GP2X From GamePark Holdings: Retro Heaven

I’ve recently stumbled onto what may be the most densely packed piece of retro computing goodness that can be found anywhere: the GP2X personal entertainment player from GamePark Holdings. In brief, it’s a handheld game/media machine based on a dual-core 200MHz ARM9-based CPU (soft-clockable up to around 250MHz) that sports a 3.5-inch 320×240 pixel color LCD screen and runs Linux with a simple, graphical menu system on top. Its chipset contains a 2D blitter (a help with games) and a hardware MPEG decoder, allowing the unit to playback MPEG4, XVID, DIVX, and WMV files of up to 720×480 at 30fps. It has a built-in audio player that supports MP3 and OGG files, with WMA on the way. It even has s-video / stereo TV out. All powered by two AA batteries.

The GP2X is an open system that comes with the dev kit CD right in the box, a fact that has brought it much support from the developer community, including a good number of original as well as ported games (DOOM, Quake, Nethack, etc.). But the real value here is the GP2X’s prowess at oldschool emulation; a wide variety of emulators have been ported to the platform. The list of supported systems is long and ranges from the the C64 and Atari 800 to the Amiga and Atari ST with the Playstation even finding support on the GP2X. Full MAME support puts over 1,100 games in your pocket, as well. A brief ad video provides a quick glimpse of what’s possible.

I purchsed my GP2X bundle from Play-Asia and paid $169 USD for the main unit. Despite recent preoccupations, I’ve spent a good deal of free time recently setting up various emulators and ROMs collections on the 2GB SD card I’ve got in the unit. So far emulation of these systems is up and running on my GP2X:

    Amiga, Atari 800, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Apple IIe, TI-99/4A, Colecovision, Gameboy / Gameboy Color, Odyssey 2, Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, Atari Lynx, Atari 7800, MAME, NeoGeo, and Super Nintendo

The great majority run smooth and at full speed. I download another emulator every day or so, it seems. It’s great fun reliving old memories of early 80′s gaming as well as getting familiar with classic systems I’d never really played with before, such as the Sinclair Spectrum. It’s the most vintage computing fun I’ve had in a long while, and I really hope that the word gets out about this great machine – the more users out there, the richer the software base will become.

Why not grab one, yourself? See this lengthy review full of photos to learn more, or visit these GP2X forums to meet the community and ask a few questions.

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12 Responses to GP2X From GamePark Holdings: Retro Heaven

  1. Socrates says:

    That is awesome. I love the idea of playing old snes games on the airplane without worrying about my stupid PC battery. What is the AA battery life out of this unit?

  2. Jim says:

    Speaking as someone who acualy owns one, it is alot nicer on paper than it is in real life. The this is glitchy, and dosn’t work half the time. The “nub” is hard to use and offers too much resistance. I was blown out of the water with what I had read about it before it came out, but when I got it, the magic soon wore off.

  3. Lilricky says:

    Also coming from someone who owns one of these, I have to say that the “nub” that Jim mentioned is difficult to move at first but unscrewing the unit and removing the white plastic circle around the nub makes it alot more fluid. As for being glitchy, some of the emulators out there have given me problems, but this usually the emulators’ fault the unit itself is fine. The only thing I can fault is the battery life, but with only 2 AA batteries I’m surprised it gets what it does.

  4. dH says:

    Finally, a portable c64 – better than psx ;P

  5. Epicenter says:

    As a GP2X owner, but far from a fanboy (I’m looking forward to the XGP, and if the hardware in the PSP appealed to me more, I might want to buy one as well) .. I feel I should post my experiences with the machine and help set the record straight between the ‘extremists’ on both sides. ;)

    Raw Performance: The most important bit to me. The machine has a MagicEyes SoC (System on a Chip) containing 2 ARM9 cores- an ARM920T and an ARM940T, both rated for 200 MHz. I am able to run my ARM920T core, the one that runs the vast majority of software, at up to 312 MHz. At this speed, the performance is astouding– and it’s amazing at 200 MHz as well. Nearly all emulators run at or near full speed– only the most extreme platforms to emulate usually experience any serious slowdown at all. I’m developing for the machine, and I’m blown away by what it can handle. It also bears mentioning the ARM9 is one of my absolute favorite processor architectures, and this was the ideal choice for the machine as far as I am concerned as far as balance betweeen performance and battery life is concerned.

    The second CPU, the ARM940T, has no MMU and less cache so it’s fairly specialized in what it can do- it takes a lot of programming finesse but it has some great uses, like assisting video encoding or some emulation assistance. Developers are figuring out how to use it, and I am extremely confident libraries will soon exist to run common tasks on the 940T like audio/image decoding/handling to lift some burden off the main ARM920T. Overclocking the 920T is simple and painless and can be done in software at any time. You can also underclock for better battery life.

