Installing a game on an external harddrive - practical?

From a bit of Googling I understand it’s possible to install and run programs on external hard drives, but what I’ve not sussed is how practical this is.

Would a modern, fairly resource-intensive game (Shogun 2: Total War to be precise - which requires an ample 20 gig of space) run just fine on an external HDD, or would it be better to stick it on an internal drive? Does the USB 2.0 connection mean it’ll be slower and laggy compared to an internal drive, or does it not matter (my compy’s just over the min limits, so performance is a big issue)? Will it make ungodly noises and die a slow death?

Anyone have any experience with this? Thanks!

You can install applications on external hard drives as well as you can on internal ones. The only thing that is different is the USB interface. There might be some issues if you try to play the game on more than one computer because it probably uses some registry settings that get added into the computer’s Windows install as well.

There is a bunch of factors that go into performance and they vary by application. There is no harm in installing it on the external hard drive first and then moving it to the internal drive later if you think the drive is making the game less desirable to play. The USB interface can introduce a bottleneck but it is only one of several that can happen. The external drive doesn’t have to worry about running the computer as a whole at the same time too so that makes up for some of it.

Aye, my Googling told me that you can’t expect programs on an external HDD to be ‘portable’; makes sense, I wouldn’t expect to be able to rip out an internal HDD and transport it to another compy and have everything the same. It’s only for one compy though, so that’s fine by me.

Good to know; my external HDD is the 2.0 USB interface, so everything revolves around that - if necessary I can move stuff around (right now there’s not enough room on my internal ones) and install on an internal HDD, but it’d be much easy to stick it on the external one to start with. But what’s easy with computers usually isn’t what’s right…
Thanks for the quick reply, Shagnasty.

I ran out of room on my main drive and rather than replace it I just added an external drive. I have plenty of games on it and they all work fine. The only issue I’ve run into is that when you start the game there is a pause as the external drive spins up (if you haven’t accessed it in a while) but otherwise you wouldn’t even know the games are on an external drive.

Capital! Thanks engineer comp geek (can’t go wrong with a name like that); I’ll install on the external HDD then see if the game’s running fine - if I’m lagging and stuttering I’ll install on my internal HDD.

I’ve never had lagging or stuttering on any of my games that are on the external drive.

I also run several virtual machines on the external drive, sometimes as many as 3 at once, and they don’t noticeably lag or stutter unless I do something that is a total CPU hog on one of them.

Also good to know, hopefully the USB 2.0 connection won’t bottleneck it too much, if at all, then.

A quick follow up question - is there an easy way to transfer programs from one drive to another, on the same computer? I have 2 internal drives and 1 external; what I want ideally is to transfer a few programs from the former to the latter. With Shogun 2 I was planning on just installing straight to the external drive, but now I know that it’s all kosher some other games can join it.

Obviously I can’t just drag and drop; reg entries and shortcuts and all that get fudged up. The only thing I can think of is uninstalling and reinstalling, but that seems an extremely inefficient way to do it.

I have on occasion did the drag and drop with certain games, you just have to remember to open it from the appropriate folder(s). Delete old shortcuts and make new ones from the new files.

Having said that, failure has occurred, but usually due to forgetting to move an important bit. Your save files should probably stay in your documents file though.

I think your load screens will be significantly longer for a game on an external hard drive. A USB hard drive can transfer data at around 40 megabytes per second under ideal conditions. An average hard drive these days can transfer short bursts of data at 150 or 300 megabytes per second, depending on which particular hard drive interface your computer has. After that burst, fairly ordinary hard drives can sustain a transfer rate of 70 megabytes per second. During load screens, the program is transferring (say) half a gigabyte of models and textures to the video memory, and (say) another half a gigabyte of other data to the system memory. So in that hypothetical case, the load time will be something like 25 seconds from the USB drive, vs. 14 seconds from an internal drive.

Also, occasionally the program will need to access some chunks of data that weren’t pre-loaded into memory. Depending on how well the program predicts and handles these sorts of occurances, you may notice this when the game occasionally freezes for a second or so. A slower hard drive could make these short freezes more frequent or longer in duration. Here, also, the high burst transfer speed of internal hard drive can help by rapidly transferring small chunks of needed data.

I’ve played world of warcraft from an external drive with no problems, no lag, no stutters (it was because I had a tech job where literally nearly everyone–even supervisors–played wow on the clock, but you couldn’t install it on the network drive because the filesize was too large). It was a few years ago but I don’t see why it wouldn’t still work. If it has a firewire port then that would be a flawless experience. But USB should suffice.

If memory serves, my girlfriend runs MS Office and WoW from a USB-connected external hard drive, and she has no complaints about performance.

I would think a USB would be too slow. I have my external drives hooked to an eSATA port, which are very cheap to install. An eSATA port will give you very fast speeds.

Hmm. From what I’m hearing an external HDD would be best suited to files/documents and lower intensity games - my plan now is to move what I can around manually.

I JFGI in regards to moving programs, but the only things I can find are software solutions of dubious value, and not free - I’d rather uninstall/reinstall, I think.

There’s actually a foolproof way to handle moving programs in Windows: Junction points or symlinks. Move the entire program folder to another drive, then create a junction point with the same name of the folder you removed, and point it at the new location. While it’s actually in the new location, it’s accessible in the old one.

I did this with Steam, since it would only install on my C drive, and I needed the space. So now C:\Program Files\Steam actually points to a folder on my D: drive.

Interesting, could you break it down a bit for me - how exactly do I create a ‘junction point’?

Until a couple weeks ago I had all of my Steam games installed on an external hard drive (connected via USB). I was able to play Fallout: New Vegas, etc., on high settings without any noticeable problems.

Steam will install on drives other than C. One of the reasons I moved all of my games to the external drive was that I bought a couple of specials from Steam last Christmas and ended up with some ungodly number of games for about a hundred bucks in total (it took me over a week just to download them all). Since these wouldn’t fit on my hard drive, I had to uninstall steam and reinstall it on the external drive.

I could have done it your way as well, but I chose not to.

I will say however that your method is better for some games that had add-ons available. Sometimes the folks who make a mod for a game end up hard coding a path to something in their mod, and then their mod only works if the game is in the default location (typically under C:\program files). Using a symbolic link prevents those types of errors from causing problems while actually moving the data off of your C drive.

As for the performance issues mentioned above, I suppose since my drive is a USB external drive that the games could be loading slightly slower than if they were on an internal drive, but I haven’t noticed any speed difference. It’s not like I sit there with a stopwatch checking to see how quickly the games load.

You can do it at the command prompt with the junction command. For example, “junction c:\myfolder f:\myfolder” (without the quotes) will create a junction from the C drive to the F drive, linking the myfolder folder in each of them.

Windows Vista and 7 also support symbolic links, which use the mklink command.
“mklink /d c:\myfolder f:\myfolder”

Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and 7 support junctions. Only Vista and 7 support symbolic links.

I’m on XP, if that helps. Just to clarify (as I hadn’t even heard of this, so don’t want to frig it up), would I move ‘myfolder’ from c:\ to f:\ before doing the junction, or after? Or does it not matter? Appreciate all the help fellas.

If you are on XP, you can only use a junction. You can’t use a symbolic link.

IIRC, you can make a symbolic link any time, but you can only make a junction when the folders are empty. You’ll have to make the junction first then move the files.

I would think where it would be noticeable is level load times and things like that where you are waiting for file transfers from the hard drive into memory.

USB 2.0 is pretty fast though. Might not make a huge difference.