While it easy to get excited about the next generation of GPUs or the new line of ultra-powerful gaming laptops if you look away from the mainstream brands you can find some interesting alternatives that hint to a different future for PC Gaming.
A good example of this is Chinese Shengen based company Game Pad Digital (GPD), which started gaining track in the west by producing Android-based handheld consoles like the 3Ds-like GPD XD, which found a lot of fans among the Android Gaming and emulation crowd.
On 2016 they decided to try to extend the concept to create another clamshell gaming device, but this time running Windows 10 and capable of running Windows 10 programs. GPD ran an Indiegogo campaign to fund the last mile of their development, reached over $700 000 and delivered an Intel Atom-powered device that could run a variety of games.
This learning experience was then used to develop the GPD Pocket, a MacBook-like device that boasted being the smallest laptop in the world and allowing full productivity in a pocket device that used a slightly better Intel Atom and 8 Gigabytes of RAM. This device gathered over 3 million dollars on Indiegogo during its run.
On a personal note, the GPD Pocket is probably my favourite among all the gadgets I own, and a fair amount of these articles have been drafted on one. If you ever had to spend a whole day walking in a convention with a laptop in your bag I am sure you understand the appeal.
And now, further evolving from their past experiences and capitalizing on the goodwill of always delivering their crowdfunding products (almost) on time they are taking their biggest leap yet with the GPD Win 2, their new and improved Windows 10 Gaming Handheld.
I was sent a prototype/sample of their device (final release in May this year) and after taking it for a run I am very impressed with their improvements.
The integrated controls, which feel good and easy to use, can be switched between keyboard and controller mode. In controller mode, the sticks and buttons operate like you would expect. On keyboard mode, the sticks serve as mouse and scroll wheel, with the shoulder buttons being left and right mouse buttons. This takes a while to get used to but allows full usage of the device without the need for an external mouse.
If you find it too complicated you can also use the 720p touchscreen.
Something to note about the sticks is that they do not click, possibly because of the lack of space in a clamshell device. The original GPD Win "solved" this issue by mapping the functionality on 2 dedicated keyboard buttons which are hard to reach during a game. The GPD Win 2 opts for a much better solution: adding two extra shoulder buttons. This takes a while to get used to but it absolutely beats having them on the keyboard.
And then there is the cooling solution. The original GPD Win's cooling felt like a last minute addition. Not only was the fan too small and the vent located in a position that was easy to block while normal use, but the fan speed needed to be controller manually, something that I had never seen before in a modern gadget. The result of this was that the device would do fine on lighter or smaller games but could get uncomfortably hot when pushed to the limit.
The GPD Win 2, by contrast, has a higher capacity fan located in such a way that neither the fan nor the vent is blocked by holding it in your hands. The vent does get blocked when laying the device on a table, so this is a device that was clearly meant to be held.
In terms of ports, it has a USB type C used for charging, headphone jack, USB 3.0, SD card and micro HDMI. The USB type C is compatible with dongles and can output HDMI. I have seen full sized laptops with fewer choices.
Worth mentioning is that m.3 SSD is user-replaceable, so internal storage can be expanded easily.
Finally, it has two stereo speakers in front with decent enough sound quality.
Let's talk about specs.
The original GPD Win used a modest Intel Atom x7-z8700 quadcore, while the GPD Win 2 has been upgraded to a hyperthreaded dual-core m3-7Y30. While the reduction in cores seems counter-intuitive the m3 is essentially a low heat, low power consumption Intel i3 so it is capable of providing performance closer to an entry-level ultrabook, especially when you consider the integrated Intel HD 615.
Which takes me back to heat. The Atom on the original GPD Win had an impressive TDP of only 2 Watts while the m3 has a TDP of 4.5 Watts. While very low for an i3 it is still double the original.
The GPD Win 2 does get hot when pushed to the limit, but surprisingly it never gets uncomfortable to hold like the original GPD Win.
None of these will matter if the device can not game. Let's test that.
DOOM is an interesting place to start for several reasons.
The GPD Win 2 is inevitably going to draw a lot of comparisons with the Nintendo Switch, as Nintendo's take on playing full game releases on a portable format has popularized the concept in the mainstream market. The GPD Win 2 seems closer in size and format to the old Nintendo 3DS XL.
Since the Switch received a very impressive port of DOOM I was eager to see how the Win 2 would do on the same game.
So I started the game on the lowest settings, resolution of 960x544, Vulkan enabled (since the Intel HD 615 supports it) and shadows disabled using the dev console.
I immediately got into a fight and was blown away when the device could easily pull between 40 and 50 fps with no problems.
It is worth noting that on such a small screen the jump from 720 to 544 is not as noticeable as it sounds.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
The Phantom Pain is a huge open world stealth game that also boasts the reputation of being extraordinarily well optimized, being sometimes able to run even on Integrated GPUs.
There is a lengthy process that can be used to mod the shadows out of the game for best performance. This, combined with lowest settings and once again 960x544, allows the game to perform fantastically on the GPD Win 2, with framerates consistently over 30.
Skyrim: Special Edition
The original Skyrim was playable, using the right tweaks, on the original GPD Win. Since the heavier Special Edition of Skyrim was also ported to Switch, I was interested in seeing how it would do on the GPD Win 2.
I once again used a resolution of 960x544 and applied some tweaks to effects and draw distances to increase performance.
The result was, again, a game that managed to maintain combat with several enemies at once without dropping under 30 fps. Yet another effective platform to play Skyrim on!
Fortnite: Battle Royale
Epic's Free To Play take on the ultra-popular Battle Royale is quickly gaining momentum for many reasons. One of the possible reasons could be its comparatively modest minimum requirements, with only an Intel HD 4000 noted as minimum GPU.
On 720 resolution, all settings to the lowest and internal resolution at 50% the game is perfectly able to maintain around 40 fps during a regular match on the GPD Win 2.
Of all games I tried on this device this one surprised the most. The Battle Royale genre is sorely missing on portable options. Fornite on a handheld is great news.
Dragon Ball FigtherZ
Dragon Ball's new 2D fighting game runs on the Unreal Engine 4 while looking as close to the original animation as a game has ever managed.
It is also extraordinarily well optimized. On lowest settings, 720p and 60% internal resolution the game maintained a solid 60 fps lock during my testing with computing resources to spare.
Grand Theft Auto 5
I could not miss the opportunity to run the GTA V benchmark tool on the lowest settings, 720p, internal resolution at 50%, shadows disabled on the configuration file, and FPS limited to 30.
While initial results are encouraging the game does tend to stutter a lot towards the end of the benchmark. This is mainly due to memory constraints, as GTA V tends to use large amounts of VRAM and RAM to run properly.
The pre-release unit seems to have large amounts of RAM assigned as VRAM by the bios. Further tweaking of these options can likely alleviate the stuttering in the future.
A note about rumble
While trying Rocket League on the device, another game that works very well on the lowest settings and full 720 resolution, I notice that the device rumbles when a goal is scored.
I did not notice any rumble in any other games, but the device is physically capable of doing so. This might be something that might be addressed and implemented more extensively on the final device.
If you contribute to the Indiegogo campaign the GPD Win 2 has a price of $650, which is high compared to a portable console like the Nintendo Switch ($300), but not extraordinarily expensive compared to an ultrabook of the same specs, like the Jumper EZbook 3 plus (around $580).
Is it worth it? Considering the range of games it can run I would argue so. If anything it is an impressive testament to the innovation happening outside the bubble of mainstream PC brands.