When I first heard about the GPD Micro PC, the 6-inch laptop crowdfunded into reality earlier this year, my overriding impression was one of confusion.
It’s not that GPD, a China-based hardware outfit, aren’t skilled at creating diminutive devices that appeal to gadget heads like myself as, clearly they are: both the GPD Win 2 and the GPD Pocket 2 were warmly reviewed by many.
It’s just that I thought that a laptop this small simply wouldn’t be usable.
6-inch screen? What a squint fest! Blackberry phone-style keyboard? Typo city! Intel Celeron processor? What is this, a Chromebook?!
After a week of using the GPD MicroPC (with Ubuntu MATE) as a companion device alongside my regular, full-sized computers, I have to say that I totally get it.
This thing is nuts.
GPD MicroPC Review
GPD is no stranger to the UMPC scene having created two versions of its ultra-portable GPD Pocket notebook and two versions of its clamshell GPD Win gaming device.
But having catered to portable gaming fans and coffee shop web surfers I was left wondering: who is the GPD Micro PC aimed at?
And, that’s where things get interesting.
This device isn’t “super powerful” or “super sleek” or any other approbatory combination. But it is the most affordable and accessible sub-notebook GPD has released to date.
And some of the design choices GPD have made make this thing totally unlike anything else.
Micro PC, Max Performance
On paper the GPD Micro PC specs — which should listed in an info box floating around this article somewhere — do not sound make it sound like a screamer.
But let me tell you: it’s far from being a slouch.
The Intel Celeron N4100 processor is a quad-core ‘Gemini Lake’ chip running at a base frequency of 1.10Ghz with a max burst speed of 2.40 GHz. This chip has 4 threads and a cache of 4 MB, which isn’t too shabby all things considered.
BUT it gets better.
Thanks to some terrific thermal tinkering by GPD, the Intel N4100 CPU is able to operate at a maximum 10W draw rather than Intel’s recommended 6W. This gives the Micro PC a major speed boost when compared to other portables powered by the same chipset.
The GPD MicroPC also ships with 8GB of RAM. This is the “minimum” amount of memory I’d expect in 2019, but also the “maximum” amount of memory that this SoC supports — and in this form factor, with the kinds of tasks that will be asked for it, it’s ample.
You can upgrade the 128GB SSD (just pop off the back of the device to access it) but I find it to be fast enough as it is, with decent write and read speeds.
Plus, as I keep saying: this device isn’t going to be your new workstation so you don’t need oodles of space (and there’s a microSD card slot on the side of the MicroPC that supports up to 512GB cards).
Replaceable M.2 storage: I like that. No, it’s not NVMe but, for $399 — though this thing can be found for a bit less — are you gonna complain?
Connectivity is also well catered to thanks to dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and even support for Miracast (though I’m yet to test the latter).
Features a serial port!
The GPD MicroPC has more ports than some countries.
You get 3 regular USB 3.0 ports; a rear USB Type-C port (which handles charging, data and display); a full-size HDMI out; and — cherry on top — an RS232 serial port.
Admittedly the inclusion of a serial port isn’t going to wow the pants of most modern computer folks (the only serial I interface with is the breakfast variety) but to IT bods, business folks, and enterprise administrators this port is still very much part of everyday life.
Though superfluous I appreciate the juxtaposition of the über modern USB Type-C and the comparatively old-school serial port gives the micro a little more nuance; this is a truly everyman (and woman) device.
Or to frame it another way: the GPD MicroPC is the ONLY device in this field, in this size, in this form-factor, offering a serial port.
The Micro PC is cooled by an internal fan. This isn’t (to my ears) particularly noisy, but it’s audible. If you want to work in total silence you can switch to passive cooling because —awesomely — this thing has a switch to turn the fan off!
I didn’t experience any issue relying on passive cooling, though the device does warm up quikly — and remember: the warmer the device, the shorter the runtime, so make clever use of the built-in cooling fan to maximise your milage.
