The GPD Win 2 is a tiny computer that’s unlike anything else on the market today… with the possible exception of the original GPD Win.
Both devices are handheld computers that look like a cross between a laptop and a Nintendo DS. They fold up small enough to slide into a pocket (if you have fairly larger pockets and don’t mind carrying something that weighs about a pound in them), have QWERTY keyboards and feature analog sticks, D-Pads and gaming buttons.
GPD has been making mobile gaming devices for a while, but up until a few years ago, the company was focused on Android-powered devices. When GPD launched the first-generation GPD Win in 2016, the company opened the door to playing full-fledged PC games on the go.
But that little computer, which is still available for about $400, featured relatively modest hardware including an Intel Atom x7 Cherry Trail processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage. You’d be surprised how many PC games run smoothly on that device’s 720p display with those specs. But when the company asked users what they’d want from a 2nd-gen model, the consensus was more power.
So now we have the GPD Win 2. It has a faster processor, more memory, upgraded storage, and even a faster SD card reader. It also has a much higher price tag.
The GPD Win is up for pre-order from Indiegogo for $649 and it’s expected to ship in May, when the retail price will go up to $699 or so. That makes this model almost twice as expensive as the original, and more expensive than an Xbox One, a PlayStation 4, or just about any other game console.
But this isn’t a game console. It’s a full-fledged PC which just happens to be designed for gaming. You could also use it to edit documents, surf the web, watch (or edit) videos, and do much more. The Win 2 ships with Windows 10, but you can run Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, or other GNU/Linux software on it.
While the Win 2 is designed first and foremost for gamers, there’s not much you could do on a full-sized laptop that you can’t also do on this handheld PC. You just have to get used to the tiny keyboard and small screen first.
You also have to be willing to spend up to $700 for a device that comes from a Hong Kong-based company with a lousy reputation for customer support. The hardware is pretty impressive, but before you pull out your wallet you should know what you’re in for. Many people who bought the original GPD Win love their tiny gaming computers. But many folks who’ve had to work with GPD or resellers to process repairs or returns have had to deal with poor communication and long waits.
So… is the GPD Win 2 worth the asking price? The company sent me a pre-release prototype to test, and it’s a pretty remarkable machine that’s a huge upgrade over the original.
But it’s also still a prototype, so I’m calling this writeup a “preview” rather than a review. There were a few issues that I encountered that I’m hoping GPD resolves before shipping the Win 2 to crowfunding backers or retail customers later this year. But there’s no guarantee that those issues will be fixed.
And even if those issues aren’t resolved, the Win 2 prototype I’ve been testing totally seems like a device worth paying for… if you can justify spending $700 on a device that will most likely be used for gaming, but which can’t necessarily play bleeding edge games.
Normally when I review a device I like to post a video. This time I’m posting a whole set of videos, because it’s tough to really get a sense of the GPD Win 2 from just one.
So here’s a playlist of videos shot over a period of about two weeks featuring an unboxing and first look, a keyboard test, experiments with linux, and a bunch of gameplay videos.
|Display||6 inch, 1280 x 720p IPS LCD|
|CPU||Intel Core M3-7Y30|
|GPU||Intel HD 615|
|Storage||128GB M.2 SSD (replaceable) + microSD card reader|
|A/V||Micro HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack, stereo speakers|
|USB||1 USB 3.0 Type-C, 1 USB 3.0 Type-A|
|Battery||2×4900 mAh (37 Whr)|
|Materials||ABS + aluminum alloy|
|Weight||460 grams (1 pound)|
|Dimensions||162mm x 99mm x 25mm (6.4″ x 3.9″ x 1″)|
The GPD Win 2 features a 6 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel touchscreen display and a clamshell design that lets you fold it up like a tiny laptop. But the computer is designed to be comfortable to hold in two hands rather than placed on a desk or table (although you can certainly do that too).
When you flip open the lid and hold the Win 2, it’s easy to place your right thumb over the right analog stick and X, Y, A, and B buttons while your left thumb is near the left stick and D-Pad.
