The GPD Win 3 is a handheld gaming device that looks a bit like a Nintendo Switch, with a 5.5 inch display in the center and game controllers on the left and right sides. But while the Switch is a console designed exclusively for gaming, the GPD Win 3 has the beating heart of a full-fledged Windows 10 computer capable of running many modern PC games.
The GPD Win 3 is powered by an 11th-gen Intel Core Tiger Lake U processor with Intel Iris Xe graphics and a 20 watt TDP (by default). It features 16GB of LPDDR4x memory and a 1TB PCIe NVMe solid state drive.
It has a touchscreen display that slides upward to reveal a capacitive touch keyboard that’s just (barely) good enough for entering small bits of text, but the Win 3 was clearly designed first and foremost as a gaming machine rather than a productivity device.
Basically the Win 3 has the beating heart of a pretty decent laptop, but in a smaller body (with a lousier keyboard). But those features come at a cost. While you can pick up a Nintendo Switch for $300, the GPD Win 3 is up for pre-order for $799 and up during an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
So is it worth the money? That depends on what you’re looking for in a handheld computer. The GPD Win 3 makes an excellent portable gaming PC. But it’s unusual form factor make it a tough sell if you’re looking for a machine for doing anything other than gaming.
GPD sent me a pre-production prototype with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor for testing purposes, and I’ve been using it for the past week.
6/13/2021 Update: The GPD Win 3 is now shipping to customers and backers of its crowdfunding campaign, but some units have shipped with the wrong wireless card, and others seem to suffer from quality control issues affecting the screen, controllers, or other hardware. And at least some units are arriving with malware pre-installed. So while there’s a lot to like about the Win 3 handheld gaming computer, you may want to proceed with caution if placing an order, and once it arrives, make sure to run through the steps in an unofficial Getting Started Guide to check for issues.
|Display||5.5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel IPS|
84-percent NTSC color gamut
Gorilla Glass 5
Slides up to reveal keyboard
|CPU||Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7|
15W to 28W TDP
|GPU||Intel Iris Xe|
80 EUs (Core i5) or 96 EUs (Core i7)
|Storage||1TB M.2 2280 PCIe NVMe SSD|
microSDXC card reader (supports A2 cards with 160MB/s speeds)
|Battery & charging||44 Wh battery|
65W power adapter (1.5 hours for a full charge)
|Battery life (estimated)||3 hours of heavy use|
6-8 hours of moderate use
14 hours of light use
|Ports||1 x Thunderbolt 4|
1 x USB Type-A
1 x 3.5mm audio
|Cooling||Active (fan + dual heat pipes)|
Hidden behind screen
|Game controllers||Analog L2/R2 triggers|
Dual analog sticks (press down for L3/R3)
X, Y, A, B keys
Dual vibration motors
|Docking station||1 x HDMI 2.0b|
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (10 Gbps)
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (10 Gbps)
|Materials||Magnesium alloy & ABS plastic|
|Colors||All black or silver black|
|Dimensions||198mm x 92mm x 27mm|
(7.8″ x 3.6″ x 1.1″)
One thing to keep in mind is that while the specs will most likely remain unchanged, the unit featured in this article is a pre-production prototype. I’ve been told that some software features are not yet available, but should be ready by the time the Win 3 ships to customers. My demo unit also has an unactivated version of Windows 10, while the version that ship to customers will have a valid Windows license.
There’s also at least one physical defect with my prototype which I hope will not be an issue in the finished version, but I cannot make any promises other than to say that at least one other tester I’ve checked with has not seen the same issue on his Win 3 prototypes. But on mine, the bottom right side of the keyboard doesn’t seem to be attached properly and you can see light bleed through the gap.
The Win 3 has a small, but bright display with excellent viewing angles surrounded by game controllers on both sides. The analog sticks feel pretty great and can also be clicked. There’s also a Playstation Vita-style D-Pad on the left side, along with Select and Start buttons and a pair of LED status lights.
On the right side there are A, B, X, and Y buttons as well as a so-small-you-might-miss-it Xbox button below the fingerprint reader.
That fingerprint sensor provides a quick and easy way to login to the computer using Windows Hello biometric security without the need to slide up the screen to type a password or PIN. I registered my thumb print because that seemed like the logical choice for a sensor in the bottom right corner, but you can register any finger you’d like (or multiple fingers).
There also L1/R1 and L2/R2 shoulder buttons, with the L2 and R2 buttons featuring analog triggers, allowing you to slowly ramp up the speed in racing games, among other things.
