How Nintendo Switch Charging Works

How Nintendo Switch Charging Works

When the Nintendo Switch first came out it was met with widespread praise and popularity. The gaming console bridged the gap between small, handheld consoles and larger, more powerful computer games that are played through big screens.

The Nintendo Switch does both and allows users to enjoy impressive games whilst on the go. But the portability of the Nintendo Switch also threw up its biggest complication: how best to charge the thing!?

Users quickly found that Nintendo had not published any of the essential specifications which enable people to choose the appropriate charger for a device.

As it was Nintendo’s first USB-C device, users were unfamiliar with what to expect.

When out and about, on holiday, or in transit, users found their gameplay was interrupted by low battery and they did not know how best to recharge. If the Nintendo Switch AC adapter was left at home still plugged in behind the TV, then users had a great deal of trouble finding a workable alternative.

Other USB-C cable adapters did not seem to work and no one knew why.

In the years since the original Nintendo Switch’s release, users and enthusiasts alike have filled in the data gaps that Nintendo left in order to solve the mystery of how Nintendo Switch charging actually works.

Countless stress tests and research has been carried out and we are now able to understand how this gaming console uses energy, how you can best preserve energy whilst playing, and what adapters and chargers are best suited to it.

Nintendo has now brought out two new models, the New Nintendo Switch and the Switch Lite. In this article, we will examine all three and compare and contrast their charging specs and performance.

So if you want to find out all there is to know about how Nintendo Switch charging works, then read on!

Overview

All models of the Nintendo Switch games console come with a product-specific AC adapter. This adapter has an in-built USB-C cable that can be connected to the Switch and plugged into a wall socket for charging.

This adapter also charges the Nintendo accessories and the Nintendo Switch Dock. The designated adapter charges the Switch really well although it is not much use as a general USB-C charger (more on that later).

When the Nintendo Switch is charged with a compatible charger in ideal conditions, any of the three models can be boosted from 0-100% charge in around 3-3.5 hours.

However, the charging time, and indeed the power usage, of the Switch depends on a number of other variables. These variables include:

  • The game you are playing
  • The screen brightness you are using
  • Whether wifi and Bluetooth are activated
  • What controllers and accessories you are using
  • Whether the Switch is in play or asleep
  • The power source/charger you are using
  • Whether you are using a USB-C or USB-A adapter
  • How full/empty the Switch’s battery is before charging

Overall, the original Nintendo Switch performs less well than the New Switch and Switch Lite when it comes to power usage and power draw.

The two newer models are more economical and efficient, and they can charge faster, connect better to a wider range of chargers, and last longer before needing to be recharged.

All models of Nintendo Switch can be charged using a USB-C charger whilst you continue to play.

Play Times

Although Nintendo has been pretty reluctant to publish such information on the power specs of its Switch models, it has published the estimated playtimes for each.

These playtimes are all based on optimal playing conditions (which we will explain in a moment) and are measured from the point of 100% charge to empty. The published play times are as follows:

ModelPlay Times
Model number HAC-001Original SwitchApproximately 2.5 to 6.5 hours of playtime(playtime depends on the game you are playing as some games require a higher power draw than others)
Model number HAC-001 (-01)New SwitchApproximately 4.5 to 9 hours of playtime(playtime depends on the game you are playing as some games require a higher power draw than others)
Model number HDH-001Switch LiteApproximately 3 to 7 hours of playtime(playtime depends on the game you are playing as some games require a higher power draw than others)

As you can see from this published table of data, the New Switch and Switch Lite have longer overall play times than the Original Switch.

This is what we would expect to be the case, as we would hope that Nintendo would improve the power usage of their design with each new iteration.

The note that is included below the playtime estimates details how the play times are affected by the game that you are playing.

This is because some games are more simple, noisy, and detailed than others, and therefore require less power whilst being played.

The Switch can therefore retain its charge for longer when these games are in operation than when a game with a very high workload is in play.

However, the choice of game is not the only thing that affects the overall playtime of the Nintendo Switch devices.

Screen brightness, wifi connection, Bluetooth connection, and controller battery levels also all play a part in how long you will be able to enjoy uninterrupted gameplay.

