GPD Win handheld gaming PC (quick review)

The GPD Win is a small device that looks like a handheld game console… and it is. But it’s also a full-fledged, if low-powered, Windows computer. It’s the first Windows device from GPD, a company that’s released a number of Android-powered gaming handhelds over the past few years. Following a crowdfunding campaign for the GPD…

The GPD Win is a small device that looks like a handheld game console… and it is. But it’s also a full-fledged, if low-powered, Windows computer.

It’s the first Windows device from GPD, a company that’s released a number of Android-powered gaming handhelds over the past few years.

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Following a crowdfunding campaign for the GPD Win earlier this year, the company recently started shipping the device to backers. You can also order the GPD Win for $340 from the company’s AliExpress store.

GPD sent me a unit to check out, and after spending a few days playing with it, here are some thoughts about the tiny gaming computer.

Update: I should point out that while everything covered below accurately depicts my experiences using the GPD Win for the first three days, I’ve since run into some problems.

After trying to run some benchmarks, the system got very warm and then shut down. When I managed to get it to turn back on again, the keyboard was no longer looking. I’m currently investigation solutions (beside using the on-screen Windows keyboard or a USB keyboard).

Some other users have also encountered problems such as the graphics driver crashing during gameplay.

Update 2: After making things worse, I decided to make lemonade and write up a partial teardown article.

Update 3: GPD has sent me a replacement unit, and so far everything is working as expected. I haven’t had time to test it extensively yet, but I’ve played through the introductions to about a half dozen different PC games with no problems yet.

It’s a handheld game console with the heart of a PC

The GPD Win looks a bit like a Nintendo DS: it’s a clamshell device with a lid that you lift to reveal a touchscreen display and gaming buttons.

But in addition to a D-pad, two analog sticks, and X, Y, A, and B buttons, there’s also a QWERTY keyboard and some dedicated buttons for things like power, volume, and other functions.

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Here’s the real thing that sets the GPD Win apart from a Nintendo DS, PlayStation Vita, or even an Android-powered gaming handheld: it’s a full-fledged PC.

Sure, it’s not the most powerful computer money can buy. But it has enough horsepower for some surprisingly decent gaming experiences.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not a hardcore gamer. So I haven’t done extensive tests with bleeding edge PC games. But I did try a few titles including Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and Magicka, and they were all playable (some more than others).

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Emulators also run pretty smoothly. I tried a few Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PSP, and ScummVM games and most were pretty playable.

You can probably thank the GPD Win’s Intel Atom processor with Intel HD graphics for that. It uses the same chip Microsoft uses for its $499 Surface 3 tablet, but in this instance it’s crammed into a smaller device that has a physical keyboard, gaming buttons, and more RAM than an entry-level Surface tablet.

So let’s talk a a bit more about specs.

Hardware and design

Under the hood, the GPD Win features an Intel Atom x7-Z8700 quad-core Cherry Trail processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC 4.5.1 storage.

While some early units had a newer x7-Z8750 chip, it turns out the system actually seems to perform better with the Z8700, which is the processor that should be included in all units shipping from here on out.

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The display is a 5.5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel capacitive touchscreen that looks good from just about any angle. And while 720p might seem kind of low-res by smartphone standards, it’s more than sharp enough for Windows 10 on a handheld device.

You can open the screen at up to a 180 degree angle, but I found it most comfortable to play games with the screen at a more laptop-like angle.

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The GPD Win features 802.11ac WiFi, and I haven’t had any problems staying connected to a network while streaming videos or downloading games. It also supports Bluetooth 4.1.

The system has a glossy black plastic case and the whole thing measures about 6.1″ x 3.8″ x 0.9″ and weighs about 13 ounces.

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On the back of the system there’s a USB 3.0 Type-C port for charging, a full-sized USB 3.0 port, a mini HDMI port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD card slot for cards up to 128GB.

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The GPD Win comes with a 5V/2.5A adapter and a USB Type-C cable. It’s a compact solution that looks more like something you’d use to charge a phone than a Windows PC… although it’s also not extraordinarily fast at refueling the computer’s relatively large battery. It’ll take at last a few hours to get a full charge for the non-removable 6,700 mAh battery.

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GPD says that battery should be good for 6-8 hours of run time. I haven’t run extensive battery tests, but that seems a little optimistic… but not entirely out of the realm of possibility. I haven’t done any marathon gaming sessions, but I did use the GPD Win pretty heavily for about four hours while installing games and configuring emulators, and Windows said the battery was still at about 30 percent by the end of that time.

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On the bottom of the case you’ll find a switch for the fan: since GPD stuffed so much hardware into such a small case and encourages you to tax the hardware by playing games, the computer can get rather warm at times. But GPD gives you some control over the cooling process: you can set the fan to off, low or high.

At full blast, the fan makes a pretty annoying high-pitched whining noise, but it’s quiet enough that it’ll be easily drowned out by most games… assuming you don’t place your hands over the speaker while you’re playing.

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That’s because the speaker on the GPD Win is placed on the side of the device in pretty much the exact position where my palms rest when I’m reaching up to touch the gaming buttons. It’s not that hard to adjust your grip to avoid covering the speaker, but I do find myself covering it pretty regularly before I remember to shift my hands a bit.

