Someone’s Making A Handheld Gaming PC

Imagine you’re sitting on the train, or you’re mid-flight, and you get the urge to play Civilization. Or Metro: Last Light. Or Skyrim. Or one of the many indie games in your Steam library.

Now imagine pulling not a laptop or a Windows tablet out of your bag, but a handheld PC. That’s what the Smach Z promises to do.

It’s basically a miniature gaming PC that uses a Radeon R7, 8GB of DDR 4 RAM and the AMD Merlin Falcon RX-421BD quad core SoC, compressed into the size of a handheld console. The Merlin Falcon can run at up to 3.4GHz, and while the Radeon R7 won’t come close to any of the latest and greatest GPUs on the market it’s enough to run the majority of the Steam back catalogue at playable frame rates.

The handheld PC is a Kickstarter project right now, sitting at €155,218 of its €250,000 goal. There’s 31 days remaining on the campaign, so it’s basically a certainty to get funded at this point, and you can see footage of the SMACH Z — and how some of the games play — below.

The controls are a little akin to what you’d find on the Steam controller: two haptic pads, four face buttons, a single analogue stick and a couple of forward/back buttons. It’s quite a wide unit, almost a little reminiscent of the Wii U:

If you want to get a better idea of the shape and the layout, here’s a 3D render of the casing that you can zoom in and rotate around. Just use the left mouse button or your finger to scroll the image.

Here’s the kind of performance the creators say you can expect from the SMACH Z, although I’d be tempted to drop some of the presets down:

Metro: Last Light Redux (720p. High settings) ~ 35 FPS
Company of Heroes 2 (720p. Medium settings) ~ 25 FPS
Jotun (1080p) ~ 45 FPS
Skyrim (720p. High setting) ~ 25 FPS
Just Cause 2 (720p. Medium settings) ~ 35 FPS
Spiral Knights (1080p) ~ 50 FPS
Overwatch (720p. Medium) ~ 30 FPS
Torchlight II (1080p. Very high settings) ~ 35 FPS
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (720p. High settings) ~30 FPS
Civilization 5 (1080p. High settings) ~ 28 FPS
Tomb Raider: Survivor (720p. Medium settings) ~ 40 FPS
Alien: Isolation (720p. Ultra settings) ~ 35 FPS

For a machine like this you’re not going to get buttery smooth 60fps at 1080p, especially on high presets, and I can see that being a dealbreaker for some. But maintaining above 30fps at 720p should be more than achievable on lower settings, and for something that’s less hassle than a full tablet or laptop that isn’t a bad option.

Keep in mind, this is a unit running Windows 10 — so you can happily turn it into a retro emulator or just stick to your GOG library. The makers are planning to integrate KODI for media centre functionality as well, and while it wouldn’t be the most intuitive experience you’ll be able to browse online with 5GHz Wi-Fi capability and bluetooth.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about the SMASH Z on Kickstarter. It’ll set you back just under $400 for the lowest available tier with a SMACH Z, while pledges for the SMACH Z Pro — which has 8GB DDR4 RAM, 4G connectivity, a front camera and “double internal HD” — start from $641. Shipping is an extra $14.30, and the developers are currently targeting April next year for a release.

What do you think: would you play PC games on a handheld device, or would it be better to spend more money on a Surface or a more capable laptop?

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