance. Upgrading to a faster external SSD like one with a USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt interface can also help.1

Connectivity problems like stuttering, lag, or games crashing can occur if the external SSD becomes disconnected during gameplay. Using a short, high-quality USB cable and connecting directly to the computer rather than through a hub can improve reliability. You may also need to adjust power settings so the external SSD doesn’t power down unexpectedly.2

Finally, some external SSD enclosures can get hot with sustained reads/writes. Using an external SSD with a metal enclosure that dissipates heat efficiently can help. Setting up additional cooling like a small laptop cooling pad can also keep temperatures in check.

Maintaining an External Gaming SSD

Properly maintaining your external SSD is important for optimal gaming performance and longevity of the drive. Here are some tips for maintenance:

Heat and Ventilation

External SSDs can get hot with prolonged use, especially while gaming, so it’s important to allow for proper ventilation. Avoid enclosing or tightly packing the SSD as this traps heat. You can use a laptop cooling pad or stand to elevate the SSD and encourage airflow. Proper ventilation prevents potential thermal throttling which can impact game loading speeds.

Proper Ejection

Always safely eject or unmount the external SSD before disconnecting it from your PC or console. Simply unplugging the SSD without properly ejecting can lead to file corruption or lost data. Both Windows and MacOS have eject options to safely disconnect external drives.

Keeping Drives and Ports Clean

Dust buildup on the external SSD or debris in the USB ports can cause connection problems. Occasionally wipe down the drive enclosure and use compressed air to clean out any ports you regularly connect the SSD to. This prevents accumulated dirt from interfering with the physical connectivity between the SSD and your device.

With proper care and maintenance, an external SSD can deliver fast, reliable performance for gaming usage over many years.

External SSD vs. HDD for Gaming

When choosing an external drive for gaming, two main options are an external solid state drive (SSD) or an external hard disk drive (HDD). The main differences between SSDs and HDDs that impact gaming performance are speed, reliability, price, and storage capacity.

SSDs are significantly faster than HDDs when it comes to data transfer speeds and access times. For loading games, this usually translates to faster load times on an SSD compared to an HDD. According to testing by Crucial, load times can be up to 4x faster on an SSD versus HDD when booting games like Call of Duty or Overwatch. This speed difference is because SSDs use flash memory and have no moving parts, unlike the spinning platters found in traditional HDDs. The faster data access of SSDs also results in reduced lag and stuttering during gameplay.

When it comes to reliability and lifespan, SSDs tend to be more durable and last longer than HDDs since they have no moving parts. HDDs can fail over time due to mechanical issues. However, HDDs are still very reliable if handled properly.

SSDs tend to be more expensive dollar-for-dollar compared to HDDs when looking at raw storage capacity. For example, a 1TB HDD costs around $50 while a 1TB SSD typically costs around $100. However, the extra speed and performance the SSD offers is often worth the price premium for gaming purposes. HDDs remain a good budget option for mass storage of files, photos, videos, etc.

In terms of maximum storage capacity, HDDs scale higher than SSDs. External HDDs are available up to around 10-14TB on the consumer market, while external SSD capacities max out around 8TB currently. For gaming storage, capacity needs vary depending on your library size and type of games (indie 2D vs. AAA open world, for example). In many cases, a 1-2TB external SSD has plenty of capacity for an average gaming library.

The Future of External SSD Gaming

As technology continues to advance, external SSDs for gaming are expected to improve in terms of both speed and capacity. One major development on the horizon is the rollout of faster connection standards like USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4.

USB 4 promises to double the bandwidth of USB 3.2, providing up to 40Gbps transfer speeds. This will allow external SSDs to operate at speeds comparable to internal PCIe SSDs. Thunderbolt 4 will also offer 40Gbps bandwidth along with reduced latency.

These faster interfaces will enable external SSDs to fully leverage the potential of high-speed NVMe drives. Gamers can expect even faster load times and gameplay thanks to the increased bandwidth.1

In addition to faster connections, external SSD capacities are expected to increase while costs decrease. As flash storage densities continue to grow, higher capacity 4TB+ external SSDs will become common and more affordable. This will give gamers the ability to store larger game libraries externally.

With expanding capacities and blistering fast 40Gbps transfer speeds, external SSDs will become even more capable options for gaming storage in the coming years. Gamers can look forward to external SSDs rivaling or even surpassing some internal SSD setups in the future.