Pros & Cons of Nintendo Switch Cartridges vs. Downloading from the eShop (Plus What’s Faster)

It can be a hard choice between the convenience of downloading the game to your console versus the different advantages to having a physical copy like being able to resell your game. On the PS4 and Xbox One it’s a bit of a different ball game, because you’re dealing with game discs vs. the cartridges that the Switch has, which we will go into below.

2023 Update

Nothing much has changed, but I’d like to point out that the DS e-store is closing. This really pushes it towards “you should own physical media of your games that last a long time (very long time)” over virtual stores which can and will eventually close.

2021 Update

As a note, some Switch games now include two important concepts: cloud gaming & physical copies containing download codes for games (vs. all games being on the cart). For cloud gaming, I’m not exactly sure these games are available on cart right now, as of this post I can’t find any (Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, Control, Hitman 3 being available and The Forgotten City). So I’m assuming it’s eShop only. These games use online servers instead of your switch locally to work.

For the physical copies containing download codes… that’s a hard one. For any game two pack, search online to see if is one game on a cart + a download code. If that’s the case, it’s kind of redundant to buy it physically if the version downloaded is desired at all unless it’s cheaper that way.

Asian games with English often don’t do the same practice and include all of the game plus the DLC on the cart. However, for collecting, PEGI/CERO/foreign titles are often less desired over ESRB titles.

Do your research though. In 2022, the OLED Switch changes nothing about the below.

Switch Cartridges vs. Xbox / Playstation Discs

The cartridges that the Switch use load faster than the discs other consoles use, because the data is on a ROM chip that has about the same read speed as an SSD. To put it into perspective, the internal memory of the Switch comes in at around 300 MB/s, the SD drive averages 60 MB/s and the cartridge averages 100 MB/s. A PS4’s disc read speed is 27 MB/s, for comparison.

This is why games now install to the hard drive, starting with one of the Xbox 360 updates, because the disc read speeds can really inhibit load times. Now the games load data that it uses often on the hard drive and then will read other data from disc. On the Switch, it doesn’t install a lot of data from the cartridge, because the read speeds are so high.

Switch Cartridges Pros and Cons

The pros are:

  • You can sell a cartridge to another player, unlike eShop purchases.
  • You can share games and borrow unplayed games to friends who don’t have them.
  • You load slightly faster than some SD cards.
  • The games will last long after the eShop eventually closes down 10-20 years from now.
  • There is a collector’s value to some games, especially over time, as we’ve seen with consoles of yore.
  • They’re small and easily stored in carrying cases so you can bring a ton around with you.
  • They don’t scratch like discs do.
  • You can buy used games at a discount on cartridge.
  • Cartridges can be shopped around for the lowest price, unlike eShop purchases which are limited to the Nintendo store prices and a few, very few, code resellers.
  • You still get gold reward points.

The cons are:

  • You can lose them which means you can’t play the game without buying it again.
  • They can be physically damaged, although you can buy insurance to protect against this from most big box stores (although is it worth it? I’m not too sure…).
  • You have to physically switch them out when you want to change games.
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The Pros and Cons of the eShop

The pros are:

  • You can download the game at any time and play it, without having the physical media.
  • You can upgrade the SD card in your switch with more storage and that’ll allow you to install even more games.
  • You can upgrade the SD card to load games faster.
  • There are often sales in the eShop for discounts.
  • You don’t have to wait for the mail or a trip to the store to play a game, the eShop is open 24/7.

The cons are:

  • You can’t resell the games.
  • You can’t loan the games out to anyone.
  • You have to take up storage to play games.
  • Internal memory is very limited, but the fastest load times of all options, so you have to move games around to take advantage of it.
  • If the eShop is down or closes or removes a game, it’s gone for good.

For me, I prefer cartridges, for the nostalgia, but honestly both options are good – I prefer going cartridge heavy as well to save on storage and only buying games from the eShop that I can’t dream of not being able to take with me anywhere, even if I forget the carts.

I hope this helped explain the differences.

David Piner, an accomplished video game journalist since 2001, excels in developing comprehensive guides and engaging content to enrich the gaming experience. As the esteemed former Managing Editor at TTH (as David "Xerin" Piner) for over a decade, David established a strong reputation for his perceptive analysis, captivating content, and streamlined guides. Having led skilled teams of writers and editors, David has been instrumental in producing an extensive collection of articles, reviews, and guides tailored to both casual and hardcore gamers aiming to enhance their skills. Dedicated to player-centric content, David meticulously crafts guides and articles with the players' interests in mind. He is a proud member of OUT Georgia and fervently champions equity and equality across all spheres.

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