Can I Run VST Plugins From an External Hard Drive or SSD?

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This article will discuss whether you can run a VST Plugin or its libraries from an external storage device like a Hard Drive or SSD (Solid State Drive).

Plugins can be heavy on the system and take up a lot of space. With evolving technology, space can be a huge issue as every application fights for more room and bites. That brings about a need for an alternate way to run & install these plugins and have a more optimized work system, which supports the integration of all applications you want to use without over-loading your CPU.

External drives can be a great way to save space, improve CPU performance, and increase the efficiency of your production or mixing workflow. They are also great tools to back up your projects, sample libraries, recordings, plugins, stems, and other data, in case of a computer crash or any similar crisis. So, let’s explore the possibilities and limitations of working with an external drive.

Can I Run VST Plugins From an External Hard Drive or SSD?

It’s not possible to run a VST, AAX, AU, or any format of the plugin from an external storage device like a hard disk or an SSD, because the DAW sources the plugins from the internal search path within the primary disk or the boot drive of the computer, which is your C-Drive in most cases.

However, it’s possible to have the plugin installed in your system but source its libraries or other data from an external hard drive or SSD.

For example, when using plugins like Omnisphere, Nexus, Kontakt, Keyscape, etc., that have huge sample libraries, it makes sense to have their libraries stored in an external drive plugged in while using them. It also helps to have a USB 3.0 or a thunderbolt, in which case you can take advantage of an external drive. Using hard drives can boost performance, and it saves space.

How to install plugins on external drives?

To install a plugin on an outside storage tool, you will have to run its application, store its DLL in the internal C-Drive, and store its content or libraries on the external hard drive. There are three aspects to storing and running any plugin: download location, application location, and content location.

Application location is the path where your main application is stored or where your VST plugins or DLLs are stored. This location cannot be an external drive and must be your main disk, your C-Drive. Finally, the download location is where the files are downloaded, which can be an external or internal device, given that you’re running the software on your main drive after downloading the files.

Next, content location is simply the path where the data the application/plugin uses is stored, which can be sourced from an external drive. Sourcing libraries, samples, and other data from a cloud is also a good alternative. It helps to have applications like Splice to optimize that workflow, as you can preview the samples online without installing them in your system. 

How To Install VSTs on External Hard Drives Tutorial

For some plugins or virtual instruments, however, the plugin may require the content folder to be stored on the boot drive only. In that case, irrespective of where the content folder is stored, you can create its shortcut or an alias folder in the boot drive that guides the path to where the actual data is stored. 

Should I use an SSD or an HDD?

SSD (Solid State Drive) is more efficient than HDD (Hard Disk Drive), as it has faster reading and writing times. Also, HDDs have fans that may heat up and create noise while working with them, which may put you off if you’re in a creative process and is undesirable during recordings.

SSDs are quiet in comparison and give better & faster performance, especially if it’s used with USB 3.0 or thunderbolt connectivity. However, the only concern with an SSD is that it’s expensive. So I suggest using one external SSD drive as your main external device in which you store all your samples, libraries, and other important information, and having an HDD as a backup device which is a clone of the main drive.

In any case, using a clone drive as a backup device is extremely important, as there’s the risk of losing information or data if something with the hardware goes wrong. If you can create these backups online in the cloud, there’s nothing like it.

Conclusion

Plugins’ applications are not as heavy and do not take up much space. However, their content and the data they work with can be storage hungry. But as we have seen in the article, we can work around that. So when you have your plugin data installed on an external device, keep in mind to plug the storage device into your system before running the application.

Using SSDs or HDDs will optimize your workflow and CPU performance and give you a smoother experience as a creator, so it is recommended to use them. However, remember that these gadgets’ quality really matters as your data is extremely important, and you can’t afford to lose it. Secondly, quality also determines how fast the information is transferred, so I recommend investing in a good storage device.

Thank you for reading, hope this article was of help.

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