GPD Win: A Windows Computer the size of a 3DS XL

Long before the tablet existed there used to be a class of handheld PCs called Ultra Mobile PCs. They were basically computers made handheld with varying degrees of success. Either they had horrible battery life, or were too slow. The main problem however was the input devices, with a keyboard being too small to be productive.

Because of these problems UMPCs never really did sell well and were reserved for enthusiasts or business people. When tablets and smartphones came around both UMPCs and Netbooks were phased out. While smartphones and tablets have reigned supreme in the ultra portable space, they are mainly consumption devices not productive devices. UMPCs running full Windows can be used as productive devices, being able to run anything that you can run on a desktop (albeit not very well).

The last UMPC I remember was the OQO, featured on an episode of TV Crime Drama Lie To Me, last released in 2007 running Windows Vista. According to Wikipedia, it had a Via C7M ULV 1.6 GHz CPU, 1 GB DDR2 RAM, 120GB HDD or 64GB SSD and a 5 inch 800x480 LCD.

Now in 2016, we introduce the GPD Win, a revival of the UMPCs manufactured by GamePad Digital. It has an Intel Atom Z8700 CPU, 4 GB DDR4 RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage and a 5.5 inch 720p screen.

I had always wanted a OQO back in the day, and since this may be the last time a UMPC is available as Intel has given up on its Atom processors for mobile processing, I put the money up and purchased one.

Update, As it turns out this isn't the case anymore, since writing this GPD has announced the GPD Pocket which is the same device without the gaming controls, a larger screen and a larger keyboard that can be used for touch typing. The Indiegogo was a huge success and it likely means GPD will continue working on new UMPCs in the foreseeable future.

Build

The GPD Win is made out of plastic. The lid is glossy and the base of the unit is matte. The lid is quite soft and flexes if you push on it, but rest of the device is sturdy.

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Top

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Bottom

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I don't have a 3DS XL but I do have a 3DS.

IO

On the back there is a USB type C port which is used for charging. It does not take type C flash drives, they continually connect and disconnect. For video out there is a mini HDMI port, there is a micro sd card slot, a USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack.

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Back

Connectivity and OS

There is inbuilt WiFi and bluetooth, the bottom is held on with Phillips screws. The GPD Win comes with Windows 10 built in but I had to manually upgrade it to the newest Anniversary Edition. While the bottom of the case can be removed to gain access to the internals there is not much reason to as no components can be replaced other than the battery.

Input Devices

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Opened

The keyboard is too small to touch type with, with the buttons feeling similar to how mobile phone buttons used to on candybar phones. The GPD Win's main selling point is its gaming capability and so there is a built in Xbox controller. The analog sticks do not click and so the click function is regulated to two more buttons on the keyboard. The buttons are a bit spongy compared to a proper controller, and the analog sticks have small travel, but they work well enough for their purpose.

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Keyboard

There is no touchpad, but the GPD Win comes with an interesting way to control the mouse. There is a toggle switch, which when set to mouse mode controls the mouse pointer with the right analog stick, and the scroll wheel function is mapped to the left analog stick. Left click is now the L1 or L2 buttons and right click is R1 or R2. Overall it works very well in navigating, and if there is something that is too far away for the mouse to reach in good time you can just touch the touch screen to get it.

Display

The display is 720p IPS and has good viewing angles. There is a bit of light bleed if a black screen is displayed at night but otherwise it is not noticeable. Unfortunately the screen's 5.5 inch size is a bit too small for the interface, and it can be difficult to click some buttons using the touch screen. The touchscreen is very accurate though which helps reduce the difficulty.

Storage

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Internal 64 GB Drive

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128 GB USB

Something that hasn't changed since 2007 is the capacity, as the GPD Win has only 64 GB available which in reality is 57.6 GB and when optimised 16.9 GB is taken up by Windows leaving 40.7 GB of storage. My solution is to have a flash drive plugged into the USB 3.0 port, a small Samsung FIT 128GB. While this gives more room for applications, write speeds are
abysmal and installations can take several hours depending on the application.

Trying to install MATLAB 2016 took all day and it eventually failed as a USB flash drive is not meant to sustain such
a long period of writing, it was very hot at the end of it. I tried again installing MATLAB 2012, this time having a fan on the flash drive to keep it cool, it took 4 hours to complete.

There are two speaker grills but only one speaker, at some time through the design process GPD had to remove one speaker to make room for a fan.

Performance Gaming

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Emulation Gamecube

I don't play that many games, Overwatch is unplayable at minimum settings and neither is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This device can emulate games quite well, anything before PS2 generation will run fine. Gamecube and PS2 emulation runs at around 70-80%. Super Mario Sunshine runs fine. A lot of tweaking can be done to help get some games a bit more playable.

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Streaming Overwatch from a Desktop

A much better use for gaming is using Steam to stream games to the GPD Win which works quite well on my network. Steam can even recognise the Xbox controller built in and automatically change the games interface to controller.

Unfortunately there are devices that can emulate as well as the GPD Win, as most smartphones can emulate up to but not including PS2 or Gamecube games. The Pixel C tablet with its Nvidia X1 processor and Vulcan support can emulate Gamecube games at approximately the same performance as the GPD Win.

Performance Engineering Applications

As this is an Engineering Blog we should see how some engineering applications can run on the GPD Win, something smartphones and tablets cannot do.

MATLAB 2012 aside from the long installation time, loads as fast as it does on my ultrabook from 2014. Running a MATLAB file from the subject Probability and Random Models shows that for most uni purposes this device can run MATLAB fine. Whether you can type on such a small keyboard is another matter.

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Matlab Benchmarks

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Matlab Benchmarks

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Running Altium

Altium installed quickly and runs great for the applications required in the subject Embedded Systems Design. Once again it is the interface that is more a problem.

Obtaining One

I got my GPD Win on pre-order when it was quite a bit cheaper than it is now, but overall this is a first run product and so is prone to quite a lot of bugs and defects. Also there are a few Intel Atom Z8750 models floating around from an early run which were a lot more unstable.

Update, GPD has since improved the controller buttons, analog drivers, and the keyboard buttons as well has change the plastic lid from glossy to matte on newer models. Also they have changed the processor to the Z8750 variant. If you do want to buy a GPD Win try get one manufactured after January 2017.

The GPD Win is like all UMPCs before it, a niche product for an enthusiast market. It doesn't really change anything about the product class, having a keyboard too small to type efficiently on, and having an interface too small and not designed for on the go use. It is okay at emulation, playing Steam indie games, and is the first UMPC in almost a decade, a product class updated to current times.


BY Dennis Nguyen

Melbourne University Electrical Engineering Club

2017

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