If you run out of space on your gaming laptop or you simply want
an easy way to make your game library portable, an external SSD
provides an easy way to expand storage without the hassles.
But choosing an external SSD involves a dizzying headache of
options, and making a poor choice can leave you wanting. Lucky for
you, we've done the testing and can offer a solid recommendation
that's sure to help, and not hinder, your gaming setup.
Best external SSD for
And no, we didn't make this choice because the drive is
literally named Game Drive SSD. This WD drive hits the performance
criteria you want and it features lustworthy USB 3.2 SuperSpeed
20Gbps support. Although USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 20Gbps has been rare,
many newer motherboards support it today. If your PC doesn't
support it, the good news is it will support the far more common
USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 10Gbps, the next-best thing. That still gives
you good performance now, and future-proofs you for your next mobo
upgrade. 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.
Seagate's FireCuda Gaming SSD (reviewed here), is a worthy alternative, but
it's simply not price competitive with the WD Black P50 Game Drive
right now. For example, we could find the WD Black P50 Game Drive
in a 1TB configuration for US$200 while the FireCuda
Gaming SSD at 1TB was pushing US$300. Both are great drives, but
it's the price that makes our top pick easy.
How we test
external SSD game performance
The biggest question you want to know is, how much does using an
external drive hurt 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.
For its test, 3DMark reproduces what happens loading to the
start menus of Battlefield V, Call of Duty: Black Ops
4, and Overwatch. 3DMark Storage also tests using
OBS, or Open Broadcast System, to record Overwatch being
played at 1080p resolution at 60fps, installing The Outer
Worlds from the Epic launcher, and saving a game in The
Outer Worlds. For the final test, 3DMark Storage tests copying
the Steam folder for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive from
an external SSD to the target drive.
We used a 12th-gen Intel Core i9-12900K running Windows 11 on an
Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero motherboard. The board features native
Thunderbolt 4 and USB 3.2 10Gbps ports. We added a Silverstone
ECU06 for USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 20Gbps support. We then used a Vantec M.2 NVMe SSD to USB 3.2 Gen2x2 20G Type
C enclosure with a Western Digital SN700 NVMe SSD to test USB
3.2 20Gbps and 10Gbps performance. We also installed the same SN700
into a PCIe 3.0 riser card to test its native performance. This
gives you an idea of how much you lose going from being installed
inside the laptop or PC compared to using a USB port. For added
contrast, we also ran 3DMark Storage on an older Plextor PX-512M7VG
SATA SSD inside of a Silverstone
MS09 SATA enclosure that was plugged into a USB 3.2 10Gbps
port. And because you want to know how slow a hard drive would be,
we also ran the same test on a Western Digital 14TB EasyStore hard
drive plugged into a USB 3.2 10Gbps port. The EasyStore is actually
limited to USB 3.2 SuperSpeed 5Gbps.
Longer bars indicate
better performance. Right mouse click and select open in new tab to
view larger image.
What should you make of the above results? Well, clearly if you
can install an SSD inside of your PC, you'll get the most
performance out of it. But you should consider some of 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 more common scenario is waiting for a game to launch.
Running an internal NVMe drive will still be faster, but the gap
closes a little. Between the three popular USB interfaces: USB
20Gbps, USB 10Gbps, and SATA on USB 10Gbps, the fastest is USB 3.2
20Gbps. With a USB 3.2 20Gbps SSD, you might see Battlefield
V shave 25 percent of the load time versus a USB 3.2 10Gbps
drive. Of course, 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
The other surprise is the performance of the SATA SSD versus the
NVMe SSD when the NVME SSD is in a USB 3.2 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 filesâ€”such
as the CS:GO results. But again, how often do you do
Of course we can't leave this without pointing out just horrible
hard drives are. Would it be more improved with a faster hard
drive? 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.