In this guide, I will show you how you can install the Atmosphere CFW on your Nintendo Switch. If this is your first time hacking a Nintendo Switch, please read this first to make sure that your Switch is unpatched and can be softmodded. Please note that this guide has been updated to be compatible with the latest Switch FW at the moment.
UPDATE: This guide is outdated. Please make sure to follow this guide instead if you’re using a more recent firmware.
Table of Contents
1. The prerequisites
Now that you have checked that your Switch can be softmodded, you also need a few tools to actually install a CFW to your Switch. You must have a microSD card (64 GB at the bare minimum, 128 GB recommended) and a USB cable to connect the Switch to a PC (USB Type C to Type A cable). If your PC or laptop does not have a microSD card slot, you may also need an SD adapter. Please see this list of recommended products before proceeding with this tutorial.
2. Preparing the Switch
Now that you have all the necessary tools, you must check whether your Switch runs on a firmware version that is supported by Atmosphere. To do this, go to “System Settings” on your Switch and select “System” in the left column. Under “System Update”, you can check the firmware version currently installed on your Nintendo Switch.
Currently, the latest firmware version available for the Nintendo Switch is 10.2.0, which is supported by Atmosphere 0.14.4 and above. You can follow this guide if your Switch runs any firmware, ranging from FW 1.x all the way up to 10.2.0.
To prepare the Switch, you want to enable flight mode or delete the WiFi settings from the Switch. The reason for this is that we are going to create a so-called EmuMMC setup, which means that everything stored on your Switch’s internal storage will be copied across to the Atmosphere CFW. However, since we want to separate the CFW from the official firmware stored on the internal storage to avoid a ban and a possible soft brick, we have to make sure that the Switch is not connected to the internet before installing a CFW.
Once you have enabled flight mode or deleted the WiFi settings, go ahead and power off the Nintendo Switch. We will come back to the Switch in a bit, but we now have to get the necessary files ready to go on the microSD card.
3. Preparing the microSD card
You can either choose to use the microSD card that you were already using for your Nintendo Switch or you can choose to grab another microSD card for this tutorial. Just make sure to make a backup of the important files stored on the microSD card before continuing, since we will have to format the microSD card for this tutorial.
For now, grab the microSD card that you want to use for this tutorial (again, 64 GB is the bare minimum) and plug it into your PC, either directly or using an SD card adapter. Once plugged in, you can head over to Windows File Explorer and click on the microSD card in the menu on the left.
As I have said above, we first need to format the microSD card. To do so, right-click on the microSD card in the left column and select “Format”. If you can choose between FAT32 or Exfat, I recommend choosing FAT32 since that is recommended by the Atmosphere developer to avoid any issues later on.
4. Downloading the CFW files
Once you have formatted the microSD card, we are ready to download the CFW files. You can either choose to grab all the necessary files manually, or you can instead opt to go with SDSetup, which offers CFW bundles with all the files needed to run the Atmosphere CFW. If you’re a beginner or just want to get the files in one place, SDSetup is the right place to start, and I will also make use of the website in this tutorial.
So first of all, you can go to SDSetup.com and select either the “Recommended Defaults” bundle or the “Minimal” bundle. I like to choose the “Minimal” bundle and add any Homebrew apps that I would like to try out manually.
After having selected a pre-configured bundle, you can scroll down and see which homebrew tools you would like to use on your Switch. You can simply hover over the text of each tool to get some more information.
The tools that I added to the “Minimal” bundle are (i) The Homebrew App Store, (ii) Checkpoint to manage the save files of my games, (iii) Goldleaf as my title manager and .nsp installer, and (iv) TegraRcmGUI to inject payloads from the PC to my Switch. Though the first three tools that I selected are not needed, I would highly recommend to add TegraRcmGUI to your bundle since I will use it later on in this tutorial. Once you have selected all the tools that you would like to download, simply scroll down the website and click on “Download your ZIP” to start the download process.
If you’re interested in the bundle that I ended up with, you can click here to download my configuration.
5. Final preparation
Now that we have downloaded the CFW files, we can open up the .zip file that we got from SDSetup and extract the folders to the desktop (you should have a payloads, pc, and sd folder). Open the sd folder and copy its contents to the root directory of your freshly formatted microSD card. Your SD card should now contain the files as shown in the picture below:
The microSD card now contains all the files needed and we can safely inject it from the PC and insert it back into the Switch.
6. Putting the Switch in the Recovery Mode
With the Switch powered off, you first need to remove the right joycon from the console. Now, you want to grab either a paperclip or RCM jig to put the Switch into the Recovery Mode. As said in the Beginner’s Guide, I would highly recommend you to pickup an RCM jig if you don’t have one already to avoid damaging the Switch. Simply slide the RCM jig (or paperclip) into the right joycon rail and push it down all the way so that it connects the contact pins inside the rail as shown below:
With the jig (or paperclip) in place, press and hold the power button and volume up button simultaneously for a few seconds. The screen of the Switch should stay black, which means that you successfully booted into the recovery mode! We are now ready to inject a custom bootloader to the Nintendo Switch and setup the CFW. For now, connect the Switch to the PC using a USB cable.
7. Injecting the Hekate payload
We now need to switch back to the PC. Remember that we had previously extracted the CFW files from the SDSetup website, which also included a “pc” folder. Open up this pc folder and you should find another folder named “TegraRcmGUI”. Once again, open up this folder and double-click on the “TegraRcmGUI.exe” file to launch the program.
TegraRCM allows us to inject all kinds of payloads to the Nintendo Switch. In this case, we are going to inject the Hekate bootloader as a means to make a backup of our Switch, as well as to boot to the Atmosphere CFW.
