Power Consumption: Docked

To start things off, I wanted to see how much power the Switch drew while docked. This is broken down to a fully charged Switch – so that we can infer just how much power the Switch system (sans display) is drawing to run – and then again with a Switch under 20% battery capacity so that it needs to charge as well. All of this is measured by letting the Switch load from a save in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which according to Nintendo’s battery life estimates, is likely the most power-intensive of the launch games. The following values are all averages over 2 minutes.

Switch Power Consumption: Docked
  On (Fully Charged) On (Discharged) Charging (Sleep)
Switch Only 11W
(14.8V @ 0.74A)
(14.8V @ 1.06A)
(14.8V @ 0.66A)
Switch w/Joy-Cons 11W
(14.8V @ 0.74A)
(14.7V @ 1.12A)
(14.7V @ 0.82A)

With the Switch charged and running Zelda in its docked configuration, it’s drawing on average 11 Watts of power. The dock itself is consuming a bit of this energy to power its DisplayPort to HDMI converter, but it’s safe to assume that virtually all of that power is going to the Switch itself. And while I didn’t pull noise measurements on the Switch, while the console’s fan was active, it was holding at a fairly low speed, judging from the softness of the sound.

Letting the Switch discharge and loading up Zelda again finds that power consumption has (unsurprisingly) increased, to 15.7W. Throwing on the partially discharged joy-cons bumps that up a bit further to 16.5W, coming fairly close to the official 18W limit of the dock. One thing to keep in mind here is that if we subtract out the 11W from earlier, we only end up with 4.7W left to charge the Switch’s battery.

Finally, if we turn the console off and just let it charge, we find that the Switch + dock draws 9.8W. This is nearly twice the amount of leftover power the Switch had available to charge its battery with when it was docked and turned on. Meanwhile, adding the joy-cons to the mix to recharge as well brings the total power consumption up to 12.1W. The takeaway? The Switch can recharge fairly quickly, but only if it’s not turned on. If it is on, it will still recharge in the dock, but at around half the rate.

Power Consumption: Undocked

The next question of course is how this compares to power consumption when undocked, so let’s find out.

Switch Power Consumption: Undocked
  On (Fully Charged) On (Discharged) Charging (Sleep)
Switch Only
(Max Brightness)
(14.8V @ 0.6A)
(14.6V @ 1.1A)
(14.8V @ 0.66A)
Min Bright: 7.1W
(14.8V @ 0.48A)
Switch w/Joy-Cons 8.9W
(14.8V @ 0.6A)
(14.6V @ 1.21A)
(14.7V @ 0.82A)

Starting off again with a fully-charged Switch, with the display at minimum brightness we’re down to 7.1W, or 3.9W less than when it was docked. Considering that some of this power is going to screen and that we can’t shut it off, we’re easily looking at a 5W+ reduction in SoC power going from docked mode to undocked mode. Meanwhile cranking up the brightness to maximum increases the power consumption to 8.9W, or about 25%. In practical terms this means that going brighter definitely has an impact on the Switch’s battery life, but even if you drop to minimum brightness, you’re still only going to cut power consumption by 20%. So don’t feel bad playing the console with a higher brightness; lowering the brightness won’t vastly increase the runtime of the console.

Otherwise, keep in mind the 8.9W number. This is (roughly) the maximum power draw for gaming on the console when it’s undocked. It should also be noted that the Switch will try to avoid charging the joy-cons unless it too is being charged, so the runtime impact of the joy-cons will typically be nil when the Switch is running on its internal battery.

After letting the Switch discharge, the power numbers for operating the Switch while it’s turned on and charging are not all that different from earlier when the console was docked. With the brightness at maximum – to give us the Switch’s maximum power draw undocked - the Switch draws 16.1W in this scenario. Throwing on the joy-cons adds another 1.6W, bringing the total to 17.7W. This is the single highest power draw number that I recorded, and it’s interesting to note that it’s still a hair under the 18W limit stamped on the Dock, indicating just how accurate that value is.

Finally, sleeping the Switch to let it charge is identical its power consumption while docked. The Switch will draw 9.8W to charge itself, and 12.1W with the joy-cons attached. Turning the Switch off entirely does change the charging rate a bit, but not significantly: it goes from 9.8W to 10.6W.

Power Consumption: USB Power Bank

Last, and what I suspect is the biggest question about the Switch’s power consumption, is powering the console from a USB battery pack/power bank/joule jar. So to test this I grabbed the biggest pack I had on hand, a Maximas Xtron, and gave it a shot.