It’s important to remember that this device is pitched as a serious computer and not a novelty (like, arguably, the mini-Macbook that is the Pocket 2 is).
And there are reminders of this over this device. There’s the aforementioned serial port, the ruggedised casing (more on that in a second) and the inclusion of two copper nuts on the back of the device allow for easy mounting in “industrial” environments. Not something I’d use, but nice to see.
Along the same lines, the MicroPC boasts a power indicator, a dormancy indicator, and an RJ45 indicator (ethernet) on the rear. These help keep you up to speed with what the device is doing, even when it’s closed or you’re not actively using it.
Decent Build Quality
The Micro PC trades the fashionable aluminium aesthetic of the GPD Pocket line for a ruggedised, hard-wearing “anti-shock aviation-level ABS synthetic resin”.
This casing, GPD say, has been stress tested in varying ways, with a bending strength of up to 26000kg/cm and has a Rockwell hardness score of around 109 R.
In hand the device feels a lot like a really well made router in that it has a light but rigid, premium feeling to it — you wouldn’t panic if you accidentally dropped it!
The Tiny Touchpad is Flawless
I used this thing for a week and do you know what I didn’t do once? Pair up an external mouse.
You’d think the tiny rectangular touchpad above the keyboard would be an issue. Sure, it’s small, but it’s also incredibly precise, supports gestures (like two finger scrolling, “pinch to zoom”, and tap to click).
I didn’t find myself reaching over the left to use the mouse buttons that often as the touchpad’s built-in gestures were decent enough.
If i was going to be playing games which rely on precision movement then, yeh., a mouse makes sense. But for mousing about the MATE desktop to interact with Linux apps it’s perfectly decent as it is.
Don’t dismiss the placement of the touchpad and mouse buttons: when this thing is in your hand, they feel perfectly placed.
Micro PC Gaming
So here’s the question most of you are probably wanting answered: can you game on the Micro PC?
And the answer is kinda, yeah!
Due to the small surface area of the built-in multi-touch touchpad and the positioning of the mouse buttons on the upper left, you’ll want to add a bluetooth game controller or an external mouse for more precise input.
That said, I had no issue playing some of my favourite indie games, emulators, and that sort of thing. I’d say more about it but there’s not a lot to say: they worked!
I did install Steam to try some titles, including Team Fortress 2 (pictured). Most worked well enough for my needs (i’m not much of a modern gamer, as I explained in my primer on Feral GameMode) but be aware that has integrated graphics and (despite the aforementioned tweaks) a low-power CPU.
Tl;dr: can’t run Crysis, can run plenty of other games.
Where the GPD Micro PC Falls Short
If the MicroPC battery falls to 0% charge it will NOT recover. That is: it will not charge again. New battery needed. Device only works when connected via USB Type-C power cable.
GPD say affected buyers can e-mail them for a free replacement battery (requires disassembly of the device)..
Let me preface this section by saying that I know.
I want you to know that I know. Just so, y’know, I know that you know that I know that you know that I know.
“Know what,” you ask? That a device this small and at this price point WILL have compromises. It’s not perfect! Nothing is!
So let’s get into them.
No Touch Display
The IPS display on this thing is gorgeous. Colours are vivid and bright and the contrast is good. It’s also got an insane amount of brightness to it, has great viewing angles, and content look sharp and crisp.
And yet, weirdly, I was surprised to learn that screen is only regular HD (720p) not full HD (1080p).
Now, I don’t think the lack of a FHD screen resolution is a drawback. In fact, it looks like the right resolution for the screen size. Anything higher and I’d be pulling out a magnifying glass to read things!
What I do think is a shame is that the display isn’t touch enabled.
Blame the “phone like” form factor for this, but on more than once occasion did I subconsciously send a digit careering towards the display, only to pull back on frigid contact.
A touchscreen would’ve been sweet.
The keyboard on this thing is tiny. It kind of has to be; it’s a 6-inch laptop, right?
But (thankfully) you don’t need to be Barbie™-sized to use it. Overall, it reminds me hugely of a Blackberry keyboard, even down to the “plinky” feel that each key press has.
