The release day of the Nintendo Switch is upon us, and with it, early adopters are finding things to be a little less exciting than normal. The odd reality for this console generation has been that launch time is the worst time. Consoles come out with either their library of games lacking strong launch titles or with bugs and issues that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The Switch will continue that tradition at launch consisting mainly of ports from other platforms, and the promise of other, original, titles under the “coming soon” moniker. Nintendo has dedicated the last month or so to asserting all the titles that are eventually coming to the Switch, even if they aren’t going to be there at launch. It’ll have a launch lineup of pretty decent older games, a couple exclusives, and the promise to keep titles rolling in for months to come. But there is more to a console than just its library.
Nintendo’s been pretty quiet about some of the system’s design decisions when it comes to system storage space. The information for this was always out there, but gigabytes don’t garner as much attention as launch games and press events until you find out Zelda takes up half your hard drive. Most of the Switch’s extra fees are tied directly to its storage, and how much extra room you want is the difference between a $300 console and $450 one.
The Switch’s built-in memory is pretty small at 32 gigabytes. In reality, it’s actually smaller than that, 28gigs to be exact since 4 gigabytes is dedicated to console functions. The Switch is different from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 since it doesn’t install games from physical copies, but that does little to help people who prefer digital downloads. Breath of the Wild is 13gigs, which is almost half of the onboard memory the system gives you. It’s a safe assumption to believe most games will fall between the 6-15 gigabyte area, and higher-end games will probably fall around 20-30 gigabytes. The Switch has a very limited amount of space, so most consumers are going to have to buy a microSD card to continue downloading titles unless they only want one or two games on their Switch at any given time.
As of now, the biggest microSD cards that are easily available are 256 gigabytes. That’s a far cry from the starting storage space on competing consoles, which even at their weakest are still roughly double that. Nintendo has gone on record stating that the Switch will support cards up to 2 terabytes in size, but even 1tb cards are still in the prototype phase and not on the market. MicroSD cards are also not cheap, at least not the sizes you’d want to consider for console storage space. The aforementioned 256-gigabyte card can run anywhere from $120 to $150, which makes the Switch the most expensive consoles on the market. You can always go with a smaller size, 128-gigabyte cards that coset about $50 in comparison, but the Switch still has the same on-console storage issues that the Wii U has, and even the Wii before it, did. The Wii U at least had the option to make use of an external hard drive to boost its storage space, but the Switch’s ability to do that is still up in the air.
It’s currently not certain if investing in an external hard drive is worth it for the Switch. Nintendo once again came forth to answer concerns about external drives. They stated the Switch could potentially support external hard drives, but that actual function has to be “turned on,” probably through some kind of update. External hard drives are much more affordable that microSD, a 4 terabyte drive barely runs you $100, and that’s almost 16 times the space of a 256-gigabyte card at a fraction of the price. There’s really no reason to jump on the hard drive hype just yet since it’s not supported, but hopefully, that will change and give the console a reasonably priced storage alternative.
It’s really not hard to understand Nintendo’s stance on storage space when you break down what the Switch is supposed to be. It’s not meant to be a home console, regardless of what it’s called. Its gimmick is portability, and an external hard drive, in some situations, is anything but portable. Assuming the Switch has even more of the problems the Wii U does, you would need either a Y-cable to help power a hard drive attached Switch or one that comes with its own power supply, and both of these aren’t good options for portability. A power supply adds more things you have to lug around and requires you to find an outlet to plug your hard drive into. A Y-cable would use the only two USB slots on the console, and effectively make it impossible to load your games from the drive and charge your controller at the same time. There’s also no telling how much of the console’s power a Y-cabled drive would drain, which could potentially be bad considering the portable console’s off-dock battery life is already 5 hours when it’s not running any software.
Nintendo’s options were limited when it came to storage expansion. SD and microSD cards are honestly the most affordable way to go due to how universal they are. Nintendo’s only other option would have been to make the console’s base amount of room bigger or make the console bigger to allow consumers to trade out hard drives like on competing consoles without risking damage to the Switch. There really is no way around the Switch’s limited hard drive space, and it’s going to be a bumpy first few months unless Nintendo can find an easy way for consumers to get around the price of limited disc space.