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Turn your Nintendo Switch into a fantastic emulation machine

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*this post has been edited and completely changed 10.02.19 - originally it was "Should I do this", now it's "I gone done this!"

* and again 25.03.19 to make it a guide, rather than a post!*

 

The Nintendo Switch makes a bloody brilliant emulation machine. There's a few things to know, and a risk of being banned from online play, but I've really been impressed by the Switch and it's become the console I reach for whenever I want to play an old retro title.

 

The pros and cons then:  If you are totally against the worst case scenario of being banned by Nintendo, then you shouldn't do this.  However, if you keep rack of whether your console is in the modded state or not, you shouldn't ever try to go online int he modded state.  The main issue seems to be that people report being banned for different reasons and it's hard to pin down exactly what the dos and don'ts are.  One guide I read said "assume you will get banned at some point and you won't be disappointed" and that sounds a good rule.  Also, the Nintendo is very much a current console so there's no sure way of knowing if a future firmware update will come along that stops your fun.  Having said that, a big advantage of the Switch is that the Tegra processor is hacked to it's base level as standard.  This means that you will always be able to get access to the system and Nintendo cannot stop it.  Different revisions of the console make it harder or impossible to mod,  even though the hardware itself is always moddable, but the scene is very fast moving and vibrant - there's a lot going on and last time a firmware was released, it was rehacked the day after! 

 

I followed this guide and found it to be very detailed and clear:

https://nh-server.github.io/switch-guide/

 

There is a list at the start of the guide so you can check your serial number to see if your console can be modded. The process involves making a backup of the Switch's NAND memory which is 32Gb so the process takes an hour or two, dependant on the speed of the memory card. 

 

The actual mod itself is dead easy. You copy some files to a micro SD card and put it in the Switch.  You need to buy a £2 "Jig" slider which goes into the right side joycon slider on the main unit. You pop the Jig in place, then hold 'volume up' while you press the power button to put the console into recovery mode. You can then connect the console via a USB to USB-C cable to an Android device or computer to send a "payload" to the console. (The guide shows other ways of entering recovery mode, using a paperclip instead of the JigKick, but for the sake of £2 I'd definitely recommend the safetly of a device designed for the job, rather than ramming metal paperclips into your console!) I use an OTG cable and a USB-USBC cable to send the payload from my Android phone and this is a easy way to do it, using an app called Rekado, as detailed in the above guide.  You connect it up, load Rekado and it blasts the payload across automatically.

 

Once the payload is in, your console is modded and remains that way until you get a software crash or a full power down.  If you do get a crash you usually get a choice of returning to stock firmware or Custom Firmware.  If the console has been switched off completely or crashed fully, you'll need to install the payload again.

 

Sending the payload is a 2 minute job and it's very easy. However, if you were out and about, maybe playing retrogames on a train, it is a pain in the arse to be faffing around with cables.  Also, if you don't have an Android phone you'd need to get your laptop out.  This, to me, is the biggest obstacle to 'using the Switch as a fantastic emulation machine' because, whilst it is rare that your console crashes irretrievably, it's going to perform as an unmodded console until you get the chance to re-send the payload.

 

When the payload is in, your Switch can boot into the custom firmware, known as Atmosphere.  This looks like the normal firmware, but when you select the photo album option you get a list of all your homebrew applications.  There's a Homebrew App Store for easy downloading of emulators and all sorts. However, it's worth noting that your modded Switch will not allow homebrew software to have access to all the RAM in the console.  This means that anything especially demanding will probably crash the Switch. What you can do is modify the loader.ini file following the extra guide here https://nh-server.github.io/switch-guide/extras/himem_homebrew/

 

What this does is moves the Homebrew Menus out of the photo album and puts it in place of one of your downloaded Switch games.  This is great, because it means that if you load the Switch as normal, clicking on that game plays the game.  But if you load the Switch into modded mode, that game will be the Homebrew Channel and you can play all your emulators.

 

It's really impressed me how good emulation is, and it's important to keep in mind that the Switch Homebrew scene is very active with new developments daily.  Emulation is going great guns, with the GPU fully open to programmers.  The N64 specifically has come on leaps and bounds, and there are now overclocking options built into Retroarch for extra umph. There are superb versions of Half Life, OpenLara (very smooth and HD remake of PS1 Tomb Raider), Mame and so on. 

 

I have been very impressed with this so far, and the screen makes these old games look absolutely fantastic. 

