If you've been following our Nintendo Switch coverage, you'll know that my console fried a few months back for no discernible reason. I lost all my save files, and wrote a guide to help other people in similar situations, but I never got a satisfactory answer for why my console broke.
When I asked a Nintendo rep for an explanation, she just told me that the system can break for any number of reasons, even if you take good care of it. However, thanks to an engineer on Reddit, we may finally know just what's frying Nintendo Switch consoles.
The research comes courtesy of VECTORDRIVER in a Reddit post entitled "An engineer's POV on the 3rd party dock Switch bricking situation." Briefly: Many Switch users who have used third-party chargers and docks have had their Switches totally cease to function, or "brick," as a result.
On the one hand, Nintendo warns against using third-party peripherals; on the other hand, most electronics won't break unless you subject them to a truly hellacious charger. Users have lost Switches after attaching them to docks from respected brands like Nyko, which is not ideal for either gamers or third-party companies.
You don't need an electrical engineering degree to make sense of the post, but it does go into a fair amount of detail about voltage, compliance and USB-C physical design. To oversimplify things quite a bit: The Switch uses a M92T36M Power Delivery (PD) chip, which isn't quite like anything else on the market. The chip can tolerate six volts of power — and that's it. Docks like Nyko's can provide up to 9V of power, meaning it's only a matter of time until the chip burns out.
Furthermore, the USB-C connector on Nintendo's official Switch dock is a little bit smaller than a traditional connection. When other manufacturers try to replicate this design, it can wreak havoc on the Switch's charging pins. At best, this means the Switch could start to charge inconsistently; at worst, it means the pins will get crossed and short the whole system out.
Practically speaking, VECTORDRIVER's analysis supports what Nintendo's been saying all along: Don't mess around with third-party gadgets. And yet, that's not necessarily the best consumer advice. Nintendo's first-party peripherals are expensive, not always available and sometimes cumbersome to transport.
Instead, I'd recommend reading further down the thread, where VECTORDRIVER and other technically minded users discuss the pros and cons of various docks and chargers. Apparently, the Nyko dock is problematic; the Insignia dock works well; the Jumpgate is about as good as third-party docks get. As far as chargers go, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but "you get what you pay for" seems to be the motto of the day. As long as you use a decent-quality charger that doesn't exceed the recommended voltage, you're unlikely to run into too many problems.
If you tempt fate with third-party gear and find that your Switch will no longer charge, though, don't wait. Back up your save files immediately, or else you'll probably never get them back.