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When GamePad Digital moved from Android consoles to mini PCs, it was clear that they were starting off strong. The Intel Atom-based GPD Win was a niche gamer’s darling. Looking back at it now, it was far from a portable PC powerhouse. It wasn’t capable of much, but that didn’t stop it from garnering a cult fanbase. With enough tweaking and patience, many turned their original WIN devices into a decent gaming machine for on-the-go entertainment.
Suitably titled GPD WIN 2, the original device’s successor is a clear step up in every regard. Switching from the original’s now-puny Intel Atom chip to a much more modern Intel M3 chip, the Win 2 is better equipped for its clear purpose: gaming.
Everything about the WIN 2 feels sturdier, more focused. On the outside, it’s a much chunkier piece of machinery. Weighing in at approximately 1.6 pounds, it feels like a portable gaming beast and it looks it too. This larger, bulkier design, unfortunately, doesn’t completely solve the previous iteration’s loud fans but it does make it slightly more tolerable.
Thankfully, when you’re gaming, the WIN 2 doesn’t distract too much from the experience – as long as your hands aren’t completely covering the hyperactive backfiring fan whilst you’re playing. It can still get fairly warm, although not to an uncomfortable level. In fact, despite playing rather demanding titles for the system, I never found brought my unit to a level of heat that made me feel wary about it.
Playing at the system’s stop TPD of 7 watts, most games released during the last console generation ran perfectly. It’s not a device made for modern gaming, although with enough tweaking you can get games such as DOOM 2016 to run at Nintendo Switch levels of performance. Our model had a boot SSD of 256GB which, when combined with the expandable SD card storage, was more than enough to fill to the brim with games.
If you try hard enough, the GPD WIN 2 is a great system. I mostly used my unit for emulation purposes, playing backups of my physical games from the GameCube, PS2, Wii, and PSP. It takes a bit of tweaking to get working just right—even then you’re at the mercy of the emulator for certain titles—but once everything is sorted this device may just be the best portable emulation machine yet.
Outside of emulation, the WIN 2 continues to impress. While it may be able to play the aforementioned last generation games perfectly, I found myself always wanting to push the system beyond its apparent limits. In my testing, Alien: Isolation, Shadow of Mordor and Overwatch all played well into playable framerates and, I hear, that Resident Evil 7 runs phenomenally well, too.
With performance in check, how well do games play on the device? Impressively, the device’s unique button set-up feels intuitive – albeit after getting used to it. Due to chassis’ small real estate, all six L and R buttons are located on the system’s shoulders. L1, L2 and L3 on the left and R1, R2 and R3 on the right. It’s a pain to have to learn a new control setup, but it’s definitely better than taking buttons out completely.
Outside of its gaming capabilities, the GPD WIN 2 is a perfectly capable Windows 10 PC. It’s not going to win any awards regarding its desktop capabilities, and it has some definitive weaknesses. For example, video editing on the tiny IPS display isn’t an experience anyone wants; it’s joyless and a pain. Rendering a video file takes forever and, due to the system’s fans being located on the portable’s bottom, it makes one hell of a noise.
However, if you really need a device to do basic work—such as writing—the WIN 2 isn’t bad. It’s clicky, ridged keyboard is reminiscent of a BlackBerry mobile. That may not be the best experience for some people, but those who know how to get around its limitations will be able to use the WIN 2 as a Jack-of-all-Trades machine.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a device for the average consumer. It shows—the device’s £400+ price tag certainly doesn’t scream for a mass market audience. Instead, this is a device for a very niche audience. It’s designed for those who love to tinker and tweak. Those who are willing to experiment with overclocking, undervolting and the like will revel in the glory of the GPD WIN 2.