Switch “Bricking” in 2019

There’s a rumor going around that using your Switch with an unlicensed/unofficial power adapter will brick your Switch, and that somehow Nintendo is doing this “on purpose”. Technically Nintendo has addressed this (which means I’m late to the party – incredibly so), but I wanted to talk about it nonetheless.

Here’s problem 1 with that rumor: there’s no confirmation that a third party charger/adapter has caused a problem with the Switch. That distinction is key, because bricking issues with a dock has been confirmed in at least one instance (and honestly, probably more).

(I’m not feeling compelled to talk about the dock too much. It should be self-evident that with it’s USB C-to-A, video output, and voltage/product verification that a lot of things could go wrong in a third party implementation.)

It’s also worth mentioning that we have a pretty good idea of what could have caused cause bricking if it happened. On older versions of the Switch’s operating system, we have a reason to believe that if the Switch is in use, and discharging faster than it’s charging, “something weird happens”. For instance, it possibly overdrains the battery. That could lead to a fried Switch pretty handily.

Problem 2 is a bit more fun. See, I’d like to start this trend of distinguishing a difference between bricking and frying. While this is slang (and therefore not necessarily agreed upon), bricking can sometimes be the result of firmware/hardware/software misconfiguration. In other words, “fry” is just a more specific “brick” since it’s specific to the electronics/hardware.

Anyway, problem 2: the weirdest thing about this rumor is that I have not heard of it from anyone in the hacking communities I frequent. And yet we understand the bootrom and the TrustZone. (More on that some other time.)

This leads me to believe one of three things as far as bricking with just an adapter is concerned:

  1. It’s recoverable. A Switch that is bricked (but not fried) can still boot into RCM – ReCovery Mode. From there, we can load our own recovery software (on a hack-vulnerable Switch), and reset the Switch’s hard drive to a backup. One of the first things we’re told when being helped with hacking our Switch is to make a backup of this hard drive. If this bricking isn’t an issue for us even though we’re using the same hardware that you are, the only logical conclusion is that we recover from it. Or, more fun…
  2. It doesn’t happen. Which either means your third party chargers are totally safe (they’re not), or we’re concerned with frying your Switch… or charger. The Switch requires more power than most other devices that rely on USB-C power delivery.
  3. The charger wasn’t meant for the Switch at all. There’s a big difference between a third party marketing an adapter as compatible with the Switch and someone trying to charge their Switch with the same thing that they use with their tablet. (I think this one is the most likely – keep reading.)

The below image is what happens to a Samsung fast charger if you choose to use it to charge your Switch. (Note that uhh, a Nintendo Switch is not a Samsung tablet.)

From Commissar Dinxy #0974 on Discord

Those spikes you’re seeing are from when the Switch has been disconnected. Sparing you the details, those spikes aren’t good for your charger.

People need to understand that not ever cable/charger is the same. I actually have a Samsung fast charger on me. It’s rated for outputs of 9.0V/1.87A or 5.0V/2.0A. The Nintendo adapter is rated for 15.0V/2.6A or 5.0V/1.5A. Those aren’t the freaking same. Again as shown above, I’d be worried about your charger more than your Switch in that particular case. (Admittedly, there are probably other output ratings that would fry the port on your Switch, which could then lead to a brick.)

Nintendo has actually said that they recommend using the wires that come with the JoyCon charging grip or Switch Pro controller if you want to use another adapter or power bank. I doubt people are doing that, though.

TL;DR – don’t fry your 300 dollar Switch by using weird 20 dollar docks, wires, or adapters. Chances are good any frying is the fault of a third party or the user, and no company should be responsible for making sure every dock/wire/adapter works with their hardware. (Users are frying their Switches rather than Nintendo bricking it with brick code.)