On the left side of the Win 3, there’s a microSD card reader, and on the top there’s a USB 3.0 Type-A port, a headset jack, and power and volume buttons (The volume up is on the left and volume down is on the right, which is an odd decision, it’s almost as if they were designed for use in portrait mode where the volume up would be on top, but this is clearly a landscape-first device – in fact, my prototype doesn’t even seem to have an accelerometer for automatic screen rotation. In order to rotate the screen, I need to open the Display Settings and do it manually).
On the bottom of the Win 3 there are stereo down-firing speakers and a Thunderbolt 4 port with support for charging, data, and video output, among other things.
GPD provides a 65W USB-C power adapter that you can use to quickly charge the little computer. But the company also sells an optional docking station that connects to the Thunderbolt port and gives you three USB-A ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and an HDMI 2.0b port.
didn’t provide me with a docking station, but I did plug in my PinePhone USB-C docking bar and I can confirm that I was able to hook the Win 3 up to a 1080p TV, a keyboard, mouse, and third-party game controller while the computer was charging.
In other words, the Win 3 is a handheld computer, but you can use it as a desktop or console pretty easily.
Update: A few weeks after this review was published, GPD sent me a docking station to test, and the company also released a firmware update that enables mouse mode, which lets you use the right analog stick to move a mouse cursor across the screen and the L1 and R1 buttons to click.
Mouse mode makes it a little easier to use the computer in handheld mode, while the docking station is a more elegant solution than the third-party dock featured in the image below, since it acts as a stand for the computer, has a cut-out for the vent on the back of the PC so airflow isn’t restricted, and generally makes it easy to use the tiny computer as a desktop PC.
You can read more about the dock and mouse mode, or check out the video below to see them in action.
On the back of the computer you’ll find two programmable buttons, one the left side and another on the right. They don’t do anything yet on my prototype, but eventually GPD will release software that lets you use these keys as extra buttons while gaming so that you don’t have to lift the lid and use the keyboard to hit special functions mid-game.
There’s also a switch on the left side oft he Win 3 that toggles mouse mode, allowing you to use the analog sticks to move a cursor across the screen. GPD has included a similar feature in its previous devices, but it’s not yet working on the prototype the company sent me.
You may have also noticed large vents on the back and top of the Win 3. The computer is actively cooled and you will definitely hear the fan spin up from time to time, and it kicks into high gear when playing some more resource-intensive games.
This is pretty much par for the course with gaming hardware, but it may be a little distracting if you’re in the market for an ultra mobile PC (UMPC) for productivity. But the keyboard is lousy enough that I’m not sure I’d recommend the Win 3 for anyone who isn’t looking for a gaming-first device. More on that below.
While the fan is noisy, it seems to do its job well. So far I haven’t noticed the Win 3 getting uncomfortably warm during use and the games I’ve tried so far haven’t seemed to have any throttling issues.
About that keyboard
The Win 3 is actually the fourth small gaming computer from GPD. Earlier models like the GPD Win, Win 2, and Win Max had a laptop-like clamshell design. Open the lid of previous-generation GPD Win devices and the game controllers and keyboard are revealed, allowing you to type with your thumbs (or fingers on larger models).
Instead of a lid that lifts open, the Win 3 has a display that slides upward to reveal its unusual capacitive touch keyboard. The slider mechanism feels sturdy. I can slide the screen up or down with one thumb, but it locks into place in either position and doesn’t feel like it’s going to slide lose anytime soon.
GPD says the design was inspired by the classic Sony Vaio UX line of ultra mobile PCs. But while Sony’s handheld computers had a slide-up screen, they also had physical keyboard with keys that moved when you press them.
The GPD Win 3’s capacitive keyboard is completely flat and smooth. The keyboard lights up when you’re using it, and the device vibrates when you touch a key to provide some haptic feedback. But since you can’t actually feel the keys, the only way to know that you’re hitting the correct key is to either look at the keyboard instead of the screen or spend a lot of time getting used to the layout.
I’ve found the keyboard to be very difficult to use for a few reasons. First, the Shift key only seems to work sometimes. That’s problematic when I’m trying to capitalize text. But it’s even worse when I’m trying to enter an email address, or other text that requires the use of the ampersand, at symbol, hashtag, asterisk, or other characters – especially passwords, which aren’t always visible on the screen as you’re typing, making it difficult to know if the Shift key worked or not.
The other problem with the keyboard is that it’s a little too wide for comfortable thumb typing. The Shift, Ctrl, and Fn keys are all on the left side. So if you need to capitalize the letter W, for example, you need to either hold Shift with your left thumb and stretch your right thumb all the way across the keyboard, or use the Caps lock key just to type one capital letter and then hit it again to revert to lower case.