The keyboard is backlit too (this can be turned off with a key combo) which is a really nice touch, particularly as I found myself using this device in bed.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the Micro PC is not built for long-form input. You could try to touch type but it’d probably be painful!
The use of unconventional layout hinders things too, as some common characters are only accessible through finicky finger aerobics.
In my opinion, this keyboard is best suited to concise, pointed and specific text entry, e.g., entering web addresses, passwords, and typing commands, etc.
It’s also best used with thumb typing rather than finger typing. It just feels more natural.
There’s no built-in webcam on this thing (which, honestly, is a plus) and the tinny, hollow sounding speaker on this thing (which is only mono in Ubuntu MATE for reasons) won’t wow anyone.
There is a regular audio jack (how courageous) and, though I didn’t make use of it, a lanyard hole (and included lanyard strap).
The device comes with a USB Type-C charger in the (rather premium) box.
Ubuntu MATE on the Micro PC
The GPD MicroPC is sold with Windows 10 but an official version of Ubuntu MATE is available that’s tailored specifically to the hardware.
For instance, it enables
xorg-video-intel display drivers, TearFree rendering, and scroll wheel emulation in Xorg.
Admitted there are few minor quirks, such as the GRUB and boot screens being rotated 90 degrees, but a lack of ‘exactness’ in these fleeting elements is hard to care about.
On the whole, the GPD MicroPC with Ubuntu MATE feels like a solid combination.
The MATE desktop on 8GB RAM is a buttery smooth experience that I couldn’t help but gorge on. Heck, trying to get this thing to blink at all was hard!
Although I didn’t try, I imagine that a “fatter” DE, like the standard Ubuntu desktop, would run okay, but MATE, with its more mouse-friendly UI, arguably, fits this thing better.
I used the GPD MicroPC for an entire week, not as a my primary PC but as a compliment to my regular, full-sized computers (though tbh this thing is just as powerful as my actual Linux laptop).
And on the whole I’m mega impressed.
It’s bigger than the GPD Win 2, but has a larger (and backlit) keyboard, a smattering of full-sized ports (despite the micro-prefix) and a surprisingly solid construction.
Performance wise the Mirco PC is not going to replace your workstation or Thinkpad, or your gaming PC, or even your Chromebook — but it’s not trying to, either.
This device is a niche product built for niches; it fulls the gaps your other devices leave. It boots up INCREDIBLY fast. It suspends and resumes without hitch. It’s powerful enough without being power-hungry.
A few things the GPD MicroPC is great for:
- On-the-go device access and networking
- Perfect size for watching movies while travelling
- Puts a full Linux dev environment in your pocket
- Cheap(er than GPD’s other models)
It’s like having a pocket-sized Intel NUC in your pocket, with a screen.
In summary, the GPD MicroPC is a great little gadget. Unashamedly niche and all the better for it.
Yes, the size is the clincher: you’re either gonna dig that it’s a small form factor PC, or you’re gonna think it’s a POC.
But having the full, unabridged power of a full Linux distro in a package so small, so portable, and so well made feels like …Gah, it feels like raw possibility in my hand.
I’m a jet-setting network engineer who spends his days weaving in and out of rack mounts, but this thing makes me feel like I could be!
And at the end of the day, the opportunity to do more and be more is something we all secretly want from a device — I just didn’t know it could come in a package THIS small!
Where to buy the Micro PC
Like what you see and want to know where you can buy the Micro PC? Here’s where things get a bit …obtuse.
The device was sold (primarily) via a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. That campaign is now over.
But the device isn’t “readily” available, it seems.
Your best bet is to check out the distributors GPD lists on its international website. Here the company’s “official” purchase partners are listed (though IndieGoGo, the site GPD lists here, doesn’t appear to actually have a “buy” option at all).
Amazon (US) also offer the device at $479 — which isn’t as cheap as other places — but it’s difficult to find anywhere else. It’s “no longer available” in many places that sell GPD devices, and in some places, not listed at all!
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