Technology

We’re getting closer to a Nintendo Switch-sized gaming PC

One year ago at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Alienware made waves with a modular gaming PC that worked like a Nintendo Switch, with a pair of gamepads flanking a powerful Windows 10 tablet. Sadly, Alienware’s UFO was just a concept, as was Lenovo’s take on the idea this year — but two companies are now taking up the torch with a pair of crowdfunded gadgets you might actually see in your lifetime. They look seriously legit.

The 5.5-inch GPD Win 3 and the 7-inch Aya Neo aren’t going about it in quite the same way; while the Ava tries to closely match Nintendo’s console in shape, size, and with strictly gaming controls on board, the GPD sticks to its palmtop computer roots with a slide-up screen that reveals a tiny backlit keyboard. There’s also a fingerprint sensor, a microSD slot and an optional Thunderbolt 4 dock if you want to use the GPD like a full Windows 10 computer.

What’s the same: both are genuinely trying to deliver a powerful tablet surrounded by joysticks and buttons for under $1,000 each. With Intel’s latest Tiger Lake chips and AMD’s Ryzen 4500U respectively, each has some of the latest and greatest integrated graphics you can buy, and they claim pretty decent performance as a result — Cyberpunk 2077 can reportedly hit 30fps at the Aya Neo’s 1280×800 resolution at low settings, and GPD offers a long list of examples of recent, demanding games that you can coax well over the 50fps mark with its Intel Xe graphics.

As you can see in the spec comparo sheet I whipped up below, each features 16GB of DDR4 memory, a speedy NVMe solid state drive, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, a pair of stereo speakers, a genuine headphone jack, and multiple USB ports. Not bad!

Just know that these systems are going to be chonky compared to an actual Nintendo Switch’s 0.55-inch thick frame and 0.88-pound weight, and battery life will be a big question, with both the Aya Neo and GPD Win 3 allowing you to fine-tune the chip’s TDP wattage to get the most out of their tablet-sized cells. NotebookCheck says you shouldn’t expect to get more than 1.5 hours out of the GPD Win 3 while playing a demanding game, though Taki Udon on YouTube claims you can get 2-3 hours out of an early Aya Neo.

Speaking of Taki Udon’s video, it looks like a fantastic overview of the handheld, so I recommend checking it out, and this second vid that shows off how well games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Sekiro play on his Founder’s model. It’s not enough to convince me to crowdfund a company I’ve never heard of, but it’s a good start.

You should also know that not all of these handhelds are going to look and play the same: the transparent Aya you’re seeing in the videos was a limited edition of 15,000 for early pre-orders in China, with final models launching in black and white instead when they ship in April. Aya will be launching its Indiegogo campaign in February with a “super early bird limited price” of $699, with no word on how much the rest of us might pay.

The GPD Win 3 is already on Indiegogo, where you’ll pay $799 for the Core i5-1135G7 version, with the more powerful i7 chip starting at $899, or $949 for a package with the optional USB, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet docking station.

Between these handheld gaming PCs, the cute upcoming Playdate and the gorgeous Analogue Pocket, some of the squeaky clean mods we’ve seen of late, not to mention the popularity of the Switch itself and the march of ever smaller and more powerful chips, it feels like we might be entering a gaming handheld renaissance. Here’s hoping.