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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Yaldabaoth - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    "The Spanish Inquisition has _5_ preferred voltages! 5V, 9V, 15V, and 20V! [...] WAIT!"
  • jhoff80 - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    12V. Which is now optional in USB-PD 2.0.
  • DanNeely - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    does anyone know why it was deprecated in favor of 9 and 15V (which weren't in the 1.0 version of the spec)?
  • jhoff80 - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    My understanding is that 15V was put in because of Apple, who had been using 14.5V for the MacBook USB-C charger. And if I had to guess, I'd say that 9V probably came into play for phones (such as the Google Pixel) where 12V or 15V would be overkill, but manufacturers wanted faster than 5V 3A charging. But just speculation on my part.
  • metayoshi - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Yeah, Qualcomm uses 9V for Quickcharge (at least for the AC adapter for my GS7 edge), so I assume that they influenced the inclusion of the 9V option for USB-PD.
  • acfoltzer - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    This is a really helpful article, thanks! I was puzzled by what seemed like an absurdly high rating on the included AC adapter—I was worried it'd be impossible to find a travel adapter that would be sufficient. It sounds like a good 5V@3A adapter will do in a pinch, though, and those are easy enough to come by.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Can you measure power cosumption while Zelda is paused? It's still doing stuff even within the various pause screens, but I would think that the SoC would clock itself lower.
  • zodiacfml - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Good one. I'm interested in this kind of power and charging articles.

    For the Switch, I feel that it is pretty redundant for a battery charging a another battery. It is fine if it can't charge the battery well while it is being used.

    My smartphone lives with PC USB charging only so it may sometimes consume more power and draw from the internal battery while connected and is in use..
  • sircod - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Were you ever able to pull more than 10W through a 3rd party adaptor (like the 17.7W you got through the official)?
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Yes. While it's not listed here, the Apple adapter provided more than 10W when the Switch was running.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now