Netbook Gaming

Netbooks aren't just for browsing the Web. We tested a bunch of games to find out what these little computers are capable of.

Netbooks: Good for Gaming?

Computers keep getting smaller and smaller. In the past few years the world has largely abandoned desktop PCs for laptops. Just as that transition has neared completion, notebooks got poleaxed by netbooks. We've yet to see how far the trend will go, but there's no denying that netbooks have gained tremendous popularity in the past year. These minuscule computers don't pack much in terms of horsepower or storage, but they make up for it in price. Some netbooks cost as little as $200, making them almost throwaway items. You might not be happy if your laptop bag walked away with one of them in there, but you certainly wouldn't be shedding tears.

Eee PC 1000H So shiny Some ports

It should go without saying that the netbook's small screen, tiny keyboard, and anemic processor don't make it the ideal gaming machine. But if you have one for typing on the go or browsing the Web in a cafe, the option to play games certainly doesn't hurt. A game like Crysis is out of bounds, but there are plenty of games on the market that don't need computing brawn to entertain you when you're stuck in a boring class. (Not that we’d ever recommend playing games in class, of course.)

Within the netbook category you'll find a few classes of hardware. Once we toss aside screen sizes and other miscellaneous features, netbooks fall into three broad categories. The weakest netbooks on the market feature a VIA processor and graphics chip. We didn't have one on hand; but after reviewing CNET's test results, we surmised that it wouldn't be worth the effort to see what kinds of games run on them. The VIA processor is considerably slower than the ubiquitous Atom, and the Atom doesn't exactly get the juices flowing to begin with. You can find the VIA processor in older-generation netbooks, most of which aren't sold anymore. (Ed - New VIA Nano-based netbooks are on the way that should compete close to parity with Atoms.)

Asus N10J Two colors make it classy HDMI!

The second, and largest, category of netbooks has the 1.6GHz Atom N270 or N280 processor paired with an Intel onboard graphics solution. The onboard graphics chip truly destroys any chance of modern 3D gaming. The Eee PC 1000H we had for testing falls into this category. You'll also find some netbooks with Intel's Celeron processor paired with its onboard video solution. These netbooks cost anywhere from $250 to $600.

The final category of netbooks is the most expensive ($600-plus) and also the most capable. They have the Atom paired with a GeForce 9300M graphics chip. They are far from ideal gaming machines, but the added GPU horsepower lets them do much more than the average netbook. In the near future you should be able to find netbooks with the GeForce 9400M--and at considerably lower price points. We used the Asus N10J to represent this category.

The one thing all netbooks share is the lack of a DVD drive, which makes installing disc-based games troublesome. You could lug around a USB DVD drive, but it's certainly not convenient. Outside of Web-based games, a digital download service will easily get games onto the hard drive without any extra hardware. We tested a pile of games from our Steam account and detailed the results on the following pages.

Eee PC 1000H

The Eee PC comes with standard Intel onboard graphics and the Atom N270. As we mentioned earlier, the range of games open to this class of netbook is limited. We tried out some modern games but instantly pulled back. Most of them crashed outright, and the ones that worked, such as Left 4 Dead, chugged on menu screens. Spore's cell stage worked well enough, but the rest of the game, not so much. Geometry Wars ran as though it were in slow motion. On the plus side, it's a great way to get a better score if those dastardly trapezoids are too much for you at regular speed. You'll have many seconds to decide where to go and what to shoot first.

WoW Defcon Audio Surf Puzzle Quest