The three shoulder buttons on each side are within easy reach of your index fingers.
Below the physical gaming buttons, there’s a QWERTY keyboard on the base of the laptop, complete with Fn keys (all crammed onto the left side of the top row), arrow keys, and keys for controlling volume and screen brightness.
GPD also included a few special keys for functions including an Xbox button, an L3 button, and start and select keys.It’s not a keyboard I’d want to type a novel on.But it’s good enough for entering usernames, passwords, URLs, and other short bits of text.
You may even want to use it to engage in chat sessions while gaming, but I think I’d find that a bit tedious after a while.
Above the keyboard there’s a switch that you can flip to go from game controller mode to mouse mode. When in mouse mode, you can use the right stick to move an on-screen cursor, and the left and right shoulder buttons to right-click and left-click.
The cursor moves more slowly than it would if you were using a mouse, and so I wouldn’t want to play a real-time strategy game or other mouse-centric titles that require quick response times without a physical mouse. But mouse mode is good enough for performing basic operations.
Between the keyboard and gaming buttons there are two vents for the computer’s stereo speakers.
Flip the Win 2 over and you’ll find a large vent on the bottom, and if you peek through the grate you’ll see the fan that covers the CPU.
You’ll be hearing a lot from this fan while using the computer, since it kicks in pretty frequently (and loudly) to keep the system running smoothly without overheating.
There’s also a door marked “SSD” on the bottom of the computer. If you remove the single screw holding this door in place you’ll find, you guessed it, the solid state drive.
It’s just about the only thing you can easily upgrade or replace on this computer since the RAM and processor are soldered into place. But it’s nice that you don’t have to completely disassemble the computer to get at the M.2 2242 solid state drive.
Speaking of the RAM and processor, the Win 2 has a 8GB of memory and an Intel Core M3-7Y30 Kaby Lake dual-core processor with Intel HD 615 graphics.
The processor is configured with a 7 watt TDP out of the box, but you can go into the BIOS/UEFI settings and tweak the system so that the chip runs at up to 12 watts for better performance (and lower battery life).
The Win 2 has two battery packs with a total capacity of 37 Wh, which GPD says should offer 8-10 hours of battery life. In my tests, that certainly seems plausible… if you’re using the system to watch videos rather than for playing games.
More on that below.
The back of the computer is decked out with a USB Type-C port, a USB 3.0 Type-A port, a microSD card slot, a micro HDMI port, and a headset jack as well as another exhaust vent.
Who is this thing for, and what can you do with it?
The Win 2 is priced like a mid-range laptop, has the same processor as an entry-level Surface Pro tablet, and it’s really too small to comfortably use the way you’d use either of those devices.Instead, this is first and foremost a gaming computer.
That might seem like an odd thing to say about a device with a 720p display and one of the least powerful processors in Intel’s Core line of chips. But it turns out those features actually work pretty nicely together.
While the Core M3 Kaby Lake processor isn’t really powerful enough to support recent games at 1080p or higher resolutions, it does a respectable job with 720 displays, and a 6 inch 720p display looks almost as good as a 6 inch 1080p screen when held 18-24 inches from your eyes.
Some newer games with high-end system requirements, such as Final Fantasy XV are pretty much non-starters. But the Win 2 can handle many games that stuttered on the 1st-gen GPD Win.
And you may be able to play some games that can’t run natively on the device by using Steam in-home streaming or other game streaming technology to use the Win 2 like a dumb terminal for playing games that are actually running on a more powerful gaming PC or a remote server.
I did take in-home streaming for a quick test drive, but since my primary computer has an Intel Skylake processor and integrated graphics, it wasn’t really the ideal system for this kind of test. Grim Fandango streamed without a problem. Arkham City didn’t. Your results will probably vary depending on your setup.
