Do external hard drives work on gaming PC?

Quick Answers

Yes, external hard drives do work with gaming PCs. External hard drives can be used to store and play games, add extra storage space, back up game files, and transfer games between different computers. The main requirements are that the external drive connects via USB and is formatted to a compatible file system like NTFS or exFAT.

Can You Use an External Hard Drive for Gaming?

Using an external hard drive for gaming is a great way to expand the storage capacity of your gaming PC. Here are some of the main benefits of using an external drive for games:

  • Extra storage space – Install more games without having to delete old ones or upgrade internal hard drives.
  • Portability – Carry your games library to different computers easily.
  • Faster load times – Games load faster when installed on external SSDs compared to internal hard drives.
  • Convenience – Easily install, uninstall and organize games in one place.
  • Backups – Store backup copies of game files to avoid losing progress.

The most common ways to use an external drive for gaming include:

  • Game storage – Install games directly to the external drive.
  • Game backups – Copy game files or steamapps folder to external drive.
  • Game launchers – Install launchers like Steam, Origin or Uplay on the external drive.
  • Emulators/ROMs – Store emulators and ROMs for retro gaming.

As long as the external drive uses a fast connectivity method like USB 3.0, USB-C or Thunderbolt, it will work great for gaming. A solid state drive (SSD) will provide faster load times than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD).

External Drive Compatibility

There are a few key factors that determine whether an external hard drive is compatible for use with PC games:

  • Connectivity: The external drive must connect to your gaming PC via a USB, Thunderbolt or external SATA connection. USB 3.0 or later is recommended for best speed.
  • File system: The drive must be formatted with a compatible file system like NTFS or exFAT. This allows the PC to read and write files.
  • Power source: Desktop external drives require a separate power connection, while portable drives are powered through USB.
  • Drive format: A solid state drive (SSD) or traditional hard disk drive (HDD) will both work, but SSDs load games faster.
  • Storage capacity: Larger drives provide more storage for games, but even 500GB is enough for most gamers.

As long as those criteria are met, the external drive should work fine with a Windows gaming PC. Some additional factors like drive speed, portability and physical build quality also impact the user experience.

How to Use an External Hard Drive for Games

Using an external drive to store and play games on a PC is a straightforward process. Follow these steps:

  1. Connect the external drive to your PC via USB, Thunderbolt or external SATA.
  2. Power on the external drive if it has a separate power connection.
  3. Open Windows File Explorer to verify the drive appears.
  4. Check the file system is compatible or reformat if necessary.
  5. Create a new folder on the drive for your games.
  6. Install games by selecting the external drive folder as the install location.
  7. Copy existing game folders from your PC to the external drive.
  8. Update game launchers to detect games on the external drive.
  9. Launch games directly from the external drive.

Once setup, you can access, launch and play games from the external drive just like you would on an internal drive. Just ensure the external drive is connected when gaming.

Tips for Using an External Drive for Games

Follow these tips to get the best experience when using an external hard drive to store and play PC games:

  • Use USB 3.0 or USB-C for fastest data transfer speeds.
  • Connect the external drive directly to the PC rather than through a hub.
  • Use an SSD for faster load times or an HDD for more storage capacity.
  • Keep at least 20% free space on the external drive.
  • Install launchers on the external drive for easy game access.
  • Disable antivirus scanning or optimization on the external drive.
  • Eject and safely disconnect the drive when not in use.
  • Split game libraries across multiple drives to avoid filling up.
  • Create regular backups in case of file corruption or drive failure.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I play games directly from an external hard drive?

Yes, you can play games directly from an external hard drive plugged into your gaming PC. Simply install the games to a folder on the external drive and launch them from there instead of an internal drive.

Will games run slower on an external drive?

Using a high speed external drive via USB 3.0 or later will provide similar performance to gaming on an internal SATA drive. USB 2.0 and external HDDs are slower. SSDs over USB 3.0/USB-C offer the fastest external game performance.

