Hardware review: GPDWin 1

This is a review for the first generation of GPDWin. I only start this way because in mid-2018 the GPDWin 2 was released, which I do not own.

Image of the GPDWin (first gen) in action.
Image Source: Wikipedia

I purchased this for more than $350USD despite owning a Nintendo Switch which I had just purchased for $300USD not that long before.

There is another GPD device that is based around Android. That device is much cheaper, doesn’t come with a keyboard in addition to the gamepad and is probably superior in a lot of ways at least on the hardware build side.

I didn’t want the Android device though. And there’s a specific reason I wanted this little Windows device: all those Steam games I own and would hypothetically like to play on-the-go. At the time it seemed worth it: a portable device that with an existing library of games I own? Why not?

And I think – for me – that is the thing that made it worth purchasing: a large existing library of games.

This isn’t a mass-market appeal device. This will not replace Nintendo 3Ds or a
Nintendo Switch in other words for several reasons:

  • It comes with Windows 10 home edition: new Windows builds get shoved on to it like it or not and it will eventually run out of storage space
  • The 64 gigs of internal storage, as good as that is relative to similarly spec’d devices, is not a lot for a steam and/or emulation ROM collection (this can be worked around with an SD card, more on that later).
  • The controller, though impressive for what it is, is not that great or at least not as great as it could be
  • Being a low-spec machine Windows 10 will require many, many tweaks and manipulations to be sure performance is optimized.
  • Some rather important drivers like WiFi are proprietary and not available for download any place (and driver exporters like doubledriver miss them) making re-installation of windows a near-impossible task.

In other words, this is much more of hobbyist device that it might first appear. You’re just not going to get a great experience with the state of the device when you first open the box.

I actually happened to find the dedicated reddit for these GPDWin devices where there was a pre-made Windows ISO that was already stripped down and optimized along with drivers pre-integrated. This is effectively required in order to use this device with any effectiveness. Although it’s a Windows 10 Home ISO – because that’s the license for the device – so the latest build will still try and force it’s way in like-it-or-not.

When I first got the device I would just refuse to even connect it to the network for fear of getting a new Windows build. I didn’t want a new build of Windows and all the chaos and settings losses that came along wit hit. Fortunately the games I like are playable via steam in offline mode. I actually started using the GPDWin while on WiFi as I only play for an hour or two at a time and the OS kept notifying me of an error preventing me from upgrading. Since I can play my games I don’t care about that error. And as long as the new build isn’t trying to actually download I won’t care about that either.

Since the GPDWin Gen 2 came out that seems to be the main focus of the company now. I don’t know if you would even be able to find a Gen 1 new any place (though used would probably yield more luck).

It’s hard to decided on recommending this device. As I said it is not a normal consumer device. In order to really get everything out of it you must optimize the OS and other details to make it work most effectively. This made that much harder but the version of windows being home edition which means you cannot use remote desktop to connect to it. You better have some good eye site for typing in commands and reading the errors (the screen as I understand it is 720p).

On the plus side the device does have multiple normal USB ports, it does have a video out option to connect it to a normal monitor and it does have an SD card slot to add additional storage. And the battery life for me has been quite impressive. It also has a fan built with the three settings: off, medium and high. This to help keep the Atom CPU cool during gaming sessions. As far as I can tell it is quite effective.

I actually like the gamepad itself despite what I said above. Just looking at it you can tell it’s not going to be same as a 360 gamepad as the analog sticks can’t physically be any bigger and if you were to switch to a 360 gamepad it would immediately be a better experience. But as a portable this gamepad works well enough. The right analog stick actually doubles as a control for the mouse cursor. When it comes time to play a game you can switch over to gamepad mode and when the game is over select mouse again.

On a game like Dust: An Elysian Tale (another 5 years I’ll have that complete) this works quite well as this game doesn’t complain too much about switch to gamepad after being launched and the game itself runs really well too.

Lets break this down in a different way. How about a table.

“Average” PC user Hobbyist or “enthusiast” user
Time spent to setup properlyMuch more than accustomed toLess than a Raspberry Pi emulation device, more than your average gaming device
Setup device with external screen/mouse/keyboardmay take some time and effort, ordering the right video adapters etcMay or may not already have required video cables, moderate amount time connecting everything
Judging how and when the device is getting too hotUsually easy to tell by how physically hot it is, not everyone may recognize it as necessaryI should hope enthusiasts would be running temperature monitors and keep an eye on it maybe even opening it up and re-applying some thermal grease if deemed necessary
Troubleshooting windows games as necessary as it will be rquiredIs this fun for you? Are you looking forward to troubleshooting?There will be issues trying to install steam and other applications not to mention switching between “mouse mode” and “gamepad mode” which some games don’t acknowledge right away.

A TLDR for this would be: if the “enthusiast” column above describes you it might be worth considering a purchase (although you may as well go with a gen 2 for more game options and reportedly higher build quality). If you find yourself more in the “average user” column, you may want to avoid these devices or just go with the Android-based device.

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