The keyboard has pretty much all the keys you’d need to run most Windows software, including alphanumeric keys and Fn keys (which you trigger by holding the Fn button and pressing the keys in the number row). But the keys are really small.

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You probably won’t be touch typing on this keyboard. While you could theoretically use it to compose documents or engage in text chats, you’d probably drive yourself crazy trying to do either of those things. Instead, the keyboard is really most useful for entering short amounts of text, like usernames, passwords, Windows commands, or website URLs.

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Since this is a fully functional computer, you could connect a Bluetooth or USB keyboard if you wanted to do any real typing for some reason. But it’s probably best to think of the GPD Win as a gaming-first device, thanks to its size and design. It’s too small to really be all that useful as a laptop.

What it is pretty good for, though, is gaming. And that’s why the D-pad, analog sticks, and gaming buttons are above the keyboard, along with L1, L2, R1, and R2 shoulder buttons. There are even L3 and R3 buttons built into the little row of keys to the right of the keyboard. It’s not the best location for them, but it’s nice to know you’ve got the extra buttons if you need them.

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In addition to using the analog sticks for gaming, you can flip the switch between the sticks to enable mouse mode which allows you to use the right stick to move the cursor, the left stick as a scroll wheel, and the shoulder buttons for left and right clicks.

Performance

I’ll be honest: I was a bit skeptical that a compact computer with an Intel Atom processor would make a good gaming machine. But it really does!

Well, assuming you set your expectations low(ish).

It handles casual Windows Store games like Despicable Me: Minion Rush without difficulty, but that’s not surprising. Many of those games are designed to run on cheap tablets.

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I was more impressed when I realized that 3D games with variable camera controls like Batman: Arkham Asylum run pretty smoothly.

I did notice that some games would run kind of slowly if the system was getting hot and the fan wasn’t turned on: I fired up Final Fantasy VII using the PCSX-Reloaded Playstation emulator, and most of the time gameplay was smooth (there were a few graphics glitches, but I eliminated most of those by playing with the emulator’s settings).

But when the system got too hot, the processor seemed to slow down enough to drastically reduce the frame rates.

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The moral of this story: for casual usage, you can probably keep the fan off or set to its lower setting. For heavy-duty gaming, keep the fan on.

There may be another option though: open up the case and supercharge the heatsink yourself. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, but it’s nice to know that it’s possible.

I haven not run any benchmarks, and might update this section with scores if/when I do. But I have been pleasantly surprised at the GPD Win’s ability to keep up with most of the games I’ve thrown at it so far.

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Keep in mind though, this is a computer with a processor designed to use around 2 watts of power on average. It’s not going to be able to keep up with games designed for high-end gaming machines with discrete graphics, and this is absolutely not a computer for use with virtual reality systems.

Instead, it’s a handheld computer that you can use to play older or less resource-intensive PC games, and even some newer titles. It also makes a great system for emulation… although note that it might take a little work to set up your software since Windows 10 can be kind of a pain to work with on a 5.5 inch, 720p touchscreen display (although you can make life easier for yourself by adjusting Windows 10’s display scaling and/or connecting an external keyboard, mouse, and maybe even display).

The competition

The GPD Win isn’t the only attempt to make a portable PC gaming machine. But the space isn’t exactly crowded.

There’s the DragonBox Pyra, which has a similar design, but an ARM-based processor, Linux-based software, and a much higher price.

A Kickstarter campaign for a portable Steam Machine called the Smach Z is underway, but even if the developers can use the money they’ve raised to produce a real device, it won’t ship until April, 2017.

And there have been other attempts to raise money for portable gaming PCs… although some have seemed a bit scammy.

I suppose you could also consider handheld game consoles like the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Vita to be competitors… but unlike those systems, the GPD Win is a multi-purpose device which can do more than play games designed for a single platform.

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Probably the main competition for the GPD Win, though, is the phone or tablet you may already have. For casual gaming on the go, it’s hard to beat an Android or iOS mobile device… but where the GPD Win stands out is in its ability to play PC games which often have better graphics, more in-depth storylines, and other elements that you might not find in the sea of $0.99 or free-to-play games that dominate mobile platforms.

There are also many cheap Windows tablets with Intel Atom processors that could theoretically handle some of the same games that you can play on the GPD Win. But most lack the physical gaming buttons that you’d get with this computer, and few have the Atom x7 chip, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage GPD used for the Win.

Verdict

GPD’s first Windows-powered handheld gaming PC is a surprisingly capable little computer. The gaming buttons feel pretty good, the screen looks great from any angle, and most importantly, the GPD Win seems to deliver on the promise of a tiny computer that you can use to play real PC games on the go.

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Sure, it’s less powerful than a serious gaming PC. But with a $340 price tag, it’s also a lot cheaper.

As a gaming PC, I was able to install games from my Steam library, load emulators, and run Windows Store games… all of which makes the GPD Win a pretty versatile solution for PC gaming.

It’s also probably an interesting option for Steam in-home game streaming if you happen to have a more powerful gaming PC connected to your home network. I don’t, so I didn’t test that.

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The GPD Win certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s a niche device that’s probably only going to appeal to PC gamers that don’t mind trading some processing power for a cheap device that they can take just about anywhere.

But based on the level of activity I’ve seen in some user forums, it seems like there’s at least a small group of people who are really excited by this concept.

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