As Nintendo’s published times are reflective of ideal playing conditions, we have put together a table that demonstrates how play times are affected when the conditions are more stressful.

For this test, we ran the Nintendo Switch game Zelda: Breath of the Wild because it is a particularly power-hungry game that increases the stress level on the device.

Stress Test Play Times:

ModelOriginal SwitchNew SwitchSwitch Lite
Screen Brightness100%100%100%
Auto-BrightnessoffoffN/A
Wifi & Bluetoothononon
Controller Battery100%100%100%
Playtime2.36 hours3.43 hours3.03 hours

Travel Test Play Times: 

ModelOriginal SwitchNew SwitchSwitch Lite
Screen Brightness66%75%75%
Auto BrightnessononN/A
Wifi and bluetoothoffoffoff
Controller battery100%100%100%
Play Time3.06 hours5.14 hours3.56 hours

As you can see from these two tables, all the Nintendo Switch models had a reduced playtime under stressed conditions.

Even when the controller batteries were fully charged, the consoles all ran flat in under 4 hours. This is in keeping with the published playtimes that Nintendo described, and the travel test conditions produced a far more sustained period of play.

These travel conditions involve a reduced screen brightness thanks to the activation of auto-brightness, and reduced connectivity power drain, thanks to the wifi and Bluetooth functions being deactivated.

The table shows that each model had increased longevity when running under these conditions.

Both The Original Switch and Switch Lite proved to meet the approximate playtimes suggested in Nintendo’s published specifications.

The original Switch lasted 2.36 hours under stressed conditions, almost exactly as \nintendo specified it would, and the Nintendo Lite lasted 3.03 hours, which is almost exactly as predicted too.

The one anomaly is the New Switch, which did not meet Nintendo’s playtime estimate when under stress test conditions.

Nintendo suggests that the new Switch will last a minimum of 4.5 hours under stressed conditions, but we found it only lasted 3.43 hours.

Although this falls short of the proposed playtime, it is still a whole hour longer than the original Switch can last and it performed very well under the travel conditions.

Power-Saving Tips

It is clear from the data above that the settings of your Nintendo Switch directly affect the amount of playtime you can enjoy before needing to recharge.

By altering the settings on your device you can play uninterrupted for longer periods, and this is ideal for long journeys and trips where you know you will be far from a power source for an extended amount of time.

On these occasions, there are some simple steps you can take to extend the battery life of your Switch:

Switch Power Saving Tips

  • Turn Off Wi-Fi And Bluetooth

These functions allow you to connect to others but they sap a great deal of energy from your device in the process.

When you are playing solo or on the move, remember to switch them to OFF in the settings menu.

  • Lower The Screen Brightness On Your Switch

On the larger models, you can use the auto-brightness setting which will do this for you. Although the screen will appear slightly dimmer, your battery will last longer (and it is better for your eyes too!)

  • Leave Home With Your Device 100% Charged

This sounds obvious but making sure that your Switch AND joy-cons are fully charged before you leave the house will vastly improve your playtime.

  • Detach Your Joy-Cons When Bluetooth Is On

Or attach your joy-cons when Bluetooth is off. Having your joy-cons attached to your device when Bluetooth is on is a waste of energy so always pick one method and deactivate the other.

Of course, a great tip for long journeys and trips is to invest in a power bank.

These external battery packs are an awesome source of energy that can help to charge your Switch when wall sockets are nowhere to be seen. Here are some tips on how you can get the most out of your power bank:

Power Bank Efficiency Tips

Power Bank Efficiency Tips
  • It is always better to spend that little bit extra on a good quality, well-reviewed power bank rather than scrimp on a less good one.
  • When using a power bank, always disconnect from the Switch once the device reaches 80% battery power. This will save lots of energy as charging from 80 – 100% is far less efficient and is also unnecessary.
  • Use a short USB cable to connect your Switch to the power bank. Longer cables are actually less efficient and energy gets wasted in transit.
  • If your power bank offers a USB-A port then it is worth getting a USB-C to USB-A cable and using this port. Although USB-A ports will charge your Switch significantly slower, they will be far more efficient and waste less of your power banks’ energy.

