How Nintendo Switch Charging Works
Not all USB chargers are created equal. Even with USB-C chargers and power banks can and do have varying power output levels. To complicate matters the Switch doesn’t draw to a charger’s full potential. Once you understand how the Nintendo Switch draws from particular types of chargers you’ll be able to spot a great charger from a meh one.
I categorize potential Nintendo Switch chargers into one of five speed ratings. This rating scale takes into account all the topics below. It applies to chargers and power banks.
Different USB-C devices need different power profiles. A speed rating for the Switch may or may not be “as good” for your other USB-C devices. You can take what you learn here and apply it to your other devices to make a more informed purchase.
My ratings are not an endorsement or review. They are a reflection of the device’s specs in comparison to known factors of charging a Switch.
Volts (V) – How strongly electricity is pushed through a circuit. The voltage for a device and its power source must match. The Switch supports 5V, 9V, 12V, and 15V in handheld mode and 15V while docked.
Amps (A) – Sometimes referred to as “current.” How much electrical charge is flowing past a given point in one second. A power source can offer more amps than the device needs. The max number of amps the Switch will draw depends on the voltage and connection type.
Watts (W) – Unit of power for electricity. Watts = Volts * Amps. Two power sources can have different volts and amps, but the same watts: 9V/2A = 18W, 20V/0.9A = 18W. Knowing only the wattage isn’t enough to determine if a power source is a good match. In the examples above the Switch would only charge from the 9V/2A power source, as it doesn’t support 20V.
Milliamp Hours (mAh) – Unit of electrical charge. For batteries it is a measure of capacity. The Switch’s internal battery is 4310mAh.
Power Bank – A portable charger for USB powered devices, including the Nintendo Switch. They allow you to recharge your devices on the go and away from an outlet. This flexibility makes them useful for daily commutes, travel, and all day outings. You could even replace a wall charger on overnight trips.
USB-C aka USB Type-C – The type of physical connector the Switch has, located on its bottom edge. USB-C offers greater power transfer capability than USB-A. It is the ideal connector for a fast charge or to charge while playing.
USB-A aka USB standard A – The type of physical connector you think of when someone says USB. The Switch can connect to a USB-A power source by using a USB-C to USB-A cable. Such cables come with the Pro Controller and Joy-Con Charging Grip. It offers a slower charge, but Nintendo has suggested using USB-A power banks with the Switch.
USB Power Delivery (PD) – A power transfer specification used with USB-C. All USB PD is USB-C, but not all USB-C is USB PD. Power Delivery 2.0/3.0 protocols use four voltage levels: 5V, 9V, 15V, and 20V. Amperage varies from 0.1A to 5A. A USB-C PD charger could have great range, from powering your phone to a computer display. For the Switch, any PD compliant charger should meet its max draw capacity in handheld mode.
Quick Charge – Qualcomm’s Quick Charge is technology found in some USB devices, but not the Switch. It manages power delivery over USB, offering more power than normal USB specifications. As such the supported devices charge faster. Offers no benefits or downsides for the Switch.
Fast Charging, PowerIQ, iSmart, etc – Anker’s PowerIQ, RAVPower’s iSmart, and similar “smart power” are fast charging standards on the power sources end. They attempt to offer more power than the USB specifications. Often this works with fast charging standards used by Apple and Android phones. The Switch does not support any fast charging standard.
USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1 – USB data transfer standards. They are not physical ports. A USB-C cable (physical connection) can support USB 2.0, 3.0, or 3.1 (data transfer rate). For charging there is no difference between these type of cables. The Switch doesn’t support data transfer over USB-C. The higher the data transfer rate, the higher the cable’s cost.
Nintendo Switch AC Adapter
The included Nintendo Switch AC Adapter is not a typical USB-C PD charger. It’s designed for the Switch and goes against USB-C PD standards. It only supports two power profiles:
Its 15V output is enough to power either a docked or handheld Switch. It can also charge most USB-C PD power banks without issue. It cannot charge larger USB-C laptops, which use 20V.
Its 5V output is more than enough to charge a Pro Controller directly. But it is half the current other 5V USB-C devices expect. It will not charge a regular USB-C device well. Undercharging devices can be bad for their battery’s lifespan.
I recommend keeping the Switch’s AC adapter with the Switch’s dock at all times. Buy a better USB-C PD charger to handle several difference USB-C devices.
Switch Power Usage
Testing has show the Switch can use up to 8.75W to 8.9W. The more watts used, the faster the Switch’s battery will drain. Reducing screen brightness and turning off Wi-Fi will reduce power consumption.
