Is an external SSD OK for gaming?

With the growing popularity of external solid state drives (SSDs), many gamers are wondering if using an external SSD can provide a good gaming experience. SSDs are known to have much faster read and write speeds compared to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), which can decrease loading times and improve performance in games.

However, external SSDs connect via USB which has bandwidth limitations. This raises the question – will an external SSD still improve gaming performance compared to an internal SSD, or is it too bottlenecked by the USB connection to make a difference?

In this article, we’ll examine the factors that affect gaming performance, look at SSD gaming benchmarks, and provide recommendations on whether an external SSD is a good choice for gaming.

External SSD Overview

An external SSD is a solid-state drive that is connected externally to a computer, game console, or other device via a USB, Thunderbolt, or other cable interface. It uses flash memory chips to store data, rather than spinning platters like an external hard disk drive (HDD).

External SSDs connect via USB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB-C, or Thunderbolt ports. USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 offer data transfer speeds up to 5 Gbps and 10 Gbps respectively. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 offer transfer rates up to 40 Gbps. This makes external SSDs much faster for data transfer than external HDDs which top out around 150 MB/s.

Gaming Performance Factors

There are three key specifications of an external SSD that impact gaming performance:

Read/Write Speeds
An SSD’s read and write speeds determine how fast games and levels can load from the drive. Faster read/write speeds allow games to load their assets quicker. Most external SSDs have read/write speeds over 500MB/s which is much faster than a HDD.

Interface Bandwidth

The interface between the SSD and computer is important. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 offers the fastest bandwidth up to 20Gbps for external drives. Other interfaces like USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) and Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) also provide excellent bandwidth.

SSDs have much lower latency than HDDs because they access data electronically rather than mechanically. This translates to less lag and stuttering during gameplay. External SSDs have slightly higher latency than internal SSDs but still outperform HDDs.

By optimizing these three factors, external SSDs can significantly improve game load times and in-game performance compared to traditional hard drives.

External SSD Benchmarks

When evaluating external SSDs for gaming, real-world gaming tests and load time comparisons are important benchmarks to consider.

In testing done by hardware review sites like Linus Tech Tips, external SSDs consistently outperform traditional hard drives for gaming. For example, in multiple games tested, load times were nearly cut in half when using an external SSD versus a HDD. The faster read/write speeds of SSDs translate into much quicker initial game launch times and fast travel load screens.

However, external SSD gaming performance is still not quite on par with internal SSDs connected directly via SATA or NVMe. There is a slight lag introduced by the USB interface. So while external SSDs are a massive improvement over external hard drives, internal SSDs remain the gold standard for maxing out gaming system performance.

Overall, benchmarks clearly demonstrate that external SSDs offer strong real-world gaming performance and dramatically faster load times compared to mechanical hard drives. For gamers looking to expand their limited internal storage through external means, SSDs are highly recommended over traditional HDD options.


When looking for the best external SSDs for gaming, there are a few key specs and features to prioritize:

  • Read/write speeds – Look for sequential read/write speeds of at least 500MB/s. NVMe drives can reach up to 2,000MB/s for super fast game loading.

  • USB connection – USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 provides up to 20Gbps bandwidth for peak performance. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are also good options.

  • Storage capacity – A 1TB drive provides a good balance of capacity and affordability. 2TB offers more room for multiple game libraries.

  • Rugged design – Look for solid state drives with aluminum housing, water/dust resistance, and shock protection.

  • Warranty and support – Brands like Samsung offer up to 5 year warranties. Look for responsive customer support.

Some top external SSDs for gaming include:

  • Samsung T7 Touch (our top pick)

  • WD Black P50 Game Drive

  • Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD

  • Adata SE800

Choosing an external SSD with fast read/write speeds, ample capacity, and durable design gives you the best experience for gaming and transporting game libraries.

Budget Considerations

External SSDs can be quite pricey, especially high-capacity models from premium brands. However, there are some lower-cost alternatives:

  • SATA SSD – An older but cheaper type of SSD that connects via USB. Speeds max out around 550MB/s.
  • Portable hard drive – Much cheaper per GB but significantly slower than an SSD. Fine for backup but not ideal for gaming.
  • Smaller capacity SSD – A 250GB or 500GB SSD is considerably cheaper than 1TB+ models. You may need to compromise on storage space.
  • Store games on a hard drive – Keep your OS and key games on the SSD, while storing other games on a cheap hard drive.

To save money, focus your budget on getting a decent 240-500GB SSD from a reputable brand. Then complement it with an affordable hard drive for additional storage. With some creative juggling of your game library between the SSD and HDD, you can enjoy fast load times on key games at a reasonable price.

Other External SSD Uses

External SSDs offer some additional benefits for gamers besides faster load times:
– Portability is a major advantage. You can easily bring your games to a friend’s house or take them on the go. External SSDs are small, durable, and don’t require external power.

– Many external SSDs have large capacities up to 2TB, so you can store your entire game library on them. This allows you to save space on your console or PC.
– External SSDs can be used for general storage and file transfers. Their fast speeds make them great for media editing, backups, transferring large files, and more.

Downsides of External SSDs

While external SSDs provide fast performance, there are some downsides to consider.

One downside is durability concerns. External SSDs connect over USB which means the drive is more prone to being bumped or dropped while in use, which can damage or corrupt the drive. Internal SSDs located inside the PC case don’t have this same concern.

Another downside is that external SSDs tend to have smaller maximum capacities than internal SSDs. For example, external SSDs commonly top out at 2TB while internal SSDs can go up to 8TB or more. This is because external SSDs need to remain small and portable.

For serious gamers who have large game libraries or play storage-intensive titles, the capacity limitations of external SSDs could become problematic over time. An internal SSD with more storage headroom would be a better long-term solution.


In summary, using an external SSD for gaming can provide noticeable improvements in loading times and performance compared to a traditional HDD, but usually falls short of speeds from internal SSDs. Benchmarks show external SSDs can achieve 50-90% of the speeds of internal SSDs depending on the interface and drive. This makes them a good option for improving performance on laptops or consoles where internal drive upgrades are limited. Models with USB 3.2 Gen2x2 or Thunderbolt 3/4 interfaces provide the fastest speeds.

For most gamers, an external SSD is recommended primarily for storing game libraries and playing titles that benefit from faster loading. Internal SSDs remain ideal for installing the operating system and playing competitive online games where every second counts. The lower capacity and higher price per GB of external SSDs means they should complement rather than fully replace cheaper HDDs and internal SSDs. Overall, external SSDs are a smart choice for enhancing real-world gaming experiences and expanding limited storage, especially in portables, but should not be expected to match internal SSD performance.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about using external SSDs for gaming, here are some helpful resources:

Related Articles


  • Jones, A. (2021). Optimizing Load Times: A Guide to External SSDs. GameDev Quarterly.
  • Lee, B. (2020). External SSD 101: What You Need to Know. PC Gamer.
  • IGN. (2019). Why You Should Upgrade to an SSD for Gaming. IGN.