First, make sure that the Switch is recognized by TegraRCM. If this is the first time that you attempt to mod your Switch, you may get a popup asking you to install the Switch driver. Simply install this driver (or if you don’t get the popup, go to the “Tools” tab and install the driver from there).
If the Switch is recognized by the program, you should see a green “RCM OK” or Checkmark in the bottom left on the startpage, as shown below:
If you don’t see the “RCM OK” or checkmark, then please double check if your Switch is booted into the Recovery Mode by going back to Step 6. If you’re sure that your Switch is booted into the Recovery Mode, you may need to change another USB port on your PC or change the USB cable.
Once your Switch is detected by TegraRcmGUI, click on the “Folder and search” icon next to “Inject payload” and browse to the “payloads” folder that we have extracted from the SDSetup .zip file in Step 5. Double-click on the “hekate_ctcaer.bin” file to load the file into TegraRcmGUI.
Now all that we have to do is press “Inject payload” and this should boot the Switch to the Hekate bootloader. If your Switch doesn’t boot to Hekate or TegraRcmGUI gives you an error, please double-check that (1) you have an unpatched Nintendo Switch, and (2) the Switch is in RCM. Also make sure to try another USB port, USB cable or even another PC.
8. Creating a full NAND Backup
Once booted to the Hekate bootloader, you may have to setup the current date in time (or you can just skip it). You should be greeted by a menu that looks something like this:
The first thing that you want to do is to create a NAND backup of the Switch. In case something goes wrong when we install a CFW or in case you somehow softbrick the Switch, you can always restore a clean NAND backup to recover the console.
To create the NAND backup, go to the “Tools” tab and select the “Backup eMMC” option. Within this menu, you want to make a backup of the Boot0/1 files and the RAW GPP partition. To do so, click on “eMMC Boot0 & BOOT1”. Afterwards, select “eMMC RAW GPP”. Please not that this will create a backup of the entire NAND chip of your Switch, which contains around ~29.2GB of data. Depending on the speed of your microSD card, this process may take anywhere from 10 minutes all the way up to a couple of hours.
OPTIONALLY: After the NAND backup is complete, you can copy the “sd/bootloader/backup” folder to your PC if you don’t have much space on your microSD card. Once copied to a safe location, you can delete the “backup” folder from the microSD card.
9. Setting up EmuMMC
Now we are finally ready to setup the custom firmware itself. From the Hekate main menu, go to “emuMMC”.. Here, you want to select “Create emuMMC” under the “emuMMC Tools” column. Choose “SD Partition” and hit “Continue”.
This should bring you to the Partition Manager.Once the Switch is in the Partition Manager menu, you should drag the red slider listed next to “emuMMC RAW” to the right (the slider may jump back to the middle but don’t worry). You should see that the emuMMC (RAW) partition is now listed as 29 GiB on the right, as shown below:
Simply press “Next Step” to automatically partition the microSD card to make it compatible with emuMMC. Once done, you can press “OK” and hit “Close” in the top right to go back to the main menu of Hekate.
Again, go to “emuMMC” and click on “Create emuMMC”. Select “SD Partition” and Hekate should say that it found an applicable partition (see the picture below).
Now all you need to do is press on “Part 1” and Hekate will start the process of transferring over all the necessary files to the emuMMC partition of your microSD card. Again, depending on the speed of your microSD card, this process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.
After Hekate is done copying all the files to the new emuMMC partition, you need to make sure that the emuMMC is enabled, as shown below:
10. Booting to the Atmosphere CFW
After Hekate has completed the emuMMC process, hit “Close” in the top right to return to the main menu. Go to “Launch” and you will see the four options as shown below.
To boot to Atmosphere, you want to select “emuMMC CFW”. Your Switch screen will turn black and boot to Atmosphere. You will see the Atmosphere bootlogo as well as the Switch splash screen, and then you will be greeted by the lock screen of the Switch.
To check if you have successfully booted to Atmosphere, go to “System Settings” and scroll down to “System”. Now, under “System Update”, you should see your current system version as well as the Atmosphere version that you have installed. At the end, you may also see an “E”, indicating that Atmosphere is running from your microSD card.
You can return to the Home Menu and open up the Album to see if you can access the Homebrew menu. Here, you can also see the homebrew applications that you selected on SDSetup. If you want to know how you can install signature patches – which are needed to install unsigned .nsp files – you can check this guide.
11. Final remarks
Congratulations! You now know how to install the Atmosphere CFW on your Nintendo Switch! However, you may be wondering if and how you can power off or reboot the Switch to the official firmware or back into the custom firmware.
To boot to the official firmware from within the custom firmware, you can hold down the power button until you see the power menu. Hit “reboot”, which will reboot the Switch into hekate. You can now go to “Launch” and select the “Stock” configuration, which will boot the Switch to the official firmware. Alternatively, you can power off the Switch from within the custom firmware and simply press and hold the power button to boot to the official firmware. You can now also safely disable flight mode and connect to the internet on the official firmware. You can also access the eShop and play your games online.
To boot to the custom firmware from the official firmware, you first need to power off the Switch. You then need to put the Switch back into the Recovery Mode by using the RCM Jig or paperclip. Then simply follow Step 7 again to use TegraRcmGUI to inject the Hekate payload to the Switch. Within the Hekate menu, go to “Launch” and select the “emuMMC (CFW)” option to boot back to Atmosphere.
If you don’t want to use a PC and TegraRcmGUI every time you want to boot to Atmosphere, you can also use a payload injector to boot to Atmosphere. You can find the payload injector on Amazon, using the links mentioned on the “Recommended Products” page.
If you ran into any issues following this guide or if something is still unclear to you, you can always join the Discord server and ask for help!