 

One issue I find with Homebrew is that it's much the same on each console you mod, as long as the console itself has the power to run the game you choose.  For example, when you look at the list of Homebrew games available for the Switch, they are pretty much the same titles on the Vita Homebrew scene. I really like the Vita as an emulation machine and personal preference means I prefer the smaller screen and increased portability.  The Vita (using Enzo) retains the mod permanently so if the console crashes on the train, it's not a big deal. However, for me, Mame in the pocket is a game changer.  I'm getting good at Robotron with the Switch controls, and  getting my share of R-Type, Mr Do and all those classics I used to love as a kid.  The Vita may still have the edge for me based on the form factor, but the Switch scene seems to have a hell of a lot going on, and the console has the power to emulate more than the Vita so I'm interested to see where it all goes next. 

 

These are the three biggest issues I can see:

 

  • You may risk your future relationship with Nintendo by modding the Switch if you go online with the mod in place. No-one seems sure of what causes a ban but it seems that some people have been banned and insist they have never been online with CFW and they don't know how Nintendo know.  This is a biggie.
  • The mod isn't permanent, and providing you don't fully power down will remain in place, but if you do, or you get a severe crash, you need your USB cable and Android phone and Jigkick to get back into the CFW.
  • The emulation scene and homebrew isn't vastly different from console to console.  I was very excited to try Modern Vintage Gamer's port of Cannonball, an improved engine for the arcade version of Outrun when he did it for the Vita, and I enjoyed playing it for an hour.  Now I can do it on the Switch as well, but it's the same so I can't see why I want to spend more time playing about with the Switch to get it on there as well.

 

However, as MVG discusses in this video below, the Switch seems to offer much more flexibility in coding, and the scene is progressing at a pace.  The N64 emulation was very early days a few months ago, and with the discovery of OpenGL and the ability to program for the GPU the emulation has improved enormously in very little time. 

 

 

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7 minutes ago, dumpster said:

Well, I'm a little bamboozled . There's so many mods and people in YouTube comments saying "Oh my God I can't believe you've chosen THAT mod". And consoles that get bricked and banned from online.... And yet it does look very simple and straightforward if you cut through all the nonsense. Anyone here done it? Would you like to contribute the best method and I'll write up a guide? 

 

I'm currently doing it, using the www.ReiNX.guide

 

So far I have booted into RCM mode, stuck files on my SD card and am almost 90% through making a NAND back up ( which will then be saved to two different laptops and my desktop machine in case there are any issues down the line ).

 

No worried about it getting banned as it is my spare system ( launch machine with some screen scuffs :( ) although I'm not really interested in stealing new games, just bored and it's been on my list of things to hack properly for a while, once done it will no doubt end up back in the drawer where it came from an hour ago :p

 

 

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I use ReiNX on mine(I have used RajNX too and I think will switch to atmosphere when it’s got a full release)  Before you do that you need to do a nand back up.

If you’re on old firmware and want to be able to downgrade use ChoiDujourNX to update to newer firmware. 

 

Stay in in airplane mode, though I imagine you’ll still get a ban if you do it. 

 

GBATemp forums are amazing for info and guides.  

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2 hours ago, Mike said:

I use ReiNX on mine(I have used RajNX too and I think will switch to atmosphere when it’s got a full release)  Before you do that you need to do a nand back up.

If you’re on old firmware and want to be able to downgrade use ChoiDujourNX to update to newer firmware. 

 

Stay in in airplane mode, though I imagine you’ll still get a ban if you do it. 

 

GBATemp forums are amazing for info and guides.  

 

I've left it at 3.0.0 so far, too much faff to get it updated without burning fuses, made a NAND backup in case I bricked it or anything though, played a bit of F-Zero on Retroarch, half hour on Mario World and yup... it's gone back in the drawer till Emunand comes along :)

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On 31/10/2018 at 06:21, alex3d said:

What can you do with that custom firmware? Thanks.

 

Well, after faffing about lots, and semi bricking the thing yesterday ( was quite worried for a good 3 hours till I sorted it !! ) I've been playing Tekken 2 on it, so not much that I can't do on countless other devices, it's a neat thing to be able to do, but I can't see it being something everyone needs to do, and now this system is likely to get the ban hammer if I go back online with it due to installing Retroarch from the .nsp file instead of running it as homebrew, rookie mistake, but this is why I have a spare Switch :)

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4 hours ago, MikeBeaver said:

 

...likely to get the ban hammer if I go back online with it due to installing Retroarch from the .nsp file instead of running it as homebrew

Can you elaborate on what this means please? Is there a guide you'd recommend that explains this kind of thing?

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I ran an emulator or two when it was originally hacked but i'm kinda worried about doing anything else in case it gets a ban.

 

I'd love to run some mods for super mario odyssey, which apparently is fine to do without a ban but still.. i'd be gutted if my account/switch got banned with everything i have purchased on the system.

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On 03/11/2018 at 02:19, dumpster said:

Can you elaborate on what this means please? Is there a guide you'd recommend that explains this kind of thing?

