E3 2018: Hands-On with SMACH Z

E3 2018: Hands-On with SMACH Z

SMACH Z hopes to revolutionize PC game the way Nintendo has with the Switch. The ambitious goal is to put PC gaming onto an HD handheld. To do that, the team launched a pair of wildly successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns that raised nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.

The project has been hit by a number of delays however and missed the original planned release in April 2017. This has at least given them time to refine things and add in the latest AMD Ryzen Embedded processor. They’re in the home stretch now, getting hardware and molds finalized, and we were invited to take a look at the project during E3.

They didn’t have a complete unit to try out but there were several mockups including one tethered to a laptop that was running something pretty close to the final specs. There was also a board built with all the final spec components that was hooked up to a TV to show how things would run with the video out option.

The SMACH Z will come in two different models and you can see the specs listed below.


With the breakneck speed of innovation and upgrades in computer hardware you’d be right to pause when considering the final hardware and prices. A very important thing to note however, and something that could help make SMACH Z successful, is the fact that you’ll be able to upgrade all the components.

The design of the unit is very modular and you’ll be able to swap out components, faceplates, and more to help keep things up to date and running smoothly for years to come. Customization is a big part of the project so you can also change the color of the glow on the unit or

The unit itself, even though it wasn’t final, felt quite comfortable in my hands and since it’s running Linux or Windows 10 home, you could even hook up other controllers via bluetooth or even a mouse and keyboard and output to a monitor for use as a regular computer.

I tried out a few games with both the modified handheld and the board hooked up to the TV, and the games held up remarkably well. GTA V in particular looked fantastic on both the small screen and the TV output and it played beautifully.

Even with the latest hardware, users will have to settle for Medium to Low settings on a number of bigger titles and 720p but your Steam library of games from a few years back should run smooth.

These games were tested by the team and given the following performance recommendations:
The Witcher 3 (720p Medium settings) ~ 40 FPS
Alien: Isolation (1080p Low settings) ~ 50 FPS
GTA 5 (720p Normal settings) ~ 60 FPS
League of Legends (1080p High settings) ~ 60 FPS
Rocket League (1080p Normal settings) ~ 60 FPS
Dark Souls 3 (720p Low settings) ~ 40 FPS

The concerns of course are whether the final production unit will work as well as the mock ups and test hardware and whether they can hit the expected release date in Q4. If they can pull it off, SMACH Z has the potential, despite the steep price, to make an impact in the marketplace.

The idea of an easily upgradable dedicated PC gaming handheld is a tantalizing prospect indeed, and one that I hope comes to fruition. I spent much of the plane ride to LA playing games on the Switch, but if I could have been playing Grand Theft Auto V the whole way? Oh boy.

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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