The Switch will charge connected Joy-Cons from its own battery if they are below 50% charge. Otherwise it will only charge the Joy-Cons if connected to a power source. Charging connected Joy-Cons vs disconnecting them and using Bluetooth is usually a wash.
To charge the Switch while playing a game the charger needs to provide more power than is being used. A charger providing 10W (USB-C) will slowly recharge the battery during game play. A charger providing 18W (USB-C PD) will recharge a Switch from 0-100% in 3.5 hours while playing. A charger providing 7.5W (USB-A) may not keep up with power usage. But it will at least slow down the drain of the Switch’s battery.
The Nintendo Switch dock requires 39W (15V/2.6A specifically) to operate. It doesn’t usually use that much, but it must be available for the dock to function.
The rear USB 3.0 port does not support USB 3.0 transfer speeds currently, but will after a future update. It outputs 5V/0.9A when the Switch is not connected to the dock. Otherwise it outs the same as the other two ports.
Switch Power Draw
How much power the Switch draws depends on it’s state. As well as the power source’s connection type and power output.
The Switch draws less when its own battery is at 80% or higher capacity. It draws nothing when asleep and at 100%. It draws at its max rate when a game is open and capacity is under 80%. For simplicity I usually work with the max draw rate.
Remember, a power source can safely offer more amps than the device needs.
Nintendo Switch Underdraws From 12V
The Switch will only draw up to 12W from USB-C PD chargers that offer 12V, but not 15V. Earlier reports indicated it would draw a full 18W from 12V/1.5A. And my previous statements said the same, based on those reports. But my testing of 12V chargers (two chargers, one power bank from two different brands) shows a 12W limit.
At 12W those chargers are still faster than regular USB-C (5V/3A). But not as fast as USB-C PD 9V/2A or 15V/1.2A. As such I’ve rated them as Good+. That is between Good (USB-C, 10W) and Great (USB-C PD, up to 18W).
Provided your power draw exceeds your power usage then you can charge the Switch’s battery. Most chargers can charge the Switch while it is asleep. USB-C is required to charge while you play under most conditions. Idle (on, but no game launched) is the worst state to charge in. Power usage is high, but the Switch won’t take in its max draw rate.
Results may vary by a few watts and minutes. Dependent on other factors such as screen brightness, Wi-Fi, and Joy-Con charge levels.
Power Bank Capacity
Most power banks list their capacity (milliamp hours or mAh) as a sum of the lithium-ion cells inside. This is based on their nominal voltage: 3.6-3.7V. But that doesn’t reflect how much energy the Switch will actually get out of the power bank. For that we have to find “actual capacity.”
Calculating Number of Switch Charges
A USB power bank has to boost that to 5V. The USB capacity, measured for 5V, is always less.
10000mAh * 3.6V / 5V = 7200mAh USB capacity
USB-C PD power banks have a larger discrepancy. Though they may use a nominal voltage around 8.4V by putting cells into a series connection instead of parallel.
13400mAh * 8.4V / 15V = 7504mAh USB capacity
Actual capacity is USB capacity with energy loss taken into account. There is a loss of energy in any transfer. Loss is due to voltage conversion, USB cable transfer, charging circuits, and heat. Efficiency is usually between 90-98%. Anker lists the efficiency of their power banks at 95%. AUKEY is closer to 90%.
7504mAh * 0.95 = 7128.8mAh actual capacity
The number of Switch charges a power bank will provide is then found by taking actual capacity and dividing it by the Switch’s capacity: 4310mAh.
7128.8mAh / 4310mAh = 1.65 Switch Charges (Anker’s marketing team rounded up 1.7)
How Many Switch Charges Does a Power Bank Offer?
These are estimates for the most common power banks good for the Switch. Exact numbers need more data than most manufacturers provide.
- 10,000mAh (5V) = 1.5 Switch charges
- 10,000mAh (12V) = 1.4 Switch charges
- 13,400mAh (15V) = 1.9 Switch charges
- 20,100mAh (5V) = 3.1 Switch charges
- 20,100mAh (15V) = 2.9 Switch charges
- 26,800mAh (5V) = 4 Switch charges
- 26,800mAh (15V) = 3.3 Switch charges
Maximizing Your Power Bank’s Capacity
Get more playtime out of your power bank:
- Buy good quality power banks. Check reviews for complaints about duration.
- Use good quality, short USB cables. The longer the cable the more inefficient.
- Charge the Switch up to 80%, then stop. Charging from 80-100% is less efficient.
- With USB-C PD power banks use the USB-A port when time allows. The conversion to 5V is more efficient.
- Always leave home with your Switch (and Joy-Cons) charged to 100%.