Thank you Love-Gamecard for sending us this device for review!
I have always loved hacking my consoles - as long as I have been a techie, and I'd known it was possible to do so. I remember modding my PS1 many years back, and I also got flashcarts starting with the GBA so I could carry my library around with me. Ever since I reviewed the SX Pro about a year ago, the Switch hacking community has been hard at work enabling more and more features in their mostly open source custom firmwares (CFW). The most common are Atmosphere and ReiNX. SX OS is still quite popular as well, though it is proprietary and costs money. This RCM Loader supports all of these, as well as three other possible customizable payloads you can add if you choose.
RCM Loader consists of four parts: a USB-C dongle, a boot-up tool, a micro USB cable, and a case. The USB-C dongle is the heart of the device, and has the USC-C plug, a micro USB-B port, and a button and LED for switching payloads. The case makes it convenient to store everything together, and lessens the chance of damaging it or losing any of the small parts.
Like the SX Pro I reviewed last year, the RCM Loader takes advantage of the massive NVIDIA Tegra CPU flaw that was discovered in 2018. It’s in the Tegra boot ROM (Read-Only Memory), and as such, it cannot be patched or changed. The fix requires a hardware revision, and since the Switch is such a hot selling item, that means that there are approximately 15 million vulnerable units out in the wild, and no doubt a sizable portion of Nintendo’s most hardcore fans also desire to use their hardware in ways that Nintendo did not originally intend.
It has to be said up front that Nintendo very much dislikes the existence of devices like these, and has and will block consoles from their online services whenever they can detect it. Using devices like this to modify your console is against the EULA (End User License Agreement) that most people blindly agree to when they choose to start using their new gaming consoles. While some aspects of EULAs like that are for all practical purposes unenforceable in court or otherwise, the fact is that Nintendo can and will block unauthorized users from their network at their own leisure. Some of the capabilities of this device almost guarantee a ban, and it has already happened to several users. Be warned that caution is strongly encouraged.
So, if these devices are so dangerous, and Nintendo hates them so much, then why are they so popular? Well, it comes down to two things: homebrew and piracy. Homebrew are applications like emulators, utilities, and more that are created by hobbyists, often for their own entertainment. Homebrew can be really great sometimes, as aspiring programmers desire to be well known in a tight-knit group, or simply want their cool device to do something the manufacturer never intended. Perhaps the most popular homebrews are game save manipulators, and emulators. These allow people to play games not originally designed for the system, or play their games the way they want to.
Often homebrew meets a need not met by the original developers. For example, a glaring hole in the Switch’s software stack is a proper way to copy and back up saves, especially if they don't subscribe to Nintendo's online service (and even then, online save backups don't always cover every game). Homebrew developers have taken care of this, in the form of the Checkpoint homebrew application. Now, gamers can backup, or even copy saves in between Switches, or simply back them up to their PCs. Another need is to copy files back and forth between their Switch and PC wirelessly. Rather than needing to pop out that microSD card, they can now FTP onto their Switch and copy files. Another is simply a local file manager; being able to move, copy, and rename files can be very useful indeed; homebrew takes care of all this, and much more. You can even run Linux or even Android on the Switch.
Piracy is another, and perhaps the most common, use case for the devices like these. You see, some more unscrupulous types will often download games off of the internet and play them on their Switch without paying for them first. At least some of the custom firmwares out there enable this.
In order to get to all of this functionality, you have to prepare your Switch's microSD card by putting various files on it, depending on the chosen CFW. Once that's completed, you insert the included USB-C dongle into the charging port, insert the boot up tool (also called a jig) into the right Joy-Con slot, and boot the Switch up into USB Recovery mode. Hackers discovered this is done by shorting two pins on the right Joy-Con slot, and then holding volume up and pressing the power button. This must be done while the power is off; sleep mode is not enough. The boot up tool supplied in the kit shorts the pins exactly as needed; just take the right Joy-Con out, slide this thing in all the way, and you’re good to go. If it works as expected, your Switch should boot into a new menu that shows whichever payload you chose.
If you plug the RCM Loader into your PC using the provided microUSB cable, a small 2MB (yes that's megabyte) USB drive shows up, which you can use to configure the RCM Loader. By default, it includes payloads for Atmosphere (slot 1), ReiNX (slot 2), SX OS (slot 3), and three user slots. Slot 4 has a SX OS knockoff called XK OS installed on mine, though you can easily change it to be something else if you wish.
Once the RCM Loader is connected to a switch, you can press and hold the '+' button on the device to choose the desired payload. Each slot is actually a different color; Atmosphere is blue, ReiNX is green, SX OS is red, and XK OS is yellow. Magenta and cyan are only displayed if you fill the user payloads of slots 5 and 6. This may be quite useful if you choose to have Android or Linux use a different payload (I have not tested if this is possible or not; I am merely presuming that it is). Either way, having this flexibility is quite handy. I selected SX OS and chose to boot up my Switch that is currently running SX Pro from our previous review, and it worked perfectly.
Rather than explain how to hack your Switch using this device, I'll say that there are several guides on the internet that can be easily found using the search terms 'switch hacking guide'.
I have to say, I am impressed with the RCM Loader. It is perhaps the easiest say yet for the more technically-inclined to just plug something in and get started hacking a Nintendo Switch that has the unpatched bootloader. And with the convenient package, where the jig is built into the housing, it's much less likely that you will lose that important part. The ability to completely customize payloads is equally awesome, and the nice plastic case it all comes in is small enough to fix in most Switch cases, which is a really nice bonus.
As always, there are moral and legal implications to consider when hacking a console, and as always, please do not steal game software. The potential for homebrew is always exciting, and if you play only your legally owned personal game backups, it can be quite nice and very convenient. As always, any time you go outside of the curated walled garden that the manufacturer wants you to live in, there may be weeds there, and you can incur the wrath of the gardener (in this case Nintendo). Please consider both the upsides and possibly severe downsides (like being banned from online play) that may come from climbing that fence. There may be vipers on the other side!