Power Usage

Now that we have examined playtimes and looked at some ways in which you can extend those playtimes, let’s examine the Nintendo Switch’s power usage.

What we mean by power usage is the amount of energy that your device expends in order to operate at any given time.

This usage obviously impacts the playtime that you can enjoy when your device is not connected to a permanent energy supply (i.e. a wall socket). There are a number of things that affect the Switch’s power usage, and these include:

  • Device settings, like brightness, wi-fi, Bluetooth etc
  • The game you are playing, as some are more power-hungry than others
  • Where you are within a game, as some chapters and levels require more power than others
  • Connected devices and accessories, like joy-cons and controllers

Nintendo looked to improve the power usage and efficiency of the Switch when they brought out the new model in 2019, and they went even further with the Switch Lite.

Not only did they try to reduce power inefficiencies within the device’s operating system, but the reduced screen size (from 6.2 inches to 5.5 inches) also really helped.

Using the power hungry game Zelda: Breath of the Wild once again, we have put together a comprehensive data table to demonstrate the power usage of each of the Nintendo Switch models when under stressed conditions.

Then using the power-lite game, Excitebike from the Nintendo Entertainment System – Switch Online, we tested the power usage of each model under low-demand conditions.

The power usage is measured in Watts which describes the amount of energy required by the device in order to continue running.

In each instance, the joy-con controllers were charged to 100% so as not to draw any energy from the device.

Power Usage Under Stressed Conditions, Running Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

ModelOriginal SwitchNew SwitchSwitch Lite
Screen brightness100%100%100%
Auto brightnessoffoffN/A
Wifi and BluetoothOnOnOn
Average power usage8.25W6W5.9W
Max power usage10W7.95W7.26W

Power Usage Under Low Demand Conditions, Running Excitebike From The Nintendo Entertainment System – Switch Online

ModelOriginal SwitchNew SwitchSwitch Lite
Screen Brightness100%100%100%
Auto-BrightnessononN/A
Wi-fi and Bluetoothononon
Average power usage4.75W3.25W3.5W
Max power usage6.25W4.7W4.6W

As you can see from the tables, Both the New Switch and the Switch Lite demonstrate far more efficient energy usage than the original Switch.

The newer devices had a power reading of greater than 2W below that of the original Switch when running the power-hungry game Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

This is due to the smaller screen on the Switch Lite and the improved efficiencies within the operating system.

When running the power-lite game Excitebike, the New Switch and Switch Lite also demonstrated greater power efficiency than the Original Switch.

However, the Switch Lite tends to get hot more quickly than the other two devices due to its smaller size. As a result, it runs its fans to cool down and uses more energy.

Overall, the original Switch showed a 30% power usage increase on the other two devices. This increase explains why the Original Switch has shorter playing times, and why it charges more slowly when you are playing.

The Original Switch tends to heat up more quickly than the New Switch because of this surplus power draw, and as a result, it runs its fan and uses more energy still.

All this heat is detrimental to the lithium batteries and therefore the original Switch also has a shorter overall battery life than the new model.

Charging

One of the downfalls of the Original Switch’s heavy power draw is that it affects its charging performance.

Both the speed at which the device can charge, and the range of chargers that it is compatible with, are areas that Nintendo looked to improve on in the newer models.

The New Switch and Switch Lite therefore both respond better to a wider range of USB-C chargers where the original does not. They also charge at a faster rate overall.

Understanding the charging performance and behavior of each of the Switch models enables users to choose the best third-party chargers for their needs.

Maximum Power Draw

All the different Nintendo Switch models have a maximum power draw rate and they cannot exceed this rate no matter what. The different models’ maximum power draw rates are as follows:

Original Switch: 18W
New Switch: 18W
Switch Lite: 13.5W

When it comes to choosing a third-party charger for any given device, this maximum power draw rate can be used as a guide.

The power draw of the device cannot exceed that of the charger or the charger will be rejected. In the opposite sense, any chargers that have a greater power output than the device’s maximum power draw rate will never be able to supply the device with any more than the maximum.

Ideally, an efficient device can draw the maximum power from a charger or energy source.

