Can You Play Games off an External Hard Drive?

This is whether you can play PC games from an external hard drive.

The answer is yes, technically speaking.

More and more gamers are making that move. Learn why.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Can You Install PC Games on an External Hard Drive and Play From That Hard Drive?

For how often gamers ask, “Can I install PC games on an external hard drive and play them from that hard drive?” the answer is surprisingly elusive. 

After all, it’s incredibly tempting to install games on an external hard drive.

PC’s only have so much space and the average game today needs 60-70 GB of storage space. It also requires high-resolution pictures, high-quality audio, and other assets that put a lot of strain on your computer’s speed and capacity.

Depending on your computer and the number of games you enjoy, you may not have a lot of space left on your internal hard drive. So it makes sense that this question would come up with frequency. 

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may have hoped. There are a lot of factors at play. 

The Answer Is Yes, Technically

So if you’re asking yourself, can I install PC games on an external hard drive and play them from that hard drive? The answer is yes, technically speaking. And every day, more gamers choose to go that route.  

Many portable external hard drives stacked on wooden table.

Those who enjoy STEAM games, especially, find that using an external hard drive allows them to take the game with them and then play it wherever they wish. But that wasn’t always the case and there’s a few things you should know before installing games on an external hard drive. 

What To Consider Before Installing Games on an External Hard Drive

If you’ve called yourself a gamer for any length of time, you probably know that external hard drive gaming performance used to be mediocre at best. Internal hard drives were the only way to ensure fast load times and zero crashes during play. 

But that’s changed in recent years, mainly thanks to falling costs for SSD hard drives. Now, you can absolutely install and play your games from an external hard drive, but before you do, there are a few things you should know. 

Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) vs. Solid State Drives (SSDs)

When people talk about external or external hard drives today, they’re often really referring to SSDs, or solid state drives. 

SSDs, which have technically been around since 1976, have no moving parts. They’re literally just a memory chip with all their data stored on integrated circuits. 

HDDs, or hard disk drives, which are even older than SSDs, come armed with spinning discs. They work sort of like a record player. Inside each HDD lives an arm with several transducer heads. These heads read and write data on the spinning discs. 

Up until recently, SSDs, though faster, were cost-prohibitive to most users. That meant that everyone used HDDs for extra storage.  

Though it’s possible to do, installing and playing games from an HDD comes with major cons, like slow load times and frequent crashing or stuttering. That’s because every time you need to load something from an HDD, physical, moving parts have to kick into gear. 

The Benefits of SSDs

HDDs, then, sound like they aren’t ideal. But what about solid state drives? Can you play games off an external SSD? 

Yes, you can, and often with excellent results. Though SSDs are still pricey, the cost has come down significantly in recent years and may continue to drop. Plus, SSDs are far better at retrieving game information, making install and load times fast. 

If a game takes three minutes to install on an HDD, it will take under ninety seconds on an SSD. But installation isn’t the only moment when a game needs to access data. 

Every time you enter a new scene or mission, the game will need to retrieve and load new data. If you’re using an HDD, the discs have to spin each time that happens, slowing things down and creating stutters, freezes, or even a full-blown crash. 

Lost Game Angry Gamer

With an SSD, you shouldn’t have to worry about that because there are no physically moving parts. As long as you haven’t physically damaged the SSD somehow, your computer should retrieve needed information flawlessly. 

Other Things to Consider

Beyond the SSD vs. HDD question, there are a few other things to consider before putting your game on an external hard drive. 

Hard Drive Lifespan

External or external hard drives aren’t eternal. They have lifespans, just like anything else. SSDs have a shorter lifespan than HDDs, but neither one lasts forever. 

If they stop working for any reason, you’ll likely lose any game saves you were storing, which could be devastating!

Disc Allocations

On top of that, you can run into issues with computer disc drive allocations. When you go to play your game from your external hard drive, the first step is to plug the hard drive into whatever machine you’re using, typically your PC.  

If you’ve introduced new drives to your PC or re-installed windows recently, your computer may not recognize the disc drives on your hard drive anymore. That means the game will no longer run.  

If you play frequently and off the same PC, you probably won’t run into this issue. However, it does happen, so it’s good to be aware of. 

Portable and External Risks

Lastly, external or portable hard drives are just that: external and portable. That always has risks when it comes to gaming. If something comes unplugged or disconnected, the game will, obviously, stop or crash, and you might not get to save your place. 

What to Look for in an External Hard Drive for Games

Now that you know the answer to “can I install PC games on an external hard drive and play them from that drive?” you might be wondering what to look for in an external hard drive for gaming. 

For one thing, you’ll want at least 1 TB of storage on your SSD or HDD. Less than that, and you won’t be able to store much in the way of games. 

SSDs are about the size of a stick of gum. They’re thin and compact, which means they can be easy to lose. We recommend buying one that can attach to your keychain. That way, you can easily carry it with you without the risk of misplacing it!

HDDs are larger, about 3.5 inches, which would make for a hefty key chain. But having some sort of sturdy carrying case is ideal if you plan to take your games on the go. 

How To Install Games on an External Hard Drive

Now that we know what to look for when it comes to HDDs or SSDs let’s zoom in one the important part: how to install games on an external hard drive!

How you install games on an external hard drive varies depending on where your games are currently stored. We’ll cover how to install and run games from an external hard drive on two of the most popular game clients: Steam and EA Origin.  

White external hard drive connected to a laptop.

Regardless, step one is always to connect your hard drive to your PC. 

Installing on STEAM

If your games are on STEAM, the process is simple. Inside the main window, go from STEAM > Settings. Then hit the Downloads tab. You should see a STEAM Library Folders button. Click it and then click “ADD NEW LIBRARY FOLDER.”

You can now add any library folder you want to store your games, including your external hard drive. 

To move an existing game to your newly created external hard drive library folder, right-click the game name in the STEAM library. Select the Local Files tab and then click “MOVE INSTALL FOLDER.” 

Steam will provide a drop-down list of all your library folders. Select the one you created for your external hard drive, and voila! Your game now resides on your hard drive and is ready to play whenever your hard drive connects to a PC. 

Installing on EA Origin

EA Origin makes the install process even simpler than STEAM. There’s no need to create a new library folder that connects to your external hard drive. 

All you have to do is right-click the game name in your EA Origin library. A drop-down menu will appear. Choose “Move Game” and then browse and select your hard drive. 

Installing from Other Game Clients

Other game clients don’t make moving games quite as straightforward. They don’t offer “MOVE” buttons, but you can cut and paste any game file into your hard drive without issue. 

You’ll have to locate the game client’s installation folder on your internal hard drive. Right-click and cut the actual game from within the game client’s installation folder. Then paste the folder into your hard drive. 

Running Games off your External Hard Drive

At this point, you might be wondering how to run games off an external hard drive. Well, that’s the easy part!  

Make sure you’ve connected your SSD or HDD to whatever machine you plan to play off of, whether it be your laptop or a friend’s computer. 

Then, open your game client of choice, such as STEAM, log in to your account, and choose the game from your library. 

See how easy that was? 

Now you can play whatever game you’d like. And assuming you took our advice and used an SSD for your external drive, the game should play without glitching, freezing, or long load times.