Switch Power Consumption: Undocked w/Battery Pack
  On (Fully Charged) On (Discharged) Charging (Sleep)
Switch Only
(Max Brightness)
(4.68V @ 1.9A)
(4.68V @ 1.92A)
(4.68V @ 1.88A)
Switch w/Joy-Cons 9.1W
(4.68V @ 1.94A)
(4.68V @ 1.94A)

Plugging the Switch into a power bank finds that a good power bank can provide enough power to run the Switch, but that’s it. Whether discharged or full, the Switch doesn’t pull more than about 9.1W from a battery pack. This is just over the 8.9W maximum operational power consumption level we established earlier. And even after letting the Switch run for a couple of hours off of a power bank and starting from a full charge, it’s still fully charged while the power bank is slowly discharging.

Notably, the Switch can’t draw more than the aforementioned 9.1W from the Xtron, or indeed any other tablet-sized power bank I’ve thrown at the Switch. In fact every 5V-capable USB-C power source I’ve thrown at the Switch maxes out at this same point. At 5V, the Switch doesn’t seem to be able to draw more than 2 Amps.

The takeaway from all of this is that while this is by no means an exhaustive test, what I’ve found is that any good power bank designed to power tablets will be sufficient to power the Switch. So long as a bank can deliver 5V @ 2A or better, then it can power Nintendo’s console. (And if you're looking for buying advice, while I haven't yet had a chance to test it, RAVPower recently started shipping a rather sizable 99 Whr power bank that supports up to 20V)

The one downside is that due to the inner-workings of the USB Power Delivery specification (more on that in a sec), the Switch apparently can’t pull enough energy from standard 5V-output power banks to meaningfully recharge its battery while gaming. So with a 5V power bank, if your Switch is fully depleted, you’ll need to stay attached to the bank the entire time you’re playing, or take a break and let the bank recharge the Switch while it’s sleeping. In the case of the latter, the recharge rate should only be a bit lower than if you had used the AC adapter.

Playing With Power: Specifications & Expectations Getting Nerdy: USB Power Delivery, Type-C Cables, & Third Party Adapters
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  • p-zilla - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    No, what this means is that they charged to 100%, started playing games and measured the draw from the wall.. What this means is that the switch is pulling approximately 4 watts from the battery and 11 from the wall at 100% battery life. Which matches what people have seen. The switch actually pulls from the battery down to 88% while docked and gaming. The only way to get a full charge is to put it to sleep and dock it. You'll never have a full charge with it on and docked.
  • tipoo - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Ah, ok.
  • uberfish - Saturday, May 6, 2017 - link

    That's awesome news. It shows Nintendo really did a great job when designing the console to maximize battery life. Keeping the battery at a lower state of charge during the time when the console is going to be running hot will really help the longevity of the cells.
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Idle numbers weren't collected. Since it's a portable game console, it's only the load numbers that have any significance. (You can't do anything with the console but sleep and play games)
  • bubblyboo - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    The Tegra X1 was never really a "mobile" chip, as Nvidia only designated it for their Shield TV.
    Those A57 procs are also old and outdated at this point. Sure it's a huge jump as opposed to what Nintendo usually does, but they probably just went with the X1 to save money. Additionally, using a 16Whr battery while the undocked Switch uses 7W-9W is really pushing that supposed 2.5-6.5 hours of use. Would be nice to see how much power it uses with an indie/mobile game that wouldn't push the Switch as much.
  • tipoo - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Yeah, shame about staying on 20nm as that limits it to A57 and Maxwell, unless they wanted to port older architectures to a new node. 16nm would be much more efficient, as well as already have A72 and Pascal taped out for it.
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    I vaguely recall seeing a battery life rating of 2-6 hours in the Nintendo eShop on my 2DS a couple of days ago when I was browsing for games. Honestly, that's a really big range and I'd hate to be on the lower end of that scale. It's already bad enough playing on a Vita Slim. I usually end up a lot closer to 4 hours than Sony's claim of up to 6 hours. If the Switch is worse than the Vita Slim, then it'd be annoying as a mobile gaming platform regardless of the improvements in graphics.

    That said, I'm pretty interested in getting a Switch despite the battery life...though I'd like to hold off for a revised, maybe second generation model that lasts a couple hours longer on battery and possibly doesn't need active cooling. If that ever happens, I'd happily order one.

    Anyway, thanks for tinkering with the Switch, Ryan!
  • skiboysteve - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Would be interesting to see a power bank that is capable of 15V output with the switch like the razer one: https://www.razerzone.com/gaming-accessories/razer...
  • eriri-el - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    All u need is a quick google search: https://www.ravpower.com/26800mah-Type-C-external-...
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Good find. Thanks!

    I had been searching over the weekend but that one never came up. Glad to see someone is finally shipping a power bank with higher voltage modes.

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