 

Don't install .NSP files, don't go online, turn wifi off entirely, and you are likely ( but not guaranteed ) to survive.

 

2 hours ago, Darhkwing said:

I ran an emulator or two when it was originally hacked but i'm kinda worried about doing anything else in case it gets a ban.

 

I'd love to run some mods for super mario odyssey, which apparently is fine to do without a ban but still.. i'd be gutted if my account/switch got banned with everything i have purchased on the system.

 

Might be worth getting a second console to tinker around with for that perhaps?
 

2 hours ago, Wonderm said:

How is the gamecube support coming along? Framerate was pretty slow the last time I looked into it, outside of the usual suspects. 

 

It's only running through Lakka.tv the Linux thing, I've not tried that out yet, but they have apparently had some good improvements and sound is now working ( although only via Bluetooth ).

Might check it out later if I get a chance.

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1 minute ago, MikeBeaver said:

 

Might be worth getting a second console to tinker around with for that perhaps?

 

Yeah i keep checking ebay, i've seen the tablet go for £130 on it's on sometimes. I probably will do this at some point.

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Well, it's taken me since that last post to get Lakka.tv up and running, just dropping a GC game on there and will see how it runs.

 

** EDIT ** Sonic via the Sonic Mega Collection, runs like shit.... this appears to have been a wasted hour and change of my day, but hopefully saves anyone else messing about :)

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Anyone else playing with the Switch? I bought the jig-kick thing but I'm nervous about actually doing it.  I keep reading "blown fuses" and I'm very happy with the Vita.  Anyone happy to share their experiences of Switch Modding?

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Did the mod today. Very easy, although backing up the Nand took a while.  Brilliant guide here 

 

https://nh-server.github.io/switch-guide/

 

However I think my SD card may be fake because the Nand backup took way longer than any guides said it would and I'm getting crashes all the time.  However early indications are good, with Cannonball (Outrun), OpenLara, Half Life and PS1 apparently perfect.  There have been big steps recently with homebrew coders now having access to the GPU.  N64 emulation has gone from terrible to very good in one update and the scene is very active.  However it is a problem that the CFW does not survive a hard reset or a software crash. You can put the console into sleep mode, but if the console is fully turned off then you need to connect it to your computer or android phone and re-do the payload install.  Its not time consuming but it is a.pain. 

 

 

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Which CFW are you using? I have mostly been using ReiNX, although have popped on to Kosmos / Atmosphere in order to run certain sigpatches for more nefarious efforts, found ReiNX to be more than stable for emulation bit's n bobs, had a few crashes here and there but only a few, I have converted a faulty right Joycon into a jig ( soldered across the two pins on it that the jig would short out ), as I had heard that you could potentially damage the original rails by using stronger materials for shorting out the pins to enter RCM and carry that in my Switch case, along with a USB C otg cable, just in case it crashes and if I'm either at home or work, I can hook it up to one of the devices there to get it back on CFW, refuse to put AutoRCM on after I had issues with getting the machine to put, plus, if I am away from any device that can push a payload to it, I can still put it up as normal and play my Switch carts.

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12 minutes ago, MikeBeaver said:

Which CFW are you using? I have mostly been using ReiNX, although have popped on to Kosmos / Atmosphere in order to run certain sigpatches for more nefarious efforts, found ReiNX to be more than stable for emulation bit's n bobs, had a few crashes here and there but only a few, I have converted a faulty right Joycon into a jig ( soldered across the two pins on it that the jig would short out ), as I had heard that you could potentially damage the original rails by using stronger materials for shorting out the pins to enter RCM and carry that in my Switch case, along with a USB C otg cable, just in case it crashes and if I'm either at home or work, I can hook it up to one of the devices there to get it back on CFW, refuse to put AutoRCM on after I had issues with getting the machine to put, plus, if I am away from any device that can push a payload to it, I can still put it up as normal and play my Switch carts.

 

The guide I linked to installs Atmosphere, and I have always been a big fan of Russ Abbot so I was happy with that.  If you can advise me, I'd like to try and improve my Retroarch experience and maybe ReiNX is the way to do that?  I also would like to install a gamemod to make Zelda easier.

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9 minutes ago, Ninja Doctor said:

Can we change the title to “turn your switch into a filthy pirate haven”?

Only if Wickes change the name of their brick department to the "Easy Entry to the Jewellers Shop" section.  Just because it enables piracy doesn't mean you have to do it.  

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18 minutes ago, Fry Crayola said:

Yeah, you could use the Switch to prepare that report you need for work, to organise your finances, or to act as a doorbell.

No, you can't do any of those things. You can however, play Mario world, a game I have bought and paid for 3 times already, should you want to.  The guide I linked to above installed a CFW that isn't even compatible with piracy.

