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Recent earnings reported by major developers like EA and Ubisoft have shown that digital video game sales have ballooned significantly. This growth began last year, but has accelerated due to Covid-19, which has made it harder to produce physical games and consoles, and made people more hesitant to go out to stores (if they’re even open). Sony’s recent financial report shows that profits from digital game sales are up roughly 83%, and Nintendo’s digital game sales for Q1 of 2020 are up 229% year-over-year according to its latest investor briefing.
Many people (myself included) have ended up with additional time at home, and opted to download games as a form of escape an entertainment. The ability to play games the minute they’re released without having to wait for stores to open or physical boxes to arrive is great, but those digital games will eat up your console’s internal storage quickly. You can delete and re-download games as necessary, but it’s better to keep your entire collection on your console for easy access.
Console makers used to use proprietary storage formats to make it difficult (or impossible) to perform this upgrade, but the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch were all designed with expandable storage in mind. In many cases you don’t need a single tool, or more than five minutes, to add more space.
1: Nintendo Switch Upgrade: SanDisk 128GB microSD Card
The Nintendo Switch only has 32GB (gigabytes) of onboard storage, which is only enough for one or two “big” games, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey. To expand its storage, you’ll need a MicroSD card. You can use any MicroSD card, but Nintendo and SanDisk partnered to release this Mario-themed option that’s available in two sizes. We’re recommending the 128GB card because it should be enough to hold eight additional big games, or dozens of smaller independently-developed titles. If you know you’re going to download a lot of games, the 256GB version is the way to go.
Upgrading the Nintendo Switch’s memory is incredibly simple. First, lift the console’s kickstand, which is located on its back side. Next, pop your MicroSD Card into the slot beneath the kickstand. Next, turn on your Nintendo Switch, and format the MicroSD Card. Last, re-download old games you didn’t have space for, or new titles. Instead of replacing your console’s internal storage, the MicroSD card expands it, so you’ll end up with a total of 160GB of usable space if you get the 128GB card, or 288GB of usable space if you get the 256GB card.
2: Xbox One Upgrade: WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive
The original version of the Xbox One came with 500GB of internal storage, which sounds like a lot compared to the Nintendo Switch, but isn’t actually that much. Xbox One games can get huge, for instance the popular title Red Dead Redemption 2 (available as part of Xbox Game Pass) takes a whopping 88.57GB on its own.
Like Nintendo, Microsoft chose to allow you to expand the Xbox One’s storage rather than replacing its internal drive. Instead of relying on memory cards, the Xbox One supports external hard drives as long as they use the USB 3.0 standard and are larger than 128GB. This applies to any console in the Xbox One family, from the original through the recently-released Xbox One X. We’re recommending this 2TB (terabyte) drive from Western Digital, which will give you more than enough storage for a sizable digital game library. We also like this drive because it’s “bus” powered, which means it draws electricity from your console’s USB port, and won’t need to be plugged into an outlet.
To perform this upgrade, plug the external hard drive into your console, hit the Xbox Button on your controller, and navigate through the following options: Profile & system, Settings, System, Storage. You should see the external hard drive, at which point it’s ready for use. The Xbox One can recognize two external hard drives at the same time, so you can substantially increase your storage if necessary.
3: PlayStation 4 Upgrade: Seagate BarraCuda 2TB Internal Hard Drive
Like the Xbox One, the original PlayStation 4 shipped with a 500GB hard drive, which can fill up quickly if you get larger titles, like the console-exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, which takes up 39.48GB of space. The PlayStation 4 is the only current-generation console that lets up upgrade its internal hard drive or plug in an external one.
If you choose to go the external storage route, the Western Digital drive we recommended for the Xbox One is the way you should go. Setting it up requires four steps. First, plug the external hard drive into one of your PlayStation 4’s USB ports. Next, go to Settings, Devices, USB Storage Devices, and choose your drive. Then, click format, which will prepare the drive for use. Finally, go to Settings, Storage, Application Install Location, and choose Extended Storage. Any games you download will be downloaded to the external hard drive.
If you don’t mind a little DIY project, upgrading its internal hard drive isn’t very difficult. You’ll need a 2.5-inch SATA drive (the kind used in laptops), and we’re recommending Seagate’s 2TB BarraCuda model. It fits all of Sony’s requirements, and is big enough to hold a large game library without taking up one of the console’s USB ports. This drive is compatible with both the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Slim, and PlayStation 4 Pro, so you don’t have to worry about which specific version of the console you have.
Because this process requires you to take apart your console (don’t worry, it was designed with this upgrade in mind, and only requires a screwdriver), we recommend following Sony’s official instructions. You can find a step-by-step breakdown for the PlayStation 4 Slim and PlayStation 4 Pro on their website, and you should follow it exactly to avoid damaging your system.
I’ve upgraded the hard drive on the original PlayStation 4 myself, and making the swap only took me about 15 minutes. Sony does recommend transferring data off of your current hard drive to an external one, then transferring data over to your new drive, which can take a little while. This can take a while if you have a lot of games, but you only have to be physically present for about a half hour.