Your SD Card Might Slow Down Your Nintendo Switch

Animal Crossing Nintendo Switch
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

The only way to add more storage to the Nintendo Switch is with a microSD card. However, not all SD cards are created equal, and using some types of cards could slow down your games.

Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite consoles have 32 GB of internal storage, with the OLED model bumping that up to 64 GB, but the operating system eats up some space on all models. That might only leave you enough room for a handful of games, which is why the Switch also has a slot for microSD cards up to 2 TB in size. Once you have a microSD card, you can download new games or game data directly to the SD card, or you can move data back and forth as needed between internal and SD storage.

Not All SD Cards Are Equal on the Switch

The main problem with SD cards is performance — even the fastest SD and microSD cards have a fraction of the read and write speeds of other flash storage. For example, Samsung’s new line of Pro Plus microSD cards have read speeds of up to 180 MB/s and write speeds of up to 130 MB/s. That’s faster than most USB flash drives, but less than half the read and write speeds of a typical SATA internal SSD — the Samsung 870 EVO maxes out at around 560 MB/s. The NVMe storage used in newer PCs and game consoles blow that out of the water, often pushing 7,000 MB/s.

Since we’re dealing with such slow storage, every bit of performance matters, even if game performance is ultimately limited by the Nintendo Switch’s other hardware. You should ideally have the fastest microSD card possible, especially one with an A2 rating. The A2 badge means the card was designed for storing applications with decent read and write performance. Read speeds are far more important for gaming on the Switch, since that determines loading times, but faster write speeds can speed up downloads and copying data. The Nintendo Switch always uses internal storage for save files.

Nintendo’s SanDisk microSD Cards Are Slower, Too

Nintendo has a partnership with SanDisk to sell Nintendo-themed microSD cards for the Switch, with images from the Mario and Zelda series. Annoyingly, even though they are marketed as the recommended option for Switch gaming, they’re not fast cards. Take the 256 GB card with a super star from Mario, for example — it’s only rated for read speeds of 100 MB/s, and writes of 90 MB/s. That’s almost half the read performance of Samsung’s latest Pro Plus series.

Switch Internal Storage vs. SD Card Benchmarks

How much do SD card speeds really matter for Nintendo Switch games? To answer that question, we tested game loading times with two different SD cards compared to the Switch’s own internal storage. I used a SanDisk Extreme 256 GB card to represent a modern A2-class card, and an old 128 GB Samsung Evo UHS-1 card as an example of a low-end option.

This isn’t the most perfect scientific test possible, since some game data can’t be moved to external storage, and other factors like temperatures can affect performance. Still, it should give you a general idea of how SD card speeds affect gaming on a Switch.

Internal Storage A2 microSD Old microSD
Disk Speed N/A Write: 94 MB/s
Read: 152 MB/s
Write: 18 MB/s
Read: 45 MB/s
The Outer Worlds
(loading a save file)
0:46 0:56 1:23
Doom 3
(loading a save file)
0:09 0:11 0:15
Apex Legends
(game startup)
0:37 0:37 0:41
Apex Legends
(loading Training Area)
0:06 0:06 0:06
Animal Crossing
(game startup)
0:42 0:38 0:46

Notes: The test for The Outer Worlds was with the cartridge version, but that requires a large amount of the game to be downloaded. All tests were conducted with identical save profiles on a Nintendo Switch OLED Edition running in handheld mode. Disk benchmarks were tested with an Anker USB-C hub and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on an M1 Mac Mini.

Broadly speaking, loading games from the SanDisk A2 card wasn’t significantly different than the internal storage. The most significant difference was the 22% slowdown with loading a save file in The Outer Worlds, which makes sense — that’s an open world game that needs to load many textures and other assets from storage, so fast read speeds are critical. The older SD card pushed loading times to 67% slower than the Switch’s internal storage.

In other games, the difference between a fast and reasonably-slow SD card is only a few seconds. Games with smaller levels, like Doom 3, don’t need to load as much data at once, so the drive speed isn’t as important. Other games might be bottlenecked by the Switch’s aging processor and graphics, rather than the storage medium.

Ensure Your Switch Has a Speedy CD Card

If you already have an A1 card, or even one of the more basic UHS-I cards sold by SanDisk with Nintendo branding, you probably don’t need to toss it out and buy a new SD card right this second. Some games will load 2-3 seconds faster, but that’s about it. If you need to buy a new SD card anyway, the speed is definitely something you should consider.

On the other hand, using an old or extremely cheap microSD card in your Switch — especially one without any UHS (Ultra High Speed) rating — could very well be acting as a bottleneck for your Switch’s performance. If you’re not sure, go to your Switch’s settings, move a game from your SD back to the internal storage, and try playing it for a while. If you notice faster loading times or generally snappier performance, it might be time to replace the card.

The next time you buy an SD card for a Nintendo Switch, or really anything that will use the card for running apps or games, make sure it’s an A2 card. I would recommend you don’t purchase a card through Amazon, since counterfeit cards (which either stop working or have sub-par speeds) are still an ongoing problem. Look for A2 microSD cards at Best Buy, Target, Samsung’s online store, or really anywhere else.

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