We conducted stress tests on each of the Switch models to see what their actual max power draw proved to be. We ran the power-hungry game Zelda and made sure that the device’s battery was at 20% from the offset.

Then we connected the devices to various USB chargers to see how much energy they were able to draw from each. Here is a table of the results:

Charger SpecsOriginal Switch Power DrawNew Switch Power DrawSwitch Lite Power Draw
10W USB-A(5V/ 2A)7.5W(5V / 1.5A)10W(5V / 2A)10W(5V / 2A)
12W USB-A(5V/ 2.4A)7.5W(5V / 1.5A)10W(5V / 2A)10W(5V / 2A)
15W USB-C(5V / 3A)10W(5V / 2A)10W(5V / 2A)7.5W(5V / 1.5A)
18W USB-C PD(9V / 2A)14.4W(9V / 1.6A)16.5W(9V / 1.8A)13.5W(9V / 1.5A)
27W USB-C PD(9V / 3A)18W(9V / 2A)16.5W(9V / 1.8A)13.5W(9V / 1.5A)
18W USB-C PD(12V / 1.5A)12W(12V / 1A)18W(12V / 1.5A)13.5W(12V / 1.1A)
18W USB-C PD(15V / 2A)14.4W(15V / 0.96A)18W(15V / 1.2A)13.5W(15V / 0.9A)
30W USB-C PD(15V / 2A)18W(15V / 1.2A)18W(15V / 1.2A)13.5W(15V / 9.9A)
45W USB-C PD(15V / 3A18W(15V / 1.2A)18W(15V / 1.2A)13.5W(15V / 0.9A)

From this data, it is clear to see that the Original Switch has some fairly unusual power usage in relation to most USB chargers.

Whenever a USB charger is used a device tends to draw below the maximum power due to inevitable wastage.

This is to be expected, particularly in less powerful chargers, however, the Original Switch draws below what is offered from almost all the chargers and fails to reach its maximum power draw of 18W until we tested it with the high capacity 27W, 30W, and 45W USB-C PD chargers.

Normal USB-C chargers that offered an 18W supply did not seem to register well with the device. It only managed to draw 14.4W from most of the options, even those with 9V and 15V.

By contrast, the Switch Lite and New Switch can be seen to reach their maximum power draws far more readily. The New Switch draws 18W from the 15V and 12V chargers of the same capacity, and the Switch Lite draws 13.5W from any USB-C charger that delivers 9V or more.

For this reason, the two newer models are far easier to buy chargers for because more universal chargers will work for them. Having said this, most USB-C PD chargers will enable you to charge the Switch Original whilst you play it – which is really the most important thing.

What is more, the Original Switch actually only uses around 10W for actual gameplay, the rest of the power that it draws goes towards the battery.

This means that the device can charge as you play very efficiently even with a less-than-ideal charger.

USB-A Charging

It is possible to charge Nintendo Switch devices using USB-A chargers, although the results are not as optimal as when using a USB-C connection.

The Switch Original performs least well with USB-A chargers as it has a larger power usage and a lower power draw than the newer models.

When connected to a USB-A charger the device is unable to run and charge effectively. The Switch Lite and New Switch perform more successfully, although they require the USB-A charger to be of 7.5W minimum in order to gain any additional charge whilst running.

The standard smartphone USB-A charger with 5W will not suffice.

Controllers

Joy-cons are the controllers that can be attached or connected to the Nintendo switch for multi-player gaming or single-player control.

It is always best to ensure that they are fully charged before a long journey if you wish to get the maximum battery life out of your Switch.

Once joy-cons fall below 50% battery, the Switch device will automatically start to charge them from its own battery. This keeps the game alive but drains the device’s battery more quickly.

However, if the console is connected to a permanent power source it will charge the joy-cons no matter what battery level they are at.

Charging Times

  • The overall charging time of any Nintendo Switch will depend on many variables. These variables include:
  • Settings (brightness, wifi, Bluetooth etc
  • Model (Switch Lite, New, Original)
  • Game (certain games use up more power than others)
  • Charger (USB-C, USB-A, 7.5W, 9W, 12W etc)
  • Status (sleeping, active play, etc)

In order to test the charging times of each of the models, we conducted a test.