    Memory: One of the biggest advantages the GP2X has– it has an enormous amount of RAM available. There is 64MB total, and only about 8MB is used by the OS. So you have about 56MB of RAM to play with as a developer– that’s incredible, and a big part of why NeoGeo Arcade emulation is possible on the GP2X despite how huge such games are. This is a godsend for me, as a developer using a LOT of memory-intensive graphics AND music! When your handheld has as much memory as an XBox, you’ve got something impressive.

    Storage: The onboard NAND memory is 64 MB, 32 MB of which can be used for storage and 32 MB is reserved for the basic kernel and programs. The fact that it uses such a cheap and readily available format, for which I have a reader on every one of my machines (and my camera uses SD!) this is really ideal. My 1GB SD card cost me very little ($50.) This is nice compared to Memory Stick especially.

    Graphics/GFX Performance: The ’2x contains a 2D blitter which speeds up 2D graphics operations (Drawing, filling, etc.) dramatically. It also contains 2 scaling units that can resize/zoom and flip the display so applications that are not the native resolution of the display (320×240) can run just fine. There is no hardware 3D support, but given the lack of good, gameplay-rich 2D games as of late compared to the industrywide influx of less creative, less inspired 3D titles, I can do without the pretty realistic visuals for impressive and immersive gameplay. Like the good old days. Lack of a 3D GPU also aids battery life.

    Speaking of graphics– the LCD. Only the earliest MK1 units had the ‘flickering’ issue, it was rapidly fixed and resellers offered to replace units with the issue. Later MK1 units like mine have it fixed and come from a much better factory, with higher quality fabrication. MK2 units have a whole new LCD with a crisper appearance. There is a ‘scanline’ effect on MK1 displays (not present on MK2s) but it can be eliminated with a quick 10-second adjustment in the settings menu, which never needs to be done again. The display is bright, crisp and not blurry at all. Much better than I expected for the price.

    Audio: Fantastic audio quality; even the 2 onboard speakers sound good. You can of course attach your own headphones or speakers easily and they sound superb; as good as my PC does easily. The built-in audio player is simple and to-the-point and plays all my Mp3 and OGG files without a hitch. It’s not very fancy but it does offer some seeking and equalizer functionality; and apparently the new version coming out with the next firmware update adds such things as playlist support (excellent.)

    Video: The machine has built-in MPEG4 decoder hardware that supplements the ARM920T, and works with the ARM940T. Even high-definition resolution video (e.g. 1080, 720 lines tall video) plays at a smooth framerate, usually 30 FPS. The machine can play MPEG4 video or DivX and XViD, which is about all I encode to anyway. You can play AVI containers or OGM ones (renamed to AVI). The player is open source so new formats and codecs are being added by community members at the moment. Battery life is much decreased when using the video player due to the extra hardware that’s engaged, but you can put a big dent in that by just using videos encoded to 320×240 so the battery-hungry scaler doesn’t need to do anything- you can comfortably view videos for quite a few hours on 2 rechargable NiMH AAs.

    Photos: The built-in photo viewer is nice and has an integrated explorer, can flip images to view them at different angles, zoom in or out. This is especially nice for me since my camera stores JPEG photos on SD cards, so I can see a big, high-quality copy of my photos the moment I take them! (My laptop has an integrated SD card reader too, so this is extra-convenient.) There are some bugs where the player crashes reading some files, but the majority work fine. It even supports very large images (I think it tops out around 3000px across. But that’s pretty reasonable.)

    Controls: As has been said the control stick is on the sketchy side and isn’t as precise as I’d like, but is much improved with the custom cap that I ordered and with the new one that is provided with all new units (you can also order one separately.) I’m replacing my stick with a D-Pad shortly with a kit provided by a community member, and other replacement kits are in the works. For most games though, the stick is really just fine, and you get used to it amazingly fast. I’m just a picky bastard. The rest of the buttons are great; very comfortable with good response– the shoulder buttons could use to ‘click’ more but this is fine; it doesn’t hinder me in any way.

    Battery Life: I get about 5-6 hours of life playing very stressful emulators like NeoGeo or SNES, and can cram in some audio and photo viewing in there too– this is on some cheap $15-for-a-pack-of-4 2800MAh Duracell NiMHs or 2500 MAh Energizer NiMHs. On a pair of Lithium AAs it lasts at least 9 hours on average, I stock up on those when I can’t recharge. Where there’s a wall outlet, I use my tiny compact AC adapter, works perfectly. The cord plugs into the side where it’s a bit odd, but it acts like a bit of a ‘grip’ for me so I don’t mind it. As long as I have 4 AAs with me I never have any sort of power issue.