Anyway, I’m a pretty casual gamer and it’s been years since I played a game from start to finish. I picked up all of the games mentioned above either when they were on sale for too-good-to-miss prices, or when they were available for free during one promotion or another. But I’ve never made it past the first few levels of any of them.
That said, there’s something about the Win 2 that makes gaming more appealing than it would normally be. Sure, those games will look better if I play them on my laptop with its 13.3 inch display or hook up my PC to an even larger monitor or TV. But then I’d be stuck in one place.
The Win 2 lets me start a game in my office, carry it down to my dining room during lunch, and keep playing in the living room or bedroom in the evening. I can take the Win 2 to a coffee shop or play it on the bus.
It’s the portability that really makes the Win 2 special. If you don’t care about mobility, you can take the $700 you’d save by not buying a Win 2 and build a halfway decent gaming desktop with a faster processor, better graphics, and more storage. But if you’ve already got a serious gaming rig and want something more compact for on-the-go-gaming, this is about as portable as it gets.
Or if you, like me, find that you’re more likely to game if you’re not tethered to a traditional PC, this might be the only gaming PC you need.
Since the Win 2 is a fully functional PC, there’s plenty you can do with it beside gaming. Anything that you can run on an entry-level Surface Pro or Surface Laptop can also run on this computer. But the tiny screen and keyboard will cramp your style a bit… so I wouldn’t recommend picking up the Win 2 as a laptop replacement. It’s best to think of it as a game system that you can also use to get a bit of work done when you need to use it that way.
It’s worth noting that there’s also no webcam, which means you’re not going to use this computer for video chat, web conferencing, or snapping selfies.You could connect an external display, mouse, and keyboard and use this little computer like a desktop.
But if you’re looking for a desktop (or even laptop) experience, there are many better options. It’s probably best to think of desktop capabilities as a bonus feature that you can use while traveling or in other situations where you may not have another PC handy.
That said, as a media consumption device, it’s not half bad. Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself using the computer to stream TV shows from Netflix, watch YouTube videos, read news websites, and check my email.
All of those things work reasonably well.
I also tested the computer with several GNU/Linux distributions to see how easy it would be to use this as an Ubuntu, Fedora, or Debian computer rather than a Windows one.
Long story short: I couldn’t find a Linux-based operating system where the gamepad or touchscreen worked out of the box, and closing the lid generally failed to put the computer to sleep. But just about everything else worked, including WiFi, 3D graphics, the keyboard and mouse features, and even keyboard shortcuts for volume and brightness.
It’s worth noting that I’m testing a prototype and not a finished product. So it’s possible that when GPD finalizes the hardware some of the issues I’m having will be resolved.
In fact, it’s possible that some issues may be unique to the unit I’m testing.
Another tester, MJPIA, has a unit that seems to be identical to mine, but the touchscreen and gamepad work with Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS for him. They do not work for me when I try the same operating system.
If the issue isn’t isolated to my demo unit, there’s reason to think that independent developers may find solutions. There’s a small group of folks who’ve already been working on getting Android and Linux to run on the original GPD Win, and I know there are plans to do similar work to improve the experience of running those operating systems on the Win 2.
Right now, I’m not sure I’d recommend buying a GPD Win 2 if you exclusively plan to run something other than Windows 10… unless you’re willing to troubleshoot problems that may arise and possibly spend $700 for a device that may not work the way you hope.
But it’ll certainly an interesting platform for Linux enthusiasts to keep an eye on in the coming months as more people get a chance to test and tweak Linux on the Win 2.
How about some hard numbers?
I was able to get between 30 and 60 frames per second while playing most of the games listed above without tweaking the graphics settings or overclocking the GPD Win 2.
But if you want to see how the Win 2 stacks up against some other PCs in terms of sheer horsepower, here are some benchmark results. Keep in mind that I don’t usually test gaming PCs, so I’m comparing the Win 2’s scores to laptops and tablets for the most part. But you can search online to find scores in the same benchmarks for other game systems.
Anyway, the GPD Win 2 scored lower than most other Intel Core-based computers I’ve tested in tests like PCMark and the Street Fighter IV benchmark.
