How to Play Steam Games from an External HDD or SSD

Your Steam games aren’t limited to just your current computer. Sure, the conventional way to transfer them is to log onto another PC and download them again. Depending on your system, it can be a long and tedious process. But what if we told you there’s an easier way to do it? That you can install Steam games on an external hard drive. This time we’ll discuss How to Play Steam Games from an External HDD or SSD.

Yes! It’s completely possible to install Steam games on external hard drive and play them on another computer. Knowing How to Play Steam Games from an External SSD can be useful in situations where your default gaming system is having problems or in case you have guests that need to sleep in your gaming room, and you want to play on your trusty laptop. Your laptop’s SSD space might already be running out but there’s a high-capacity HDD portable laying around. Or you just bought a new gaming rig or any other personal reason for which you’d want to download Steam games on an external hard drive. So, without further ado, follow these instructions to enable you to play Steam games from an external SSD or HDD.

There are two ways you can install Steam games on external hard drive. First, you can install the games directly onto your external drive. Second, you can transfer the Steam games you’ve already installed on your internal drive. Though, it’s not as simple as copying them directly.

Method 1: Install Steam Games Directly on External Drive

First, let’s discuss the first method. There’s nothing too special about your drive being external. The computer will still treat your external SSD or HDD as a normal drive, much like having a separate Drive D partition. With that, you can just change the default download location to the external drive as most apps allow.

Step 1: Add Your External Drive to Steam

Click on the Steam menu in the upper left corner of the screen. Select ‘Settings’, then ‘Downloads’. Click on ‘Steam Library Folders’. Then add your external drive. Any external drives on your machine will be detected. Select the drive you wish to use.

Steam games on external SSD

download steam games to external hard drive

Fortunately, Steam doesn’t store drive letters and Steam library paths on your online profiles but saves them in individual steam clients. You won’t have to worry about your drive letter or volume label. But it would be nice to rename your volume label to easily identify your external Steam drive and it would also be great if all Steam library paths are the same for all your systems. Changing the drive letter or volume label can be done by going to File Explorer and right-clicking on the external drive, choosing properties, and renaming the volume label in the General tab.

Step 2: Set External Drive as Default Download Location

Make the selected drive the default download location. Once done, Steam will create a Steam Library folder on the external drive. Exit the Settings.

Steam games on external hard drive

Step 3: Download Steam Games

Now you can simply go to the Store and download any game from the store, and the game will be installed onto the external drive. While the game is installing, you can visit the insides of your external Steam Library folder and watch as the game folders fill up with files.

use external hard drive for gaming

After that’s done, you can play the games as you normally would. One thing to note, although a bit more expensive, an external SSD on a USB 3.1 connection is recommended to minimize any lag and loading times.

Method 2: Transfer Existing Steam Games to an External Drive

Now, what about the Steam games already on the internal hard drive? And the space is about to run out, or you just want to have copies on the external drive as playable backups. It’s a bit tricky but this is how it’s done. Follow the earlier steps as a pre-requisite.

First, go to your internal drive’s Steam Installation folder. Something like: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common

Select and copy one game folder and paste it onto the common folder in the external drive.

store steam games on external hard drive

Next, go to the Steamapps folder of the internal drive. Copy the game’s appmanifest_number.acf file. Then paste it onto the same folder in the external drive.

If you’re not copying all your games onto the external drive, it pays to know the proper manifest file to copy. The manifest file will have a particular number in the file name. To find out, go to the Steam store page of the game. Right-click anywhere and copy the page URL. Paste the URL onto a text editor like Notepad. You’ll see a number on the URL and then match it with the manifest files. Copy the file then paste it onto the steamapps folder of the external drive.

use an external hard drive for steam games

To play the transferred games onto another PC or laptop, make sure the Steam client is installed. Log in to your Steam account.

Normally, the games would have to be re-downloaded as you will see when you browse the library. But now, we don’t need to download the games again as it would be the lengthy process we’re trying to avoid. Let’s connect the external drive.

Connect the external drive to the new PC. Go to Steam Settings again. Add a new Steam Library and direct it to the folder on your external drive and set it as default.

play steam games from external hard drive

After doing so, you can simply hit the game’s Play button for the games you opted to be stored externally. Rinse and repeat for other computers you might have.

So, there you have it. You can now install Steam games on an external hard drive and play Steam games from the external SSD or HDD. Enjoy!