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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  • julian- - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Interesting, though I spent an age trying to persuade a Switch to charge from 5V sources with an A-C cable and it refused to pull more than 0.5A from any of them. Were all your tests with Type-C chargers/power banks and C-C cables?
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, March 6, 2017 - link

    Yes, they were are C-to-C.
  • julian- - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    Ah, might want to clarify that on page 2, as the following paragraph was definitely not true when I tried with an A-C cable from a good (2.4A) Anker power bank (and even the Switch's own dock).

    "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."

    Also, while the battery itself isn't so badly designed that he recommended they stop selling it immediately because it's dangerous (unlike the wall charger it comes with..), USB-PD guru Nathan K isn't so hot on your recommendation:

  • Visual - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    wow, so people care about power use for such a device? it seems absolutely irrelevant to me.
    how about an actual review, showing what this gadget can run and how well?
  • whowantscake - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    People care, because you want to know what chargers are compatible with the Switch. You want to know which chargers communicate with the Switch and provide more amps than just a trickle. This article also shows that the 5V profile appears to be not fully utilized, so chargers that have a 9V or 15V are able to provide up to the Switch's limit.

    What is irrelevant to you is relevant to plenty of Switch owners. We want chargers and battery packs that can provide enough juice to charge while playing undocked, not just slow down the battery drain. This article will help a lot of people buy the most appropriate chargers and battery packs. Helping everyone people advance their understanding of USB-C in general, is great.
  • Chidoro - Monday, January 8, 2018 - link

    Have you provided Anand with your list of what is important to you yet? I’m sure the side doesn’t want to encounter any additional missteps
  • whowantscake - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    The article tested numbers were very similar to this reddit user's quick tests (link below). He pulled ~16.5W in-line from the Nintendo AC adapter. He pulled 18W from the Google Pixel charger, which was great news to me, as I've got several already. I highly recommend it to anyone reading comments here. It packs small, and comes with a 6' cord, and the cord & charger have passed rigid usb-c spec testing.

    Knowing the 9V profile can provide the maximum 18W means I'll be making sure that the batter charging pack I pick covers it. It'll be a bonus that I can also recharge the Pixel XL at the full rate.

    Thanks for the article. It's great having someone putting out good information with the testing method spelled out. Maybe, just maybe, it'll help /r/nintendoswitch to stop passing around poor information and recommendations for chargers and battery packs. USB-C has been a nightmare for consumers to understand.

  • dchengster - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    Great work delving into this. As I read your article I thought of my Dell Laptop Power Supply as well as Dell's Laptop Powerbank which outputs in both 5V USB and has a special connector to output in 19.5V. A quick search led me to Dell's 7.4mm Barrel to USB-C adapter on the Dell site. Spec's say it supports 5V/20V, I'll be ordering one to test.. anything to save from packing more power adapters or powerbanks.

  • dchengster - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    A 4.5mm power connector to USB-C version is also available:

  • sonicmerlin - Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - link

    I want a Switch but the idea of 3 of hours battery life is pretty disappointing, Hopefully a node shrink in a Switch "Pro" version in a year or two will increase battery life.

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