But it ran circles around the original GPD Win, scoring more than 4 times as high in 3DMark‘s Sky Diver benchmark, for example.
Interestingly, the Win 2 outperformed the Eve V tablet with a more powerful Core i7-7Y75 processor in most gaming benchmarks, including several other 3DMark tests and the Street Fighter IV test.
But it’s worth noting that the Street Fighter score takes screen resolution into account: all of the systems included in this comparison chart got an “A” for playability at 720p resolutions. On systems with higher-resolution screens, the grades dropped to D or E when I ran the test at 1080p.
I also fired up Handbrake and pulled out a stopwatch to see how long it took to transcode a video file using either the x.264 encoder or Intel’s QSV encoder.Unsurprisingly, the Win 2 completed the task much more quickly than computers with Intel Atom or Pentium chips, but it wasn’t nearly as fast as a laptop with a 15 watt Intel Core i7-6500U Skylake chip.
And if you’re looking for another data point, here are the disk read/write speeds courtesy of CrystalDiskMark:
What about battery life? It’s complicated.
GPD packs the Win 2 with two 4900 mAh 3.8v batteries with a total capacity of about 9.800 mAh for about 37 Whr. The company says you should be able to get up to 10 hours of run time, and that it takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge a dead battery.
Those figures seem about right… unless you’re actually using this handheld gaming PC to play games (or do other resource-intensive things).
Here are some things I did to run down the battery one day:
- Streamed a 60 minute video from Netflix while listening to audio on a Bluetooth speaker and saw the battery level drop by about 10 percent
- Played 40 minutes of Grim Fandango an saw the battery level drop 10 percent
- Played 40 minutes of Psychonauts and saw the battery level drop by 18 percent
- Played 20 minutes of Arkham City and saw the battery drop by 10 percent
So if I had to guess, I’d say you can maybe get up to 10 hours of battery life while streaming videos over the internet (and maybe even more if you’re playing videos locally with WiFi and Bluetooth disabled). But if you’re playing games you’re probably going to get between 3 and 7 hours of run time, depending on the game.
That’s not bad at all. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that I got these scores while using the default system settings. You may get less run time if you overclock the system. And of course, battery life tends to degrade over time, so don’t expect to get the same kind of battery life from this $700 portable game system on day 365 as you get on day 1.
Anything else I should know?
The prototype GPD sent me to test has some light bleed issues: if you peek at the bottom or side of the screen you’ll see light shining through. It’s something that’s easy to spot if you’re looking for it, and that’s easy to ignore if you’re not. But it’s also something you don’t really expect to see on a $700 device.
Hopefully this is just a defect on my prototype and not something that you’ll see on the finished product. But since I’m testing a prototype and not a final device, I can’t say for certain.
The good news is that the build quality for the rest of the device seems pretty solid. It has a sturdy metal chassis. The shoulder buttons and X, Y, A, and B buttons all have a nice clicky feel to them. The analog sticks and D-pad are responsive. And the keyboard has less flex than most laptop keyboards I’ve used.
Speaking of the keyboard, while the keys are too small for touch typing, and you have to press them too hard for my taste, it has a well thought-out design that makes better use of space than the keyboard on the original GPD Win.
There are raised bumps on the W, A, S, and D keys that can help you feel them under your fingers if you’re using them to navigate while gaming. The power button in the center of the keyboard is recessed so that you’re unlikely to hit it by accident and put the PC to sleep unexpectedly. And the keyboard doesn’t feel off-center like the one on GPD’s first Windows handheld, since special function keys are above the keyboard instead of on the right side.
Another improvement is Bluetooth: the original GPD Win has a reputation for iffy support for Bluetooth accessories. I’ve used Bluetooth headphones, a BT speaker, and a BT keyboard with the Win 2 prototype. They all worked flawlessly.
But… there’s one thing that you really need to know before spending $700 on this little device: its fan is pretty noisy… and you’re probably going to hear a lot of it.
