So here’s a story where I risk damaging my brand new shiny Nintendo Switch for the sake of science. I wanted to see if improving the cooling of the Switch will improve battery life. Here’s the mod and what I did to test it.
The Switch is a fantastic new system with a unique design as a handheld and console. Because of the high performance and slim design, the Switch uses a fan to cool itself, just like a laptop. While in portable mode, the fan runs off the battery, so my reasoning was that if the fan didn’t have to run as much, how much battery life would it save?
Warning, science ahead.
So my plan was to replace the stock thermal paste with something better than whatever the manufacturer is using. For those that don’t know, thermal paste is something used in all computers, modern game consoles, laptops, and even some tablets (like the Switch). It’s used to help transfer heat from the processor or graphics chips to a heatsink or heatpipe. Usually a fan cools the heatpipe, so the heat is constantly “sucked” from the chips, through the paste, through the heatsink, and into the air, thanks to the fan.
But most manufacturers use cheap thermal paste that gets the job done, but could still be improved on. So by using some high quality paste, the heat may transfer more easily, and the fan may not have to run as much to cool the chips. And less fan = more battery. At least in theory.
The paste I used was Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut. This is some of the top rated stuff for thermal performance. I’ll post a link below.
How to replace the thermal paste in the Nintendo Switch
So to do the mod, the first thing you have to do is open the switch. You’ll need your trusty tri-wing screwdriver to take the back panel off. Yes, these are the same tri-wings Nintendo has been using since the GameBoy.
Note, before you start, turn the Switch off. Make sure it is really off, and not in standby. When it’s definitely off, remove the MicroSD card, and any game cartridges.
Undo the screws on the back. Take note that there’s one hiding behind the kickstand.
The next step is to remove the MicroSD card reader. The top ribbon pulls straight out of the board, but you need to be careful. Like, really, really, careful.
Remove the screws holding the large metal shield in place. It may take a little bit of force to remove, since there will be some old thermal paste stuck to it.
The next step is to remove the heatpipe. This includes the copper piece, the fins at the top of the Switch above the fan, and the bracket above the CPU.
Next step is to clean all the thermal paste off. I use paper towels with some 90% isopropyl alcohol, and then coffee filters to get any residue left by the paper towels. You want to scrub the top of the CPU (that copper plate), the top and bottom of the heatpipe, and the back of the shield. Be careful not to bend the heatpipe!
Keep scrubbing until there is no more black residue coming off on the paper towels.
Next you want to apply a small dot of paste on the copper plate on the CPU. Use about half the volume of a grain of rice. Use just a dot because the pressure of the heatpipe will cause it to spread like the picture below.
After reinstalling the heatpipe, it’s time to add paste to the top, like it was before. I used a line about a centimeter long and the width of the grain of rice down the middle of the heatpipe. Then replace the shield and the paste should spread.
After replacing the shield, carefully install the MicroSD card reader. Then install the back panel and you’re good to go!
So before I did this mod I tested the battery life. I loaded up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and went to Korok Forest, which is probably the most graphics intensive part of the game (this was done before the 1.1 update that improved performance). I then removed the joycons and undocked. Then I used a GoPro to record the Switch screen and my phone which was running a stopwatch. That way I could see when the Switch’s battery was low and switched (heh) to standby mode. The entire time the fan was on and pushing heat out of the Switch.
At stock, the Switch lasted 2 hours and 39 minutes.
I then did the mod and used the Switch like usual for about a week to let the new paste settle. After a week I redid the test.
After the mod, the Switch lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes.
So, after all that, it was a 8 minute improvement. This sounds really disappointing, but after looking at the numbers, it is better than it sounds. Overall, that’s an exact 5% improvement in battery life. When you put it that way, that’s not too bad. That’s at least one more race in Mario Kart, or another round of Puyo-Puyo Tetris.
But is it worth the mod? Meh, maybe, maybe not. I wish I had done more tests but there weren’t that many games out at the time. Maybe I can get some volunteers to help me test with their stock Switches someday.