We recorded the charging times of the Switch Lite, New Switch, and Original Switch when sleeping and when gaming to see how the timings changed.

In each test, we used the Nintendo Switch AC adapter that comes with the console.

Any 30W charger would produce the same results, however. We charged each console from 0% to 100%, and when gaming we used the power-hungry game, Zelda, as a running example.

Here were the timings as we record:

ConditionsOriginal SwitchNew SwitchSwitch Lite
Sleeping Charge Speed3.30 hours3.14 hours2.59 hours
Gaming Charge Speed3.15 hours2.58 hours2.55 hours

The Switch Lite showed the most impressive charging times overall, and this was to be expected. The Switch Lite has a smaller screen size, no power-sapping joy-cons, and a less power-hungry playing system.

The New Switch charged faster than the Switch Original under both conditions, and this is due to the energy-saving developments made to the design.

What is striking about these results is that each of the Switch models charged faster when gaming than when sleeping.

This seems contrary as we would expect the consoles to charge faster when not expending energy on running games.

However, the power drawn from the charger during gameplay is greater than the power usage of the game itself. The surplus power goes straight to the battery and thus charges it.

Whilst sleeping, the console has a lower power usage and therefore draws less power.

Despite charging at a faster rate when gaming, the Nintendo Switch consoles should ideally be charged when sleeping and not during active play.

This is because the device can draw power to its battery more slowly and does not get as hot in the process. This slower, cooler charging is far better for the overall battery life and maintenance of the device and will ensure that the Switch has a longer lifespan.

Swith Lite Overheating

The Switch Lite is more prone to overheating than the larger models. This is because it is a smaller device and therefore the power usage and draw create a greater build-up of temperature than on the bigger devices.

When the Switch Lite reaches a certain temperature its fan is activated in order to commence cooling. The fan uses energy and drains the battery, therefore slowing the charging process down even more.

Although this may seem annoying, it is actually very intelligent self-care on the part of the device. Thanks to the overheating protections in-built in the device, the Switch Lite is safer and more long-lasting than it would be otherwise.

Dock

When in handheld mode the Nintendo Switch can support most USB-C chargers and USB-A chargers that are 10W or higher. However, once docked, the charging specs change dramatically.

This is because the Nintendo Switch Dock only accepts USB-C PD chargers with very high power profiles of 15V or more! Even though it never draws more than an 18W maximum power rating, the dock will not play video, output, or charge the Switch unless plugged into a high-powered charger of 39W or over.

This seems very strange and has caused many users to complain that the Nintendo setup is incompatible and inconvenient. However, we can understand why Nintendo made this decision.

They do not want users attempting to charge the Switch Dock with a low-powered phone charger as this will only drain the device of life and end in a bad user experience.

By making the settings so high the developers ensure that users only use high-powered chargers that do not drain the battery unnecessarily. Most 45W third-party chargers work well with the dock.

AC Adapter

The Nintendo Switch AC adapter is a USB-C PD charger that supports 5V/1.5A and 15V/2.6A power profiles.

These two power profiles make this adapter perfectly suited to charging the Nintendo Switch console, Switch Dock, and Switch accessories.

However, the fact that this adapter does not support a 9V profile means that it is not able to charge most USB-C smartphones. The 5V profile is underpowered for the task, and the 15V profile is excessive.

In the same way, the fact that the adapter does not support a 20V profile means that it is unable to charge many larger devices and laptops.

Although the AC adapter can successfully charge some 12-inch laptops and Chromebooks, it is not a very versatile charger.

We suggest investing in a charger with a greater breadth of power profiles if you want to use it for general charging purposes.

Summary

Having looked at the play times, power usage, charging times, and compatible chargers for all three Nintendo Switch models, it is clear that the newer models are more efficient and effective in their power usage.

The Switch Lite has a lower power usage than the larger devices thanks to its smaller size and more efficient design.

The New Switch has faster charging rates and longer playing times than the Original Switch thanks to improvements in its power efficiency.

The Original Switch has the slowest charging rate, shortest playing time, and least efficient power usage, but it is still able to be charged by any USB-C charger whilst being played.

Brett Jones