The Smach Z, a crowd-funded handheld gaming console with a long history of delays, has been redesigned with AMD’s recently announced Ryzen Embedded processors. With full compatibility for both Windows and Linux, the not-quite-console promises to make PC gaming mobile.
The Smach Z’s story didn’t begin recently. Its Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns date back to 2016, and its developer’s roots can be traced back to the Steamboy of 2014. That project didn’t take off, but the idea of designing a handheld console that can run PC games never faded.
When it was announced, the Smach Z was to be powered by an AMD Merlin Falcon RX-421BD chip. That’s an embedded APU based on AMD’s previous-generation CPU and GPU architectures. The Smach Z didn’t make its initially intended launch date of April 2017, however, and late last year the developers announced that the console was delayed until Q1/Q2 2018.
That decision seems to have been warranted, because the Smach Z is now back with some new and significantly more powerful hardware inside it. From AMD’s presentation material for the new Ryzen Embedded processors, we know that the Smach Z is now powered by a Ryzen Embedded V1000 chip. Given the power and heat requirements of the device’s form factor, only the chips with 12-25W TDPs are compatible: the V1202B and the V1605B. (See specs below.)
The V1605B is a huge step up from the V1202B, with twice as many CPU cores and more than twice the number of GPU compute units. The specifications place the V1605B near the Ryzen 5 2500U mobile CPU, while the V1202B is comparable to the Ryzen 3 2200U. Fortunately for its backers, the Smach Z development team told us the device is using the former. We haven’t tested any of these parts, but AMD’s own performance numbers place the V1605B far above Intel’s i5-8250U, graphics-wise, so it should be able to provide serviceable gaming performance.
On to the device itself. The Smach Z still looks much like the original Steamboy concept. It has circular touchpads on each side of the screen, a thumbstick on the left side, a button pad on the right side, and two trigger switches on each side of the top edge. If you don’t like the touchpads, you can place what the developers call Z-pads in their place. These come in various button configurations. The Smach Z is targeting five hours of gaming time with the built-in battery. That’s a pretty lofty goal, so it's good that there’s going to be an attachable battery pack that can double the onboard capacity.
The system will run a Linux-based OS by default, but to be able to play Windows games, you’ll need to install your own version of Windows. The cost of that license--and, potentially, the additional storage required to make up for Windows’ install size--should be factored into the Smach Z’s total cost. The developers also say that the Smach Z’s controls might not be suited for navigating Windows, too, so booting straight into Steam’s Big Picture mode is likely ideal.
The Smach Z’s original Kickstarter campaign is over, but you can still back the project on Indiegogo. Bear in mind that all the benchmarks shown there still pertain to the Smach Z’s original--and much slower--AMD Merlin Falcon RX-421BD processor. The Smach Z is no longer being developed with this chip and all production units will have the Ryzen Embedded V1605B. The Smach Z development team told us that the device is currently undergoing final fixes and tweaks, and will soon head into the manufacturing phase with the goal of starting shipment in May. Mass shipment is planned to follow in July.
The cheapest purchase option on Indiegogo that contains the actual device is the $490 option. This is the basic Smach Z with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s a more expensive $690 option that comes with the Smach Z Pro, which is listed with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and 4G LTE connectivity. The even more expensive $890 option brings the device’s RAM and storage up to 16GB and 256GB, respectively. This is odd given that the device is heavily marketed towards PC gamers. We also don’t know yet which frequency bands the Smach Z Pro’s LTE hardware will support.