The Win 2 may have a low-power processor, but it can still generate a lot of heat when stuffed into a compact space. So GPD put a fan over the top of the CPU, and it doesn’t kid around.
The fan kicked into high gear constantly when I was gaming, and pretty frequently when I wasn’t. Boot the computer and the fan is audible. Start running a few applications and it gets louder. Fire up a game, and the fan will run noisily while you play.
It may be possible to tweak the fan using software tools, but when I installed Speedfan 4.52, it didn’t detect the computer’s fan.
Fortunately the built-in speakers are loud and clear enough to drown out fan noise if you crank up the volume a bit while gaming. Or you can use a set of wired or wireless headphones. But if you’re someone who’s bothered by fan noise, this probably isn’t the computer for you.
Should I buy it?
Sure, it’s actually a pretty amazing machine… at least if you:
- Want to spend $700 on a pocket-sized PC with an emphasis on gaming and mediocre performance and ergonomics for anything else
- Don’t mind a noisy fan
- Don’t mind limited (virtually nonexistent) customer support
- Don’t need a webcam
- Are cool with a tiny keyboard designed more for thumb typing than 10-finger touch typing
So yeah, this is a niche device that’s not going to appeal to everyone. Those are some ifs to get past.
But the GPD Win 2 is pretty much a unique device, so it’s not like there’s a lot of competition in this space. So instead of looking at the reasons you shouldn’t buy this thing, let’s talk about why maybe you should:
- It’s a 1-pound, pocket-sized PC that can play full-fledged PC games (or console classics if you want to fire up an emulator) using game control buttons and/or a mouse and keyboard.
- Unlike a PS Vita or Nintendo DS, this is actually a computer that you can also use to run virtually any Windows application.
- Don’t like Windows? You can install Ubuntu, Fedora, or another operating system.
- Want the best of both worlds? You can dual boot and/or use the Windows Subsystem for Linux to run command line Linux tools within Windows 10.
- Battery life is pretty good for a mobile computer.
- The hardware is a big step up from the first-gen GPD Win, making this a better choice for playing recent PC games.
- It’s overclockable.
- While the CPU and RAM aren’t upgradeable, it’s super-easy to replace or upgrade the SSD.
So is this thing worth $700? Yes.
Is it worth your $700? Maybe.
I guess it depends on whether you can see yourself spending laptop money on a device that your most likely to use almost exclusively for gaming. It’s capable of much more, but that’s really what it’s best at. And it’s not as good at it as a higher-priced, bigger machine with discrete graphics and a faster processor. So the Win 2 is really a secondary device for handheld gaming and $700 does seem like kind of a lot of money to spend on a device in that category.
The original GPD Win sells for $400 or less. That’s not exactly impulse purchase territory, but it’s comparable with what you’d pay for an Xbox or PlayStation.
The GPD Win 2 is better in almost every imaginable way, so it’s not surprising that it costs more. It just might be a little tougher to justify that price.
It’s interesting to note that I get the impression from perusing the GPD Win communities at reddit, dingoonity, and discord that many potential Win 2 customers are folks who already have a GPD Win and want to upgrade. I think that may be the precise target market, although I have to wonder how large that market is.
Maybe GPD should consider releasing a Win 1.5 with the new chassis and keyboard design, but the same processor, memory and storage as the 2016 model. That way folks who want an entry-level experience can give the platform a try at a more affordable price point before deciding whether to spend $700 on a more powerful model.
Anyway, I really enjoyed playing with the Win 2 for the past few weeks and I’m kind of sad to send it back. But I doubt I’d personally be willing to spend that kind of money to buy one for myself.
Then again, I’m not really much of a gamer and I probably won’t make the time to finish Arkham City, Grim Fandango, or Psychonauts until I have another gaming-centric PC to review.
Thanks again to GPD for sending a prototype for testing. You can pre-order the Win 2 through Indieogogo, and it should ship in May.