Everyone who enjoys video games on a PC is eventually going to come across this one problem. There’s always more gigs of video games than we have storage available on our main hard drive. This begs the question: should I get a second hard drive for my video games?
Getting a second hard drive for your video games is a great idea as long as you can afford a second storage drive for your PC. This improves the performance of your operating system, protects your data in the event of a system crash, and saves you the time of uninstalling and reinstalling games on a crowded storage drive.
Let’s look at all the pros and cons of installing your video games on a separate hard drive or SSD.
Why Store Games On Another Drive?
There are plenty of potential benefits for storing your games on the ‘D’ drive (or any other label you give the second drive – I use ‘M’ and ‘D’ for my other drives). For that matter, storing your games on any second or tertiary storage drive has been a time-honored tradition for people who have hundreds of gigs of games.
This practice really got started when games got big enough to overwhelm storage drives – CoD Black Ops Cold War requires a stunning 250 GB of free space! It’s really easy to load up a single hard drive with too many games and then constantly have to uninstall and reinstall software.
People naturally buy and install games on a secondary drive in order to keep the main drive free with plenty of access storage space. There are also some performance enhancements you can get, better future proofing for your computer, and tons of other benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those.
Pros and Cons of Storing Games on a Second Drive
We’re going to start this article off by exploring the pros and cons of storing games on a second, or third, drive. This used to be a second hard drive connected via the SATA cable, but now it can even be an M.2 drive plugged directly into your motherboard:
The goal is still the same. We’re aiming to keep all of the storage for your video games on one drive, and your operating system on another. This has a number of advantages – although, granted, there’s some downsides too:
- You free up storage space on your main storage drive – no more hundreds of gigabytes of games lying around your C drive.
- Your OS doesn’t need to read/write the drive that also has your games – resulting in better performance overall (for both your games, and your operating system).
- You future-proof your PC by preventing you from having to re-download and re-install your games after an OS crash. This is a big benefit which is often skipped over.
- Likewise, you protect your OS from any severe game-related bugs that could require you to wipe your storage drive.
- You’ll have to get in the habit of manually directing game installations, as they tend to default to the C drive. Alternatively, sometimes you can change your default game download settings in Steam, Epic, or itch.io.
- You can sometimes see a slight drop-off in game performance when the game is not located on the drive with the OS, but this might only matter for pro gamers or speedrunners (and only in certain games – most games do better when installed on a separate drive to the OS).
- It does cost more to buy the secondary storage drive. If you’re only playing simple games, you might not benefit from buying and installing a secondary drive.
What Type of Second Drive is Best?
Now let’s take a look at the three most common types of storage drives and how they can offer pros and cons when it comes to storing your video games.
M.2 drives are the latest type of storage. These plug directly into your motherboard using a port that is included in many newer motherboards (released in the last few years).
These M.2 drives will give you the fastest possible storage. You’ll hardly be able to notice any potential lag from having your video game stored on their own dedicated storage drive.
A major drawback to M.2 drives is that they are physically inserted into the motherboard. This makes them challenging to access, especially if they’re under the graphics card or when compared to drives that are connected with a SATA cable.
These are also the most expensive drives. You’ll be paying more for your storage dollar if you go the M.2 route.
SSDs, or solid state drives, are the fastest types of drive out there. Technically, M.2 drives are just solid state drives with a different way of connecting to your computer.
Solid state drives connect to your computer with a SATA cable just like an old-fashioned hard drive. This makes them easy to install and easy to remove if you ever need to replace them.
It’s not too much more difficult to install an M.2 drive, but it is definitely easier to install and remove a storage drive connected with a SATA cable.
Solid state drives that connect with a SATA cable will always be slower than M.2 drives, but they’re still going to offer performance that’s a magnitude higher of what a traditional hard drive accomplishes.
Now let’s talk about hard drive storage. If you’ve been building your own PCs for a while, you’re definitely familiar with using hard drives. HHDs are the old-fashioned way of upgrading your storage capacity on your PC.
The biggest trade off for hard drives is that they are by far the slowest option. It’s going to take much longer to read and write information to these drives than it will with SSDs.
However, modern hard drives offer decent speeds that will be good for casual gaming. You can even get away with playing modern, online, and competitive games off of a hard drive, but you might notice a few performance hits here and there.
One advantage to hard drives that is hardly ever discussed is that they are proven.
Hard drives have simply been around much longer than solid state drives. We have much stronger research information about how long hard drives last and how they perform in real-world conditions especially when compared to solid state drives.
Another advantage of the hard drive is that this is the most affordable option for your storage. You can get terabytes of storage on a hard drive for the same cost that you pay for gigs on an SSD or M.2.
How to Install Games on a Separate Drive
The process for installing games on a separate drive is going to depend on whether you use Steam, Epic, or another launcher for your games.
You’re going to get some unique options when you install a new game. You’ll be able to select the drive that you install your game onto whether that’s C, D, or another drive. For example, on the Steam client, when you have multiple hard drives it will ask you which drive you want to use:
Once this is done, you will end up with a SteamLibrary folder in your selected drive:
You can also usually head to the settings menu of your gaming distribution software. There, you’ll be able to change the default location where your games download. You can select a custom folder within your storage drive or just the directory for the storage drive itself if it’s dedicated for only video games.
The same will be true across different gaming platforms, but you’re going to have to look around the menus as things are going to be different depending on which game management service you work with. The following guides show this process for some game platforms though:
As mentioned earlier, one of the big benefits of doing this (apart from the performance boost) is that your C drive is freed up of 100s of GBs of games:
How to Install Storage Drives
So, you want to upgrade the storage on your PC, but you don’t know where to start? Let’s walk through installing each of these different types of drives.
Installing an M.2 drive is going to be a little bit more involved. This might be especially difficult if you have a large graphics card in the way or your motherboard is installed inside of your PC case making things hard to access.
You might need to remove some components in order to install a new M.2 drive. This is unlikely, but you might need to if there’s just too many cables and components in the way to get out your PCIe slots.
All you need to do to install an M.2 drive is simply plug it into the PCIe slots and make sure it properly fits:
The installation is really easy, but getting it into the PCIe slots can be difficult once your motherboard is already installed in the case.
SATA drives (whether SSDs or older hard drives) are often much easier to install.
Your PC case already has a bank of ports ready for solid state drives. All you’re going to need to do is physically fix your SSD or hard drive to one of these ports and then connect a SATA cable from your motherboard to the hard drive, and a SATA power cable from your PSU to your hard drive:
You won’t need to worry about your graphics card getting in the way as long as your PC case provides dedicated spots to physically connect your hard drives.
Some PC cases can come with a specialized type of storage drive port known as a hot swappable storage drive port.
This is a SATA port that remains connected to your motherboard, but is not always connected to a hard drive on the other end. This allows you to plug and play hard drives, but this does come with a few risks.
Hard drives aren’t necessarily meant to be hot swappable drives, like a USB storage device, which means that there is a risk that you could burn out your hard drive while hot swapping. This is mostly a risk if you try to disconnect the drive while it’s reading or writing data.
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