The Switch has continued to be a massive hit for Nintendo with a series of hit titles like Animal Crossing New Horizons and Pokémon Sword and Shield, but the hybrid console does have its drawbacks. Probably the most vexing is that the console only comes with 25.9GB of user-accessible space, making it difficult to keep multiple eShop games installed at once. In fact, some titles like NBA 2K19 won’t fit on the internal memory at all!
Thankfully, Nintendo included a Micro SD slot in the Switch, allowing you to bypass these storage limits by simply inserting a widely available Micro SD card. If you’re planning to make this essential upgrade, there are some obvious questions: which Switch memory card should you choose, and how fast will Micro SD storage be compared to running from a physical game cartridge or the Switch’s internal memory?
To answer these questions, we’ll recommend the best Switch Micro SD cards on the market in 2021, from some absolute units that can hold up to 1TB, as well as cheaper cards that best hit the sweet spot between price and performance. No matter which capacity you’re considering, we have a good recommendation that will meet your needs. You might be surprised to find that the higher-capacity cards have become a lot more affordable recently, bringing 512GB cards into new relevancy.
We’ll also share the results of our research into Switch game loading times, so you can know where to install your favourite games, and we’ll explain the best way to move install data from your Switch’s internal memory to the Micro SD card and vice versa. As the data reveals, our Micro SD card choices actually offer slightly faster loading times than actual physical cartridges – something worth remembering if you’re considering a cart or digital download. Without further ado, let’s get into the recommendations!
The Switch supported Micro SD cards up to 32GB at launch, but a software update soon thereafter pushed this limit all the way to 2TB. Right now we haven’t got anything close to a 2TB card outside of a secret lab, but massive 512GB cards are becoming relatively affordable and even 1TB cards are starting to make sense. The most important point here is that the more space you have, the more games you can install to the card and the less time you have to spend deleting or re-downloading games. Therefore, our recommendation is that you get the largest Micro SD card you can afford, though our recommendations also include best value offerings based on GDP or USD per gigabyte calculations.
Of course, capacity is only half of the equation – what about speed? Well, here the Switch isn’t quite so future-proof. The console only supports UHS-1 cards, which have a maximum possible speed of 104MB/s, compared to the 312MB/s speed limit of the more modern UHS-2 standard. However, our testing revealed only a tiny differential between the slowest and fastest UHS-1 Micro SD cards on the Switch, so our recommendations are tailored towards capacity and value rather than speed.
As well as testing different Micro SD cards, we also examined two other options for playing Switch games: using internal storage and reading directly from the game cartridge. To get an accurate idea of which storage method is the fastest in different situations, we took frame-perfect load time recordings from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We tested both starting up the game and fast-travelling between areas, and the results were surprising – you’d think that Nintendo’s own cartridges would offer the best loading times, but that’s not the case…
|Zelda/Switch Load Times||Cartridge||Internal Storage||Sandisk 16GB Ultra SDHC||Sandisk 64GB Extreme SDXC|
|Temple of Time (Initial Load)||35.7||30.7||34.1||34.4|
|Kakariko Village (Initial Load)||27.0||24.1||26.3||26.6|
|Owa Daim Shrine (Initial Load)||9.5||8.7||9.3||9.3|
|Great Plateau Tower (Travel)||32.6||27.7||30.9||31.2|
|Dueling Peaks Tower (Travel)||20.5||18.8||19.8||20.1|
|Shrine of Resurrection (Travel)||24.2||21.8||23.0||23.8|
In every test, we got the same hierarchy of results: reading from the game cartridge was the slowest method, while the internal storage was the fastest. The two Micro SD cards we tested offered near-identical times, a little faster than the cartridge but slower than internal storage, sometimes by an appreciable margin. For example, in our Temple of Time load test, the internal storage was five seconds faster than the cartridge, and four seconds faster than either Micro SD card. That means if you want to absolutely minimise game load times, then installing your most-played games to the Switch’s internal memory is a wise move.
Note: These tests were performed before Nintendo added a so-called ‘boost mode’ to Breath of the Wild, which pushes the Switch’s processor to its limits to speed up the loading process when you first enter a game or move to a new area. However, the hierarchy of different storage methods remains the same.
Now that you have your selected Micro SD card installed, how do you move Switch games to Micro SD? Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible to move game install data directly from the Switch’s internal memory to a Micro SD card. Instead, you must follow a set of arcane instructions to archive the software, then download it again.
Start by visiting System Settings, selecting Data Management and then Manage Software. Then select the game you want to transfer, and select Archive Software, then Archive. Now, insert your Micro SD card, go back to the home screen and select the archived game. Select Download, and the game will be downloaded onto your Micro SD card. Your save data won’t be affected (this is stored on the Switch’s internal memory), but you will need to wait for the download to complete, which may be a pain for those with slower internet connections. If you want to move games to your internal storage, follow the same steps but remove the Micro SD card before downloading your game to ensure it is installed onto the Switch’s flash memory.
To sum up, the fastest storage option is the 32GB of space that makes up the Switch’s internal flash memory, so use this for your most-played games using the method outlined above if the absolute fastest loading speeds are your priority. Micro SD cards come next, offering comparable speeds and much larger capacities. When it comes to choosing the best Micro SD card, our advice would be firstly to choose a reputable brand (no-name cards are to be avoided, especially when good makes like Samsung, SanDisk and Kingston are reasonably priced). Secondly, as long as you’re set with a UHS-1 card, you can afford to largely ignore read and write speeds and instead focus on choosing the largest capacity you can afford, as our testing didn’t reveal a significant real-world advantage for higher-spec cards.