Smach "It's-a-Scam" Z Has A Real Working Prototype


Despite some folks claiming that the portable console Smach Z has been a scam all along, facts keep pushing towards a different narrative (Reminder: I met with Smach Z representatives back in September last year in Tokyo). If it’s a scam, it’s a very elaborate one since they have recently shown an actual working prototype back at the Embedded World exhibition in early March 2019. You can see for yourself the device in action at the hands of attendees.

As you may be aware now the Smach Z is using AMD Ryzen/Vega SOC to drive its graphics capabilities. Here follows a video where a german magazine interviews the Smach Z team (the interview itself is in English). They confirm again that they plan to have a specific Linux distribution for the device at launch (not SteamOS anymore). The device is composed of two PCBs that connect to each other’s. The base is for peripherals and devices, and the other one is for the SOC itself and memory and disk storage.

This opens the possibility of upgrading a new PCB to upgrade the AMD SOC (through Smach Z). While it’s certainly a great idea to think about future updates, the lack of any kind of standard will make this possibility highly dependent on the continued existence of Smach Z, which is far from guaranteed at this stage… so, don’t count too much on it.

While I don’t get the feeling that the project is a scam, the final production is getting delayed further. Backers were supposed to get their device by Q1 2019, and guess what, Q1 2019 is now over and nobody has received one yet. The culprit? Problems with the pre-production boards have arisen - and while I am not privy to the details, not being a backer myself, it’s probably not going to make it to the hands of anyone until later this year, or who knows, even later.

This is not unusual.

I have been following hardware projects in multiple categories for something like 9 years now and this is hardly the first time multiple issues are found at various stages of development. Each issue can cause one or several delays on their own. Software projects are a lot more predictable, since you cna push for a fix in almost no time. When hardware fails or does not work as expected (for example, stability/driver issues are frequent), designing a fix can be time consuming or dependent on a 3rd party, and cause several months before it can be actually addressed and tested again.

The typical rebutal is “oh yeah? How about companies like Samsung which are able to push new smartphones every single year without delay?”. Which is a very, very silly and ignorant comment to make. Samsung has hundreds if not thousands of engineers/designers working full time on every next smartphone model and have their own development facilities to make it possible to test things much faster than your typical small team working from a garage with external suppliers. A better point to make is to ask “How about GPD?” Well, GPD is a much bigger company and working directly from HK/Shenzen which is the center of electronics assembly and supply for the whole world currently - which should present a huge set of advantages when it comes to iterating on designs and finding suppliers for various parts.

Back to Smach Z: having now a real working prototype is a milestone in itself - of course there is still ample chance for the project to fail on the way (more technical issues, running out of funds, a large company introducing a similar device, etc…), and my advice for anyone backing such projects before they release has always been “spend your money as if you were to never see it again”.

For everyone else, it’s safer to wait for a first product to be out and properly tested. But I would say this is now looking more likely than not going to be a real product in the near future.

PS: Needless to say, I have no stake or vested interests in Smach Z (not even a backer).