An external SSD can be used to expand the storage on your gaming laptop without the hassle of installing a drive.
The decision to purchase an external SSD can be overwhelming. Lucky for you, we’ve done the testing and can offer some solid recommendations that are sure to help, and not hinder, your gaming setup.
Last updated 11/08/2022 We include the CrucialX6 Portable SSD as our choice for the best gaming external SSD and the Adata Elite SE880 SATA SSD as our top pick for the most portable external SSD. You can find more information in our updated recommendations below.
1. WD Black P50 Game Drive SSD (1TB) – Best overall external SSD for gaming
SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps: Up to 2GBps
A distinctively militaristic style
SuperSpeed 10Gbps drives are more expensive than theirs.
To achieve maximum performance, the SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps port is required
No, we didn’t make this choice simply because the drive is named “Game Drive SSD.” This WD drive hits the performance criteria you want and it features lust-worthy USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 20Gbps support. Although USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 10Gbps is rare, many modern motherboards support it. If your PC doesn’t support it, the good news is that it will support the far more common USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 10Gbps, the next-best thing. This will still give you great performance and allows you to plan for the future. Unlike a typical portable SSD that may have a plastic or rubber shell to absorb hits, the WD Black P50 is metal, which should help wick and radiate the heat from the smokin’ SSD inside. If ultimate performance is what you’re after, WD’s P50 Game Drive is worth every penny of its premium price.
Please read our full article
WD Black P50 Game Drive SSD (1TB) review
2. Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD (1TB) – Best premium external SSD for gaming
2GBps transfers via SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps
There are very few superspeed USB 20Gbps ports
Seagate’s FireCuda Gaming SSD is a worthy alternative, but it has a much steeper price tag for similar performance to the WD Black P50. The FireCuda is a stunning external SSD that deserves a place on any desktop. It’s not just a pretty façade though—it’s compatible with a SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps port, meaning it can attain transfer rates of up to 2GBps. It is certainly the coolest-looking external SSD on this list, and if it weren’t for the premium price, it would probably be our top pick.
Please read our full article
Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD (1TB) review
3. Crucial X6 Portable SSD (2TB) – Best budget external SSD for gaming
Good performance every day
External SSDs very affordable
Performance tanks when cache is exhausted
The Crucial X6 portable SSD is a unique, square-shaped SSD that can be easily placed in your hip pocket. The X6’s thin, rounded edge is a relief in a sea of SSDs that can be a pain to carry around. It’s not only small and easy to carry around, but it also packs some decent performance, and you won’t find many cheaper. While it’s not state-of-the-art fast, it’s fast enough for most users and the affordable price makes it a great value SSD.
Check out our complete article
Crucial X6 Portable SSD (2TB) review
4. Adata Elite SE880 SSD – Most portable external SSD for gaming
USB connection at over 20Gbps, very fast
Extremely low form factor
Long contiguous writings can cause slowing of the computer.
Low TBW rating
$79.99 for 500GB and $129.99 each for 1TB
The Crucial X6 might be small, but it still can’t match the Adata’s Elite SE880 for portability. It measures just 2.55 inches long, 1.38 inch wide, and 0.48 in thick. This makes it look more like a USB thumbdrive than an external SSD. It also weighs a featherlight 1.1 ounces—making it easy to forget it’s even in your pocket.
The Elite SE880 performs well in everyday tasks, but slows down when writing long files. The drive performed well in a 48GB transfer test. However, it suffered from slowing down during longer contiguous write testing. This means that video and photo pros with large files may want to look into other options.
Please read our full article
Adata Elite SE880 SSD review
How to test external SSD game performance
The most important question to ask is “How much does an external drive affect game performance?” To give us an idea of how much it matters, we used UL’s new 3DMark Storage Benchmark. To create the benchmark, UL essentially records the drive access patterns during several common gaming tasks to make “traces.” These drive-access traces are then run on the tested storage device multiple times to duplicate the patterns without having to actually load the game.
3DMark replicates the loading of Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s start menus for Overwatch. 3DMark Storage also tests OBS (or Open Broadcast System) to record Overwatch at 1080p resolution at 60fps. It also records the installation of The Outer Worlds using the Epic launcher and saving a game within The Outer Worlds. 3DMark Storage also tests copying the Steam folder from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to the target drive using an external SSD.
We used a 12th-gen Intel Core i9-12900K with Windows 11 on an Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero motherboard. The board supports native Thunderbolt 4 as well as USB 3.2 10Gbps ports. Silverstone ECU06 was added to the board for support of USB 3.2 SuperSpeed (20Gbps). To test USB 3.2 and 10Gbps speeds, we used a Vantec M.2NVMe SSD to convert it to a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 20G type C enclosure. To test the native performance of the SN700, we also installed it into a PCIe 3.0 Riser Card. This gives you an idea how much performance you lose when the SN700 is installed inside a laptop/PC compared to using a USB connection. We also ran 3DMark storage on an older Plextor PX512M7VG SATA SSD that was installed inside a Silverstone MS09SATA enclosure. It was connected to a USB 3.2 10Gbps port. We also ran the same test on the Western Digital 14TB EasyStore hard drives plugged into a USB 3.0 10Gbps port. The USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 5Gbps speed limit of the EasyStore is actually quite limited.
Longer bars indicate better performance. Right mouse click and select “open in new tab” to view larger image.IDG
What should you think about the above results? Well, clearly if you can install an SSD inside of your PC, you’ll get the most performance out of it. You should also consider the context. If you’re only looking at the big long red bar at the top of the chart, consider that the particular test is measuring what would happen if you copied a large folder of files to the SSD. For most people, that’s only done once in a while.
The most common scenario is to wait for a game launch. Although running an internal NVMe drive is still faster, the gap narrows slightly. The fastest interface between the three most popular USB interfaces, USB 20Gbps and USB 10Gbps is USB 3.2 20Gbps. Battlefield V could be loaded in 25 percent faster with a USB 3.0 20Gbps SSD than with a USB 3.2 10Gbps hard drive. Performance is also game dependent. For instance, both Call of Duty and Battlefield see 45 percent or so greater bandwidth on the internal SSD, but with the less graphically intense Overwatch, it’s closer to 30 percent.
The performance of the SATA SSD is also surprising when the NVMe SSD connects to a USB 3.0 10Gbps port. In game loads, saves, and install scenarios, they’re fairly close. The NVMe external SSD does open up to huge lead over the slower SATA once you move to a task where you’re copying a huge amount of files—such as the CS:GO results. But, again, how often do these tasks occur?
Of course we can’t leave this without pointing out just horrible hard drives are. Would it be easier to use a faster hard disk? Unlikely. The very minimum you should use if storing games on an external drive is a SATA SSD, so don’t run a game from your external hard drive unless you like to wait for everything.