Expanded Storage For Your Wii U Explained

Ben Stegner 08-10-2017

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 10 Must-Play Wii U Games in 2016 Want to see what games you can play on your Nintendo console this year? Here are ten Wii U console exclusives you can play in 2016. Read More you probably want to play. If you’re running low on storage space to keep those downloaded eShop games 10 Classic Nintendo Games to Celebrate 5 Years of the eShop The Nintendo eShop is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, and it's a perfect time to snap up some excellent games! Here are 10 classic titles all Nintendo enthusiasts need to download! Read More , 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?

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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 Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More , 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 How to Pick & Buy the Best SD Card for Your Needs What kind of SD card is right for you? Not all of them are the same, after all. Here are the minimum specs you should aim for depending any given activity or need. Read More 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.

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Unfortunately, the same problems apply to SD cards NAND and eMMC: All You Need to Know About Flash Memory The world would be a sad place without flash memory. But how much about flash memory do you really understand? Here are the essentials you should know to make informed buys! Read More 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 Buying a New Hard Drive: 7 Things You Must Know Buying a hard drive is easy if you know some basic tips. Here's a guide to understanding the most important hard drive features. Read More .

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.


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 The 8 Best Portable Hard Drives You Can Buy Right Now Read More . 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.


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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 7 DIY Projects for Your Old Hard Drive Wondering what to do with your old hard drives? Don't throw them out! Turn it into a DIY external hard drive or many other things. Read More . 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.

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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 7 Things to Know When Buying a Data Drive for Backups Thinking about buying a data drive for storing file backups? Here's what you need to know if you want to make an informed decision. Read More 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.

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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 Understand USB Cable Types and Which One to Use Why are there so many different USB cable types? Learn the differences between USB connector types and how to buy the best cable. Read More . 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 How to Format a New Internal Hard Drive or Solid State Drive If you have a new HDD or SSD, you should format it. Through formatting, you can wipe old data, malware, bloatware, and you can change the file system. Follow our step-by-step process. Read More 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.

Expanded Storage For Your Wii U Explained 2 Wii U Data Management

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.

Expanded Storage For Your Wii U Explained 3 Wii U USB Storage Device

If you want to copy or move data between drives How to Protect Your Game Saves on Any System If you've ever lost a video game save to a power outage or corruption, you know how devastating it feels. Here's how to make sure you never lose save data again. Read More , 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.

Expanded Storage For Your Wii U Explained Wii U Copy Move Data

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 5 Simple Ways to Save Money on New Hard Drives We’ve already covered all the things you need to consider to buy the right hard drive. Now it's about saving as much money as you can. Read More . 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!

Image Credit: frantysek/Depositphotos | Takimata/Wikimedia Commons

Related topics: Nintendo, Nintendo Wii U, Storage.

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  1. Andre
    October 15, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Excellent article! Congratulations!!!

    • Ben Stegner
      October 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

  2. matt
    February 16, 2015 at 8:50 am

    I'd rather have the storage internal as with the PS3/PS4. I bought a new WD 2 TB SATA drive for only $87 and when installed, which was simple using the back up/restore option, you can't tell the difference from the stock system.

    I often move my consoles when I travel and to worry about another attached drive + power cable + Y-USB adapter is more trouble than its worth. I'd probably just take my chances with a SD card + USB adapter (mini form).

  3. g
    February 4, 2015 at 1:39 am

    Kind of disagree about affordability. I can replace my PS4 hard drive with a 2TB one for $100. Then I can take the 500GB drive and use it as an external. Using for my Wii U. Perfect upgrade plan for both.

  4. Ritwick Saikia
    December 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Nintendo always makes some strange decisions but I love the company. Iconic games and consoles.

  5. James Bruce
    December 9, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Wow - you can't use the SD card slot for the Wii u? Only for Retro Wii-mode?! Isn't that kind of.. absolutely ridiculous?

    • Matt Smith
      December 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      It seems strange to me. Particularly because they are not trying to profit off it yet. It'd been an a-hole move but would make sense if they sold some outrageous save-game card.

      But nope. My only guess is that they did not want to deal with support for it into the Wii U's OS because they believed it redundant with the more popular USB standard.

  6. Anonymous
    December 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I hope I could get one of those

    • Alexander
      December 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      Same here :/