Gamecard

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For the Gamecard partitions that can be mounted, see here.

For the format of the Gamecard image, see here.

Gamecard controller

The gamecard controller (a separate chip on the motherboard) is responsible for communicating with the Gamecard. FS, to access the gamecard data, will communicate with the gamecard controller. At each boot, firmware blobs (with a fixed size of 0x7800 bytes) are sent by FS to the gamecard controller.

The gamecard controller firmware is encrypted, signed and follows the format below.

Offset Size Description
0x0 0x100 RSA-PKCS#1 signature
0x100 0x4 Magic ("LAFW")
0x104 0x4 Unknown (0xFF000000, 0xFFFF0000 or 0xFFFFFF00)
0x108 0x4
0x10C 0x4
0x110 0x4 Version (0, 1 or 3)
0x114 0x4 Unknown (0x80000000)
0x118 0x4 Data size
0x11C 0x4
0x120 0x10 Data hash
0x130 0x10 Placeholder string ("IDIDIDIDIDIDIDID")
0x140 0x40 Empty
0x180 0x7680 Encrypted data

Hardware

A Switch game cartridge, frontside
A Switch game cartridge, backside
Close-up of frontside PCB
Close-up of backside PCB
Close-up of stripped frontside PCB

Pinout

Gamecard-pinout.png

Pin Name Direction Description
0 IRQ? Output Always wired to GND inside game cartridge; Possibly used for interrupt signaling
1 RCLK Output Return clock; Game cartridge sends back CLK signal delayed by a few ns
2 CLK Input Clock, 25MHz
3 CS Input Chip select; Switch pulls this LOW during a transfer
4 DAT0 Inout Data bus pin 0
5 DAT1 Inout Data bus pin 1
6 VCC 3.3v Input
7 DAT2 Inout Data bus pin 2
8 DAT3 Inout Data bus pin 3
9 VCC 1.8v Input
10 DAT4 Inout Data bus pin 4
11 DAT5 Inout Data bus pin 5
12 DAT6 Inout Data bus pin 6
13 DAT7 Inout Data bus pin 7
14 GND
15 RST Input Reset, active LOW.

All IO use 1.8V for logic HIGH and 0V for logic LOW.

Protocol

Switch game cartridges use a simple (but Nintendo proprietery) SPI-like bus with 8-bit width (DAT7..0). It is very similar to the bus interface of 3DS game cartridges, except with very different commands.

The Switch host starts a transfer by first pulling CS low, followed by clocking a byte each clock cycle. The bus data will always be ready before the rising edge of the CLK signal, so that it can be captured on the rising edge. After command bytes are written to the bus, the direction of the bus implicitly changes and the game cartridge responds. The Switch host keeps clocking while the game cartridge responds. After the transfer is ended, the CS line is pulled high again.

Commands are 16 bytes long, and followed immediately by a 4-byte CRC-32 over the command bytes. After this, the Switch stops driving the data bus, and the bus will be 'floating'. Due to the pull-ups on the bus, it will slowly converge to logic HIGH state. The Switch will clock 2 cycles to allow the bus to settle a direction change. The Switch host will then clock another cycle and if the game cartridge didn't receive the CRC OK, it will respond with "01". Otherwise it will respond with "00" and pull DAT0 low on the next cycle to signal it is busy. The Switch host will then keep clocking until the cartridge is ready.

When the game cartridge is ready to send the actual data response, it will pull the DAT0 pin high for 2 cycles to let the Switch host know. After this, the game cartridge will send the actual data response bytes.

The actual response bytes are also followed immediately by a 4-byte CRC-32 over the actual data response bytes.

Commands

A typical boot up sequence of a game cartridge (in this case, the game "1,2 Switch") looks like this:

Command Size Description
5B000000000000010000000000000000 0x200 Read sector 0, contains "HEAD" blob
5B000000000000010000000000000000 0x200 Read sector 0, contains "HEAD" blob
56000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read card id "AE F8 01 21"
28000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read ??? "02 00 00 00"
A5000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read ??? "00 00 00 00"
56000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read card id "AE F8 01 21"
28000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read ??? "02 00 00 00"
5B000000380000010000000000000000 0x200 Read sector 0x38, contains "CERT" blob
E2000000000000000000000000000000 0x4 Read ??? "01 00 00 00"
E0000000000000000000000000000000 0x200 Read crypto-challenge header
200838A25A344F818ABB6456694D4E8D 0 Enter crypto mode1 with HOST-RANDOM "0838A25A344F818ABB6456694D4E8D"
7EE41FDF12C01C157CC899910673A0CF 0x40 Encrypted crypto mode1 command, reads CART-RANDOM
263C8230EC15FAE3CE79365BD850F4BD 0x0 Encrypted mode1 command, enters crypto mode2 with (HOST-RANDOM, CART-RANDOM)
B6FDA6F37FFA29E18831D0B217DFBDBE 0x4 Encrypted mode2 command, possibly read card id?
7B97F7DF07240AA9870E1C974336FA8A 0x4 Encrypted mode2 command

The meaning of some these commands are currently unknown.

Observations

  • The "update" and "normal" partitions can be dumped using the plaintext 5B commands
  • The "secure" partition can only be read from encrypted mode.

Encryption

After a few initial plaintext commands, the Switch instructs the game cartridge to enter into encrypted mode. From that point on, commands and responses are sent encrypted over the bus. The encryption algorithm used is currently unknown.

There appear to be 2 kinds of crypto mode.

Crypto mode1 is initiated solely by the HOST-RANDOM as random session seed. In that mode, the Switch host requests for the game cartridge random seed, and then sends a command to enter crypto mode2.

Crypto mode2 takes into account the CART-RANDOM seed generated by the cartridge, and possibly the previous HOST-RANDOM. The game cartridge will always send a different CART-RANDOM even if the exact same command sequence is replayed and thus with this scheme replay attacks are not possible.

Manufacturers

Macronix (MX)
Uses package: LGA
Uses card id: 0xC2
OKI Semiconductor
Uses package: TSOP-48
Uses card id: 0xAE
SanDisk?
Uses package: ??
Uses card id: 0x45 ?