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The Wii U has some issues that held it back from becoming a mainstream success. One of the most glaring problems is a lack of storage. The Basic unit only includes 8GB of space, and the Deluxe ups it to a still-lacking 32GB.
While the Wii U doesn’t have the best games library ever, it does have some can’t miss titles you probably want to play. If you’re running low on storage space to keep those downloaded eShop games, here are your options for expanding your Wii U’s storage.
USB Flash Drive
Your first external storage option for the Wii U is a standard flash drive. You can purchase these online for relatively cheap, and they can double your Wii U’s storage with little effort. It seems like a natural choice — so what’s the catch?
As it turns out, Nintendo recommends against using a USB flash drive for your Wii U. Because these devices have a limited number of read/write cycles before they wear out, they’re not designed for regular use like a game requires. A flash drive, especially a cheap one, could wear out and result in lost data.
So your existing flash drives will work with your Wii U, but it’s not recommended. Use them at your own risk.
SD Card With USB Adapter
The Wii U includes an SD card slot at the front. But you can’t use an SD card for storing games. SD cards only work for storing pictures of your Miis, transferring data from a Wii to your Wii U, and certain Wii game save data.
If you want to use an existing SD card to save games, you can work around this limitation with a USB card reader. Just stick your SD card into the slot and plug the USB end into your Wii U. The console will read the device as if it’s a flash drive, not an SD card.
Unfortunately, the same problems apply to SD cards as to flash drives above. These devices aren’t designed for the constant reading and writing that playing games on them requires. So you can give this method a try, but don’t be surprised if your SD card dies.
Nintendo notes that the Wii U supports SDHC memory cards up to 32GB, but does not support SDCX cards. This limitation doesn’t apply when using a USB adapter, as multiple people online have confirmed that they use larger cards with no problems.
External Hard Drive
Now we come to Nintendo’s official solution. Adding an external hard drive is the only external storage method that Nintendo recommends using with your Wii U, and thus it’s the one you should use. It seems simple enough, but there are a few factors you should know before buying a drive.
The company recommends that you use a drive that plugs into the wall (using AC power). 2TB is the Wii U’s limit, though you should never even come close to using that much. Devices with more storage will work, but the Wii U can’t use more than 2TB.
Gonna buy an external hard drive with a power outlet cord next. My Wii U apparently doesn't like the one I already have.
— Yeen!Jaryl (@JarylGaren) December 3, 2015
Nintendo has a list of external drives that are confirmed as compatible with the Wii U. You’ll be safe using any of those, but note that most of them are not current.
Using an Existing Drive
If you have a desktop external drive under 2TB, that will work fine with your Wii U. Just plug its USB cable into one of the Wii U’s back USB slots, and plug the other end into a power outlet. This is the most reliable solution, because the drive doesn’t have to rely on the Wii U for power.
Should you want to avoid using an externally-powered external drive for some reason, you can still use a portable drive. These are usually smaller, and use a single cable to both transfer data and receive power. However, Nintendo doesn’t recommend using them. This is because the Wii U might fail to output enough power to power the drive, resulting in crashes and potential lost data.
To mitigate this risk, you can purchase a USB Y cable. True to their name, these cables contain one plug on the external drive’s end and split into two on the Wii U’s end. Because the power and data transfer are separated into two USB ports, the Wii U should work more reliably with a portable drive this way.
Most people who use one of these cables with a portable drive don’t have any problems. However, some have reported issues with the Wii U not recognizing the drive or it randomly shutting off. Be aware of these potential drawbacks if you choose to forgo using a drive with AC power.
Finally, if you have an old hard drive sitting around, you can repurpose it into an external drive. You can buy an inexpensive USB enclosure to house your drive and a Y cable to connect it to your system if you go this route.
Purchasing an External Drive
If you don’t have one of the three above options sitting around, you’ll need to buy a new drive specifically for your Wii U. What size you buy depends on your needs. Wii U games are smaller than PS4 or Xbox One titles, so 1 TB should be more than enough for even the most passionate Wii U gamer.
However, you should be wary of drive pricing. Desktop external drives come in 3TB and even 8TB sizes today. Older, discontinued models with less storage space can cost more than a modern drive on Amazon. For example, with the below products, a modern 3TB external drive costs less than a 1TB model designed for the Wii U. It’s obviously a huge waste of money to pay more for less.
There’s unfortunately no good answer to this issue. You’ll either pay a fair price for a device with way more storage than the Wii U needs, or pay too much for an older, smaller model. We recommend checking eBay, third-party sellers on Amazon, or perhaps purchasing an external drive from a friend. Or, consult the Wii U subreddit’s list of compatible external hard drives.
Another important point is that the Wii U uses USB 2.0 ports. Any USB 3.0 device is backwards-compatible and will work with the Wii U, but you won’t benefit from the extra speed. We don’t recommend buying a USB 2.0 drive now, as its slow speeds will be painfully obvious if you later use it on your computer.
Formatting a Drive for Wii U
Whatever solution you choose to use, you’ll have to format your device for use with your Wii U. This locks it down so you can only use it with your specific console, and no other devices. So you can’t put games on your external drive and then take it to a friend’s house to play those games. You also can’t go back and forth between using the drive with your PC and your Wii U.
This means if you’re buying an external drive for your Wii U, you should be prepared to leave it permanently attached to the system.
Thankfully, formatting a new device is simple. Turn off your Wii U before connecting the device, then plug its USB cable(s) into the system’s rear USB port(s). Then turn on the console. You should see a prompt to format the device — note that formatting will permanently destroy all data on the drive. So if you’re re-using an older drive, make sure there’s nothing on it that you care about.
If you don’t see a prompt to format the drive, you can do so manually. Select the System Settings icon on your Wii U’s menu, then scroll to the Data Management option and press A to select it. Select the Delete All Data on USB Storage Device option and follow the instructions to format your drive.
Once you’ve added an external storage device, your Wii U uses it as the default download location. You’ll have to manually move games to your system’s internal storage if you want to.
Managing Your Wii U’s Data
After your external drive is all set up, you can manage what’s on it at any time. Go to System Settings > Data Management and select the Copy/Move/Delete Data option. Choose USB Storage to see the games you have installed on the drive. You can select System Memory to view the games on the system’s internal storage too.
If you want to copy or move data between drives, press Y to copy or X to move it. Tap all the games you want to copy/move, then the Y or X button again. You’ll see a prompt asking you to confirm the action.
To delete game data, highlight the game and press A. Here you can browse the various save data for that game. Select everything you want to delete, then choose Delete. Have a look here to see if you can delete any old games — maybe you don’t even need external storage after all.
Note that you can only use one external storage device with your Wii U. It shows two in the Data Management option, but this is only for transferring data between them.
What’s the Best Option For Expanding Wii U Storage?
This might be a little confusing, but we can summarize the Wii U’s external storage situation with the following:
- The best solution is using an external hard drive under 2TB that plugs into the wall for AC power.
- Using flash drives or SD cards is not recommended because they may wear out quickly.
- You can use a USB Y cable with a portable external drive, but it may have performance issues.
- Repurposing an old hard drive with an enclosure also works, with the above caveat.
- Older, smaller external drives may cost more money than modern drives that are over 2TB.
- The Wii U doesn’t use USB 3.0’s improved performance.
Hopefully, you own an external drive you can repurpose for your Wii U. Else, you may end up having to buy a high-capacity drive you don’t need. We want to hear about which drive you’ve purchased in the comments.
Is your Wii U running out of space? Which solution have you used to expand its storage? Weigh in with your thoughts down in the comments!