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If I install Steam to an external drive, will it work when I plug it into other computers? Or does it depend on registry keys/some other computer-specific thing?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

Steam will work on an external drive, and will run perfectly fine as long as you're not trying to simultaneously run it from the computer's internal drive.

Note: Even though installing on an external drive means the games / client themselves are on the external drive, you may wind up with your saves or DLC on the computer, rather than the external drive. (Exact effect depends on the game.)

See also:

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make sure it's a small external though. 500gb lags for reading time – mechko Jul 25 '10 at 13:24
edit: apparently the lag is write time, not reading time, according to SuperUser – mechko Jul 26 '10 at 5:32
@Mechko: The correct term is "IO latency," and could refer to either read or write. However, the latency has very little effect on games, apart from load-times (and even then, not by much). – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Dec 18 '12 at 6:35

Steam now has inbuilt support for creating new "Steam Libraries".

enter image description here

You can also manage your Libraries from Steam → Settings → Download & Cloud → Steam LIbrary Folders.

enter image description here

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Could you post the Steam version info? Mine (22 Oct) doesn't have "Steam Library Folders". – Augustus Thoo Dec 4 '12 at 14:31
@AugustusThoo I'm sorry, I supposed this feature graduated together with Big Picture in the main version of Steam. Please see the updated answer – badp Dec 4 '12 at 15:02
As of about 30 minutes ago, this feature has graduated to (the non-beta version of) Steam. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Dec 18 '12 at 6:31

It should work on the same PC that you have your external drive plugged into when you install. This is because it does require some registry keys to function, which will be installed to the PC you have your external drive connected to when you install Steam on the external drive.

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