    Software: The emulators and default apps for media playback are great, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of great ports like classic FPS’es– Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D and Marathon for example. There are ports of great 2D PC games like Noiz2sa and the “ScummVM”-supported Lucasarts adventure titles. There are LOTS of homebrew games in development and released, like the fantastic arcade-style Vektar or a nice selection of others. The best stuff is in development and shaping up nicely.

    Homebrew: Developing for the machine is a breeze; I had never used SDL or coded for a handheld Linux machine prior to my existing projects, but it was a piece of cake to get used to it. You just compile your applications on your PC with easy-to-use SDK tools (or an IDE) and copy your executable to your SD card, or run it over the USB cable via Telnet, copy it over via Samba (yes, it CAN share files with Windows.. or act as an FTP or HTTP server) and run it. Very, very easy.

    At the moment I’m the programmer for a team developing a very intense ‘danmaku-style’ top-scrolling shooter called Stargazer (a.k.a. Project Luminance), and an FPS, Armor of Acheron G, as well as an air combat sim (based on Quake), both with single-player and multi-player support; Stargazer to support multiple players via USB controller connectivity, especially useful with the GP2X’s TV output!

    I really couldn’t be much happier with the machine; it’s few quirks are mostly minor issues. I can see the negativity from some people who weren’t ready for the risks inherent to being an early adopter and got one of the crummier models from the first production run which didn’t last very long, but that really comes with the territory. Nowadays, things are pretty peachy in GP2X-land. If you are considering getting a GP2X, you’d be doing yourself a favor to do so.

  6. dylan says:

    I’m also a fairly long-time owner — I actually liked mine quite a bit (I loved Gravitar on it), until I tried to upgrade the firmware (yes, an official firmware patch from GamePark). In spite of following the instructions carefully, I bricked my machine. My dealer (gp32z.com) is out of business, and GamePark doesn’t seem to read their support bulletin boards.

    I expect that someday they will make me whole again, if I persist, but you’re definitely fairly out on your own with this product.

  7. nopasaran says:

    Hey dylan! Come to the gp32x.com forums and ask for help about unbricking. It’s fairly easy, even if you need a JTAG cable which might not be the case (might be easier). If you can’t work it out, there are people who are willing to unbrick it for you.

  8. sukhvinder singh says:

    The gp2x is coolest system to date.

    I can play various classics games on plane or buses i even thought the multimedia capabilties are cool the movie,mp3,photos,e-book reader are all in this device i can do anything i needed all these features well i got them all this system is really good fun and never get bored on it there’s so much to do on it without gp2x nothing will have fun written over it.

    It connects to the tv to view any thing which is installed in the device,the folders in the gp2x operate like pc, the gp2x can accept avi files without converting them no other console does that and when viewed on tv it will be displayed full screen,well boys welcome to the best gaming device ever.

  9. geolinux.com says:

    here is a quick howto unbrick your gp2x using a bob and jtag. it works for a missing u-boot

  10. joshuabissot says:

    here is the link to the howto unbrick a gp2x using a bob and jtag – works for a missing u-boot

    http://www.geocities.com/joshuabissot/unbrick.html

  11. TKO says:

    I’m an owner of the newer (white) GP2x, with a more d-pad like controller, rather than the nub. And I gotta say, this unit rocks, especially if you’re a retrogamer. Spectrum/c64/MAME/NeoGeo gaming are perfect. Even Amiga/AtariST gaming is possible. And the touchscreen is great for SCUMM.

    I took a trip to Japan recently (about 24 hours of plane+transit), had 4 pairs or NiMH batteries (about 3.5 hours each.) I probably only needed to bring 2 pairs. I played lots of games, watched TV programs (thru the TV-out) in hotels, and generally had a blast with it.

    It’s not perfect: I would like adjustable screen brightness, and an analogue dial for volume. But it packs a lot of punch for a handheld. Best gadget money I ever spent.

  12. I just picked up the TV out cable and to be able to play my Favorite arcade game via mame on a 42″ tv is really awesome. As far as the earlier post about it being glitchy, I have found that once I have the emulator setup and clocked right and batteries with sufficient power it is really quite stable. The screen on the TV had a little flicker to it, then I tried it on a smaller one and the image was clearer, might be the size of the TV.

    All in all this is a great little system that should have had a better or longer lasting battery option…

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