The Hackable Switch: Gamer Urban Legend or Genuine Achievement?

August 3, 2023 • Shannon Flynn


Nintendo is known for having well-protected consoles. Avid Nintendo fans want to enjoy their Nintendo-exclusive intellectual properties (IPs) while gaining the benefits others — notably PC gamers — have. Want to emulate a game not available on the Switch? How about modding out Super Mario Odyssey or The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom? How about simulating backward compatibility by downloading old Gamecube games? You can only achieve this with a hackable Switch. So, does it even exist?

Can You Hack a Nintendo Switch?

Leave it to determined gamers — there are specific Switch models that are hackable. Even though numerous Nintendo games are available through PC emulators, gamers wanted the modding experience on their Nintendo consoles. A hackable Switch must have a specific serial number at the bottom of the console to the left of the charging port. Currently, there are no hackable Switch Lites or OLEDs. 

If it doesn’t have one of the following, then it’s not possible to hijack:

  • XAW1
  • XAW4
  • XAW7
  • XAJ1
  • XAJ4
  • XAJ7

Modders will want to cross-reference the rest of the numbers with the chart to see its potential for patching. You must check these over time as updates continue bolstering a Switch’s defenses. Previously hackable versions have had patches that made them unable to break down. 

However, the golden children are Switch consoles with the compromised Nvidia Tegra X1 processor. Lucky for gamers and unlucky for Nintendo, hardware isn’t patchable like software. Therefore, this bug is permanent. To this day, it is unpatchable. Though old Switch models get patches, in this case, the older, the better — it’s more likely to have that old Only these numbers have the vulnerability that allows gamers to jailbreak the console.

How Do You Hack a Switch?

The most popular way to homebrew a Switch is through recovery console mode (RCM) using custom firmware (CFW). The main CFWs in the modding community are Fusée Gelée, Nereba and Caffeine. Each relates to the firmware version of the hackable Switch.

Once modders get into RCM, they choose one of those exploits to continue the installation. Some methods require a secondary device, like a computer with a USB connection, to complete the process. You can also use an Android or hacked iOS device. You’ll also need an SD card. If successful, gamers should be able to reboot their Switch in a shiny, custom bootloader from the SD card, also known as an emunand, called Atmosphere.

After following a step-by-step guide — with potential troubleshooting — there are safety procedures every modder should follow to keep them as safe as possible.

First, back up everything from the internal memory also called the NAND. It doesn’t matter how often or where — just ensure it’s safe. You can store it on a flash drive, external hard drive or cloud.

Second, review any data laws in your country. For example, gamers in the European Union should toggle “Don’t share” on their usage information in settings in accordance with the GDPR data protection law. 

Every chance you have to stop incoming data, like refusing updates or not sharing information, is critical for success. Otherwise, it will compromise the whole operation.

Are There Repercussions?

Any attempt to mod your Switch voids existing warranties on the device. That means if you are responsible for damaging or making it inoperable because of hacking manipulations, Nintendo will not help or reimburse you for the Switch. This situation is also called bricking when the console cannot work through homebrewing. 

Software controls hardware, and introducing chaotic software to the machine could make it potentially dangerous — is the homebrew worth it if there’s a fire in the mix?

Sometimes, Nintendo takes even more severe action. They may identify your user name associated with a Nintendo Online account and ban purchases and online gameplay. The worst case scenario could be a lawsuit, especially for people who jailbreak consoles and attempt to sell them secondhand on markets like eBay. 

Long story short — all modders should weigh the pros and cons before attempting to jailbreak their console. People who jailbreak usually do so for homebrewing purposes instead of piracy. However, Nintendo doesn’t distinguish between these types of gamers. Though many could get away with it, it has definite risks. It’s not sure which, if any, you’ll be hit with. There is no stopping once you start — no going back. 

Should You Even Take Advantage of a Hackable Switch?

Hacking a Switch can lead to more than modded games and access to old classics. Some even bypass purchasing releases at all and pirating content. Whether it’s an indie or a Triple-A game, it’s an ethical question that diminishes the effort of countless game developers and artists that crafted a game. It hits indie developers the hardest, as sometimes they are one-person operations trying to make a name in a competitive industry.

Though there are how-to guides on executing the homebrew, it’s not a beginner’s task. The opportunity exists, but many should not take advantage of the opportunity for sheer fact there’s a high chance of failure for beginners. It’s even more difficult to remove if you change your mind.

If you’re an avid Nintendo fan, homebrew isn’t worth a lifelong ban from their IPs.

To Homebrew or Not to Homebrew

Many exploit the hackable Switch and enjoy access to countless games from tons of consoles, even outside of Nintendo’s catalog. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Linux OS on the world’s first console of its kind? However, there is a high learning curve to the installation and potentially irreversible consequences from wanting to experiment a little bit with your go-to gaming setup. 

Ultimately, gamers should consider the purpose behind the modding. Is it to learn more about hardware? Is it to access old games on consoles you don’t have? Is it to mod out your favorite video games — Splatoon or Pikmin, perhaps? Hacking the hardware is possible, and you won’t always get caught, especially if you are savvy and toggle settings correctly. 

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