How To Use a Flash Drive for Gaming
You can use a gaming flash drive to flesh out your current gaming setup or help bring a new setup together. A USB drive can give you more game storage, help you back up your game data, or transfer game files from one setup to another.
Why Are USBs Beneficial for Gaming?
Many game install packages are oversized behemoths with endless folders filled with countless files. Installing these games to a USB drive instead of your computer or console can help you leave disk space free on your main machine, so it runs faster. In some cases, it can also give you a smoother gaming experience.
Any bulk flash drives using USB 3.0 can transfer data at around five gigabytes per second. A quality SATA hard drive can transfer about 6 Gbps. This means it will usually take a little longer to install a game on a USB drive.
However, flash drives tend to have better non-sequential reading speed and lower latency than most hard drives. This can make their loading speed faster for games that reference lots of separate files.
Where hard drives tend to have moving components, flash drives generally use solid-state technology that reads data electronically rather than magnetically. This cuts their response time down to microseconds.
Games like GTA or Skyrim with lots of textures and detailed scenery generally run a bit faster from a flash drive than a magnetic hard drive.
Different Ways To Use USBs for Gaming
The following are different ways to use USBs for gaming:
Install Games to Flash Drives
You can install most PC or Mac games on a gaming flash drive. The ideal game size to run from a flash drive is around four or five gigabytes in total.
Most USB drives use the FAT32 file system, which can only read individual files up to 4 GB in total. You'll need to make sure no single file in your game is over 4 GB. Alternatively, you can reformat your drive to the NTFS file system using your favorite disk manager or partition tool.
Once you've successfully installed your game on the flash drive, you can run it on any computer that meets the game's requirements. Smaller games usually don't have a registry and will run right away. Larger games may need to be registered on other computers.
Run Steam From Flash Drives
If you use Steam and your favorite games are installed in your computer's Steam folder, you can copy that folder onto your flash drive. When the transfer is complete, you can plug the flash drive into any computer to play.
Open the Steam application on your flash drive, login, and find a game you're familiar with so you can test its performance on the new computer. You might have to tweak a few settings like the graphics or resolution to get it to run optimally.
Use Flash Drives With Your Xbox
If you have an Xbox 360, you can use flash drives to extend its storage capacity by as much as two terabytes. To make sure they're compatible with your Xbox 360, use USB drives with the FAT32 file system and at least 1 GB of storage capacity.
If you have an Xbox Series X or S, you won't be able to install games optimized for these consoles on a flash drive, but you can use USB drives to extend their storage. Make sure your flash drives use USB 3.0 or later and have at least 128 GB of storage capacity.
Use Flash Drives With Your PlayStation
You can also use a USB drive to extend your PlayStation 4's or 5's storage capacity or transfer games to another console. You'll need to start by plugging your drive into your PlayStation console and formatting it using your PlayStation's Settings > Storage menu.
If you have a PlayStation 4, you can install games directly on the flash drive and play them on any console. If you have a PlayStation 5, the first time you plug a flash drive with a game into a different console, you'll need to use the PlayStation's Game Library menu to copy some game data from the flash drive to the PlayStation console first. This will still be faster than downloading the game again.
Extend Your Gaming Storage
Flash drives can help you extend your gaming storage if you don't have a lot of space on your computer or console. You can also use them to transfer games between machines when you're on the go. Their lower data transfer speed means it will take a little longer to install games than on a regular hard drive, but their lower latency means games will often load a little faster.