Can I move existing games to an external drive?

Yes, you can migrate existing game installations to an external drive via Steam’s backup and restore feature or by copying the game folder and redirecting the library folder in the launcher.

How do I install games on my external drive?

When installing a new game, just select the external hard drive as the installation folder. Steam and other launchers let you pick where to install games.

Will all my games work after moving them?

The majority of games will work after moving them to an external drive. Some may have DRM or hard-coded paths that require re-installation or tweaks to run from a new location.

Choosing the Best External Hard Drive for Gaming

Picking the right external hard drive for your gaming needs comes down to a few key factors:

  • Capacity – Bigger is better when it comes to storing large game files. 1TB or 2TB is ideal for most gamers.
  • Speed – SSDs load much faster than HDDs. USB 3.0 provides faster transfer rates than USB 2.0.
  • Portability – Smaller drives with durable enclosures can easily be transported for gaming on the go.
  • Reliability – Drives from trusted brands that include backup software and longer warranties are ideal.
  • Price – Bigger and faster drives cost more. Decide how much performance and capacity you need.

Top recommendations for external gaming drives include:

  • Samsung T5 SSD – Fast, portable solid state drive.
  • WD Black P10 HDD – High performance portable hard disk drive.
  • Seagate Backup Plus Hub HDD – Great capacity and built-in USB hub.
  • WD Black D10 HDD – Rugged external drive with fast speeds.

Do your research and choose the right balance of speed, capacity, features and price for your needs and budget.

How to Backup PC Games on an External Hard Drive

Backing up your game files on an external drive protects them from loss or corruption. Here are some tips for backing up games:

  • Use built-in tools – Steam, Origin and Uplay have backup features to copy games to external drives.
  • Copy folders – Manually copying game installation folders to external drives backs them up.
  • Image drives – Use imaging software like Macrium Reflect to regularly image internal drives.
  • Backup saves – Copy saved games and configs stored in My Documents folder.
  • Store safely – Keep backups disconnected from PC when not in use to prevent infection.
  • Sync updates – Occasionally sync backups with current game files after patches or DLC.

Backups allow you to restore corrupted or accidentally deleted games. Just be sure to keep backup drives in a safe place.

Troubleshooting External Hard Drive Gaming Issues

Using an external drive for gaming can sometimes cause problems. Here are solutions to some common issues:

Games won’t install to external drive

  • Reconnect the drive and restart the PC if the drive is not detected.
  • Check if the drive format is NTFS/exFAT.
  • Disable antivirus or optimization software blocking access.
  • Update drive drivers and BIOS if connections are not working.

Games stutter or freeze when played from external drive

  • Reduce graphics settings if the drive speed causes slowdowns.
  • Connect the external drive to rear USB ports for better power.
  • Try a different high speed cable or USB port.
  • Disable USB power saving settings in Windows power plan.

Game launchers can’t find games on external drive

  • Add the external drive as a library folder in the launcher settings.
  • Run the launcher as administrator to grant folder access.
  • Re-install games to the external drive if the launcher can’t detect them.
  • Delete leftover folder references to the old game location.

External drive is not recognized by the computer

  • Try connecting the drive to different USB ports.
  • Check if drive needs an external power supply.
  • Restart the PC and reconnect the drive after booting up.
  • Update USB and external SATA drivers in Windows.
  • Inspect connections for any damage or faults.


Using an external hard drive is a great way to expand your gaming storage capacity. External drives are compatible with gaming PCs as long as they connect via USB, Thunderbolt or external SATA.

Look for a high speed drive formatted with NTFS or exFAT to get optimal game loading performance. SSDs provide faster speeds while HDDs offer more storage for the price.

Following the tips outlined, you can easily install games to external drives, move existing games folders, back up installations and troubleshoot any potential issues. With the right external hard drive, you can boost the gaming performance and capacity of your desktop or laptop.