How not to upsize the memory of your Switch
If I had remembered in time that the PlayStation 1 will be 25 years old in December, I could have had the easiest teardown ever. I would have added the modchip to play copied games just for fun. But no, instead of going for the easy solution, I decided to expand the internal storage of a Nintendo Switch. Sure, I could just buy a large microSD card, but it would be much slower in reading and writing than the built-in eMMC chip. That's why I set my mind on replacing it with a 256 GB chip. How hard can it be?
«That looks like a giant pain in the ass»
As I’ve never unscrewed a switch before, let alone replaced an eMMC chip, the first thing I do is check YouTube for a manual. This project doesn’t seem to be very common – I only find a handful of videos about it. The most promising one is posted by the Indonesian channel sthetix. However, the comments below the video are anything but encouraging. On user writes: «That looks like a giant pain in the ass». Wise words, as I am about to find out.
But I'm not there yet. In theory, this project is pretty straight forward: Unscrew Switch, remove old eMMC chip, solder on a new one, screw everything together again and then modify the software of the Switch so that the 256 GB can be used. That seems doable. I’m not worried about the mechanical part. Not because I originally trained as an automation engineer – I didn’t work on the job for a single day – but because I’m dreading the software work. Tinkering with software has cost me too many nerves in comparably easy projects such as rooting smartphones.
I remain optimistic. The video instructions are very detailed and I'm usually quite successful at getting something done if I put my mind to it. So I order a 256 GB eMMC chip via Aliexpress and the USB-C dongle RCMloader to build modified firmware into the Switch. This is necessary for the system to recognise the larger memory. Newer Switch models can't be hacked at the moment, so I use my private Launch Switch for this project. If you want to find out if your Switch is patched, all you need is the serial number.
I also need a hot air soldering station, desoldering braid, soldering flux, brush, clamping device for the print, as well as various screwdrivers and pliers. The latter is included in the iFixit tool set we have in the editorial office. As I don’t have a hot air soldering station, I must make do with the combination of an ordinary soldering station and a heat gun. The latter was going to lead into disaster.
As soon as all the material arrives, I get to work. Before taking the Switch apart, I create a backup of the NAND memory. I will need this later to load the new memory. I also save the so-called BIS key, so I can read the partition of the Switch with Windows. I need the RCM clip, which I insert where the right joycon normally goes. This clip activates certain pins. You could also do it by hand, but that would be really fiddly.
After this, it's time for some tinkering. Unscrewing the Switch takes no more than a few minutes. I'm a bit worried that I won't remember which of the tiny screws belongs where. The small print, to which the eMMC chip is attached, is also easy to remove with a spatula tool. It's only glued on. Next up, I heat the chip with a heat gun until the tin between chip and print liquefies and I can remove the chip. According to the instructions, the temperature should be 396 degrees Celsius and the airspeed set to level 3. My heat gun only has two airspeed levels and no temperature display. Oh well, I think, I'll make it work. How wrong I was.
The chip can be removed from the board slowly and with very little pressure. But as turns out, little pressure is already too much: as soon as the chip is removed, I see that half of the pins have been pulled off, too. They're now in the memory chip. The board is now useless. I will never manage to attach the tiny pins again. Where did I go wrong? I didn't heat the chip long enough. I should have waited until it practically dislodged itself. Well, I learned my lesson. And I also have to admit to myself that I wanted too much. Turns out replacing a chip the size of a fingernail is a lot more challenging than soldering a few resistors.
Did it kill my Switch? I hope not. I've now ordered an already upsized eMMC module. It's from the same person who created the video tutorial 🤔. A conspiracy?! Anyway, this should allow me to install the new, ready-to-use module and finish my project.
If you’d like to see what happens next, click «Follow author» on my profile.