Like I said, the keyboard is tough to use. The good news is that at least the Win 3 has a keyboard. But using it for anything other than entering small bits of text like URLs, search terms, usernames, or passwords, is a slog.
With a good laptop or desktop keyboard I can type at 80 to 100 words per minute. With a smartphone virtual keyboard, I can sometimes hit 30-40 wpm. On the GPD Win 3 I struggled to accurately type more than 10 words in a minute.
It’s possible that GPD could improve the typing experience somewhat through software or firmware updates. But without switching to physical keys that actually move, there’s only so much the company can do to make typing on the Win 3 comfortable. It’s clearly a device that was not designed for entering a lot of text or playing games that require keyboard and mouse input.
The slider-style design could also be useful if you just want to elevate the screen a little bit as you play games though. All of the buttons are still accessible when the display is in its up position. And there’s even enough clearance that you can keep a USB flash drive plugged in while the screen is open without any problems.
Okay, I get it. It’s a gaming PC. So is it any good for gaming?
In a word, yes.
GPD sent me a model with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor and Intel Iris Xe graphics featuring 80 execution units, and it’s by far the most powerful handheld gaming computer I’ve used to date. It scores well in benchmarks and gets higher frame rates in resource-intensive games than any other device in this category so far.
And I’m testing the entry-level version of the Win 3. There’s also a higher-priced version with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor and Iris Xe graphics featuring 96 execution units.
One game that was barely playable on the GPD Win Max with an Intel Ice Lake processor is Steep, a skiing game with a lot of graphical detail. With the Win Max, the game struggled to hit 30 frames per second and often ran much more slowly than that. The Win 3 ran at 40+ fps pretty consistently, with occasional dips into the high 30s.
There are a few reasons the Win 3 works so well for mobile gaming:
- Intel has made big strides with integrated graphics in recent years, and Iris Xe integrated GPUs are competitive with previous-gen entry-level NVIDIA discrete graphics like the GeForce MX250 and MX350.
- Many laptops with these processors are configured to have a 15 watt TDP. GPD tweaked the Win 3 a little by setting the TDP at 20 watts. Overclockers may be able to push performance even further.
- While these chips offer decent performance for basic games on larger laptops, most notebook computers with these processors have 1080p or higher resolution displays. The Win 3 has a 1280 x 720 pixel display which means there are fewer pixels on the screen for the GPU to fill, allowing the integrated graphics to punch a little further above its weight class.
- As mentioned above, the active cooling system plays an important role in ensuring decent sustained performance while gaming.
The Win 3 is actually the first computer of any size that I’ve tested to have an 11th-gen Intel Core “Tiger Lake” processor. So for the sake of comparison, I’ve pitted it against some computers that I have tested in benchmarks.
The charts below show how the Win 3 fares against the GPD Win Max and Dell XPS 13 9300 computers with Intel Ice Lake processors, the Acer Swift 3 thin and light notebook with an AMD Renoir (4000U series) processor, and the One Netbook OneGx1 and Magic Ben MAG1 mini-laptops with Intel’s low-power Amber Lake-Y processors.
Unsurprisingly, the Win 3 comes out way ahead in graphics benchmarks including 3DMark’s Time Spy, Fire Strike, Sky Diver, and Night Raid tests.
It’s also near the top of the pack in the PCMark all-around benchmark as well as CPU tests including GeekBench 4 and GeekBench 5.
Finally, the Win 3 was the top scorer in Cinebench R20 single-core performance, although the Acer Swift 3 scored nearly twice as high in multi-core performance (which makes sense, since that laptop has has twice as many CPU cores).
Of course, a mobile device is only good until the battery runs out. In my experience, it seems likely that most users will get at least a few hours of battery life from the GPD Win 3 while gaming, and possibly much more for non-gaming activities.
For example, I set the screen brightness to about 50 percent and streamed video from YouTube for close to 7 hours before the battery gave out on me. This is what I’d consider pretty light usage because, while the WiFi is enabled and web browser is functioning, the computer is streaming a single data stream for a long period of time, and modern PCs are pretty energy efficient when it comes to video playback.
I also performed a stress test to find a worst-case scenario for battery life by running the Heaven benchmark, which is an “extreme performance and stability” test that’s designed to tax the system’s resources.
I started with a fully charged battery and the Win 3 ran the test for 1 hour and 20 minutes before shutting down. That might not sound great, but it basically means you’ll get at least that much battery life when running the most demanding games on this handheld.