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That's neat - a CFW that only lets you play ROMs you own.

 

A little tip - don't get so defensive about it. Very few people are going to think you're in the wrong for playing a 28 year old game that can't otherwise be played on the system.

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5 hours ago, dumpster said:

 

The guide I linked to installs Atmosphere, and I have always been a big fan of Russ Abbot so I was happy with that.  If you can advise me, I'd like to try and improve my Retroarch experience and maybe ReiNX is the way to do that?  I also would like to install a gamemod to make Zelda easier.

Atmosphere is probably better for for retroarch, either that or running LAKKA ( the Linux thingy ) as you get full access to some bits that are not available in ReiNX, you can go to www.ReiNX.guide and it'll give you a walk through on how to install it as an extra payload, you can have both on your sd card at the same time and choose which to but up, Retroarch works better if you install the .NSP file ratehr than runnign the .NRo file, but any .NSP's you install massively increase your chance of the ban hammer, I've just resigned this system to being the homebrew device and the other one as my main system, although I picked up a water damaged screen only on eBay the other day for £70, almost got it fully up and running, so might have that one as a Linux based system :p

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So the crashing issue then.  Turns out, the Custom Firmware, Atmosphere, is designed to run as a replacement to the photo album app, which runs in very limited memory, allowing the console to run a game and the album at the same time.  To open up the whole console memory you need to change this.  You have to follow the guide I posted earlier and follow the bit from the drop down menu that says "unlock memory to homebrew".  Now, I click on Night Trap, the loader appears, and emulation is amazing.....

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Totally loving this, load of great emulators for old games, Retroarch is very good, and I'll just have a quick go on Zelda, and oh my god what did I press I;m on firmware 7.01 Noooooooooooooooooo

 

Yes, if you have your console on Wifi it downloads the new firmware automatically, and ONE accidental keypress starts the unstoppable. 

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40 minutes ago, dumpster said:

Totally loving this, load of great emulators for old games, Retroarch is very good, and I'll just have a quick go on Zelda, and oh my god what did I press I;m on firmware 7.01 Noooooooooooooooooo

 

Yes, if you have your console on Wifi it downloads the new firmware automatically, and ONE accidental keypress starts the unstoppable. 

Expensive option is to buy another switch and just keep that off wifi.

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1 hour ago, davidcotton said:

Expensive option is to buy another switch and just keep that off wifi.

 

I have that set up, well... I now have 4 of the bloody things, couldn't resist a faulty one off eBay last week for £70 inc P&P, so far it's cost me some time to clean it up inside ( the screen has liquid damage marks on it but they are not too bad ), and I have a £3 power buttin ribbon cable on the way from AliExpress as that wouldn't work, and then yesterday I spotted a scratched but working complete system ( missing the box and joycon rails but tht was it ) on there for £135 inc shipping.... it seems I can't help myself :p

 

@dumpster, sorry to hear you're currently locked out of homebrew, I don't know how often you keep an eye on exploit drops, but if it's not regular, I am happy to shout you when one for 7.01 drops, I keep a keen eye on scene developments, mostly as I find hackig stuff more fun than actually playing stuff on a device half the time :):)

 

** EDIT ** Or, I could go check GBAtemp and see that Atmosphere 0.84 has been released and will have you back on cfw right away, consider your unfortunate update error solved in record time :p

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11 hours ago, MikeBeaver said:

 

I have that set up, well... I now have 4 of the bloody things, couldn't resist a faulty one off eBay last week for £70 inc P&P, so far it's cost me some time to clean it up inside ( the screen has liquid damage marks on it but they are not too bad ), and I have a £3 power buttin ribbon cable on the way from AliExpress as that wouldn't work, and then yesterday I spotted a scratched but working complete system ( missing the box and joycon rails but tht was it ) on there for £135 inc shipping.... it seems I can't help myself :p

 

@dumpster, sorry to hear you're currently locked out of homebrew, I don't know how often you keep an eye on exploit drops, but if it's not regular, I am happy to shout you when one for 7.01 drops, I keep a keen eye on scene developments, mostly as I find hackig stuff more fun than actually playing stuff on a device half the time :):)

 

** EDIT ** Or, I could go check GBAtemp and see that Atmosphere 0.84 has been released and will have you back on cfw right away, consider your unfortunate update error solved in record time :p

I've been keeping an eye on eBay myself for the tablet but they all seem to be patched consoles or updated to 7.0 =(

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1 hour ago, Darhkwing said:

I've been keeping an eye on eBay myself for the tablet but they all seem to be patched consoles or updated to 7.0 =(

7.0 isn't a problem, Atmosphere has been updated to work with it, it will do homebrew stuff just fine, if you're interested in yarring, then you'll have to wait for sig patches to drop though ;)

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