Can I Use an External SSD as a Boot Drive?
Boot drives are critical in starting up a computer and can cause many issues when not set up correctly. There are many advantages to using an external drive as a boot drive, and those who have a lot of experience with computers recommend solid-state drives (SSDs).
You can use an external SSD as a boot drive, and doing so is easy even for the most novice computer users. Using an SSD, the startup time and booting performance can be improved compared to other boot devices.
This article will go over what a boot drive is, some advantages and disadvantages of using an external SSD as a boot drive, and the steps needed to set it up.
What is a Boot Drive?
A boot drive, or boot device, is where the files are kept that are needed for the computer to start. This is where the computer operating system (OS) would be located, such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, or macOS. If the files aren’t on the boot device, the computer wouldn’t be able to start properly.
The most common boot device would be a hard drive, but a boot drive could be any of the following:
- Floppy Disk Drive
- CD-Rom Drive
- USB Jump Drive
- DVD Drive
There are many advantages and disadvantages to using each external device as a boot drive, and there are many differences in the process of setting them up as a boot device. The factors that should be considered include speed, price, durability, and compatibility.
Why Use an SSD as a Boot Drive?
There are many advantages to using an SSD for a storage purpose, whether it be for using it for general data or a boot drive. The only notable downside of purchasing an SSD would be the price, as they are quite a bit more expensive than a hard disk drive (HDD).
For a good SSD with lots of storage, we recommend the Samsung SATA III SSD from Amazon.com. The capacity ranges from 250GB to 4TB, and the price ranges accordingly. This is a great option for an SSD as it has a warranty and is compatible with many operating systems.
SSDs Have No Moving Parts
As the name “solid-state” implies, SSDs have no moving parts. Unlike HDDs, they are non-mechanical and don’t rely on moving platters with magnetic coatings. This attribute has many benefits, including:
- Less heat and noise are created as by-products due to less friction from moving parts.
- SSDs are more durable and can withstand more shock and vibrations.
- Reduced chance of mechanical failure compared to HDDs.
These are all important factors for anyone, but especially those who may travel often or are prone to dropping and damaging their electronics. Additionally, the SSD is more energy-efficient, meaning more battery life for a laptop user or lower energy bills for desktop computers.
SSDs Load, Transfer, and Copy Faster
When compared to other external hard drives, SSDs can complete many jobs faster. Some of these tasks may include:
- Files can be loaded and transferred quickly.
- Faster read times or “read speeds.”
- Reduced time required to boot up the computer.
- Applications are loaded quicker.
Although the amount of time saved by using an SSD as a boot drive may seem minimal at first, the difference will be extremely notable in the long run. Professions that require such speed include graphic designers or engineers when every second counts.
How To Create a Bootable Drive
The steps involved in using an external SSD as a boot drive would differ slightly based on the type of computer. Additionally, many use the SSD as a boot drive but keep an HDD for personal data like music and movies, which would also change the approach of moving over data.
It’s important to understand the end goal of the external SSD and what the computer requires to complete the process of changing the boot sequence. We recommend looking up your specific computer and SSD to see if there’s anything you should know before getting started. Videos, online forums, and company websites are a great source of information and can be used as resources if needed.
The General Process for Setting an SSD as a Boot Drive
For an informational video on how to set up an SSD or HDD as a boot drive, check out this video from NCIX Tech Tips:
Although this video is a little bit dated, it provides an excellent background on software and sequence configuration and initiates the drive.
Typically, a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) for a PC would allow the user to set up the boot order, or boot sequence, as desired. According to Computer Hope, the boot sequence is the order in which a computer would check for the operating system’s boot files and where they’re located in the computer.
To set an SSD as the boot drive, the steps are fairly straightforward:
- Install the SSD to your computer using cables, such as a Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) cable and an adapter, if required. This step would vary depending on which ports your computer or laptop has, such as USB or USB-C.
- Implement the SSD by turning it on or enabling it through the Setup menu of your BIOS. The exact commands needed for this step are dependent on the operating system, but no matter the order, the SSD should be visible under Disk Management in your system.
- Move the operating system to the SSD, or install it directly onto the drive. For example, the operating system could be Microsoft Windows.
- Set the SSD as the boot drive by manually changing the boot order so that the operating system boots from the SSD. In this case, the order could be SSD > HDD > Network, where the BIOS would attempt to boot from the SSD first.
Macs’ process is a little more complicated and requires erasing the existing data and reinstalling the macOS on the SSD. An in-depth description of this process can be found in this video from Craig Beckta:
For both Macs and PCs, several items are required to connect the external SSD to the computer. This includes a SATA cable, for which we recommend the BENFEI SATA cable from Amazon.com. These cables come in a 3-pack, making them an economical choice, and have an 18-month warranty.
An adapter may be needed for those computers with only a USB port, and we’d recommend the BENFEI USB to SATA Cable from Amazon.com. A USB-C to SATA cable is also available from this company, as USB-C ports can sometimes be found on high-end laptops. If you only have a USB-C port, it may be worth investing in a USB-C to USB adapter for this purpose, along with many others.
A good, inexpensive option would be the Syntech USB C to USB Adapter, which can be purchased from Amazon.com.
Boot drives are important for starting the computer’s operating system and can be set up based on the user’s preferences. An SSD is a great option for using as a boot drive, as they are great for increasing speed and are very durable as they don’t have any moving parts.
Although there are multiple steps involved in setting an SSD as a boot drive, the instructions are straightforward, and there are many resources available if any issues are encountered. In conclusion, an external SSD is a great option, but a little research will be required.
- Computer Hope: What is a Boot Device?
- Open Book Project: Booting Your Computer
- Computer Hope: What is a Boot Sequence?
- EaseUS: How to Set SSD as Boot Drive [2021 Updated]
- Lifewire: What is a Serial ATA (SATA) Cable?
- Technostarry: Advantages of Using a Solid State Drive as Boot Drive
- PCMag: What is USB-C? An Explainer
- PCMag: SSD vs. HDD: What’s the Difference?