YouTuber The Phawx, who has also been testing Win 3 prototype hardware, notes that the Win 3 can handle some games while consuming as little as 4 watts, which means that you should be able to play for up to 6 hours before running out of juice.
When using the computer for non-gaming activities, you may be able to squeeze even a little more run time out of the battery. With the screen brightness set at about 50-percent, I was able to stream video from YouTube for more than 6.5 hours before the battery gave out on me.
Speaking of The Phawx, he knows a lot more about gaming than I do, so I highly recommend checking out his videos if you want to see more gameplay and gamer-centric opinions regarding the Win 3’s performance, controllers, ergonomics, and more.
Here’s a playlist of his videos (the first few are older videos revealing details about the Win 3 before it was officially launched, but if you skip to the fourth video you can see that hands-on stuff):
What else can it do?
Just about anything a PC can do… within reason.
There are probably a few things you’re not going to use this little computer for. As I’ve mentioned (repeatedly), the built-in keyboard is lousy. This is not a great device for taking notes or writing your next novel on the go.
The Win 3 also probably isn’t your best bet for Zoom calls. While it has a microphone that you can use to make voice calls, record voice memos, or interact with Cortana, it does not have a webcam.
One more thing to keep in mind is that the 5.5 inch 1280 x 720 pixel display is a little unusual in 2021. There are some applications that expect a 1366 x 768 pixel or higher-resolution display that may not fit on the screen – even after moving the taskbar from the bottom of the screen to the side, I wasn’t able to see the Next button when I was running the installers for PCMark and 3DMark until I manually rotated the screen to portrait orientation.
The Win 3 packs 267 pixels per inch, and at 100 percent scaling, you may find yourself squinting to read the display or having trouble touching tiny objects in Windows Explorer or other applications. So you may also want to adjust the Windows scaling settings to make images and text appear larger.
But overall the GPD Win 3 is a compact computer that packs a lot of horsepower thanks to a reasonably fast processor and GPU, plenty of memory, and more storage than you’ll find on most laptops in this price range.
And with a USB 3.0 Type-A port and a Thunderbolt 4 port, there’s no shortage of ways you can extend the functionality of the Win 3.
Want to plug in a mouse, display, and keyboard and run Photoshop or Premiere on it? Sure, you can do that. Need a device for streaming videos from YouTube or Netflix? No problem. The speakers are adequate, but you can always plug in headphones or pair Bluetooth speakers headphones if you want better sound.
One thing that I didn’t have much luck with was my brief experiment with running Linux on the Win 3. I was able to get into the BIOS by hitting the Fn + Del keys during startup (I had to do this a few times because the keyboard is so wonky), and that allowed me to override the default boot settings and boot into Ubuntu 20.04 from a USB flash drive.
But once the operating system was up and running, I discovered several problems:
- The touchscreen didn’t work, so I had to connect a USB dongle for a wireless mouse and keyboard.
- I couldn’t rotate the display, which was stuck in portrait mode. Neither the built-in Ubuntu Display settings nor the xrandr -o right command helped.
- Audio wasn’t working.
I was able to connect to a WiFi network and stream video from YouTube without any problems. But it seems like some folks who are more knowledgeable about Linux drivers than I am might need to do some work before all the hardware is supported.
I may try some other GNU/Linux distributions in the future and if I have any more success with a different operating system, I’ll update this post.
So is the GPD Win 3 worth the $799 – $899 asking price (during crowdfunding)? If you’re a gamer looking for something more portable than a notebook, the GPD Win 3 is a capable gaming system that you can literally fit in a pocket… maybe.
If you’re looking for a general purpose UMPC, then you might be better off holding out for a model with a better keyboard.
Depending on the response to the Win 3, perhaps GPD will make one eventually. At the very least, the company is expected to use a similar processor in the next-gen GPD Win Max, which is expected to feature a more traditional laptop-style design (albeit a laptop with a small screen and built-in game controllers).
But there’s no word on when the 2nd-gen Win Max will be available. For now, the Win 3 is the most powerful pocket-sized computer on the market. It’ll go head-to-head with the AMD Renoir-powered AYA Neo, which should also ship soon, but which lacks any keyboard at all, and the One Netbook OneGx1 Pro, which has is already available, but which has a less powerful Tiger Lake Y-series processor and a much higher price tag.
The GPD Win 3 is up for pre-order for $799 and up from Indiegogo. GPD typically uses crowdfunding as a way to generate buzz, gauge interest, and take orders for new products before making them more widely available through other distribution channels.
Thanks to GPD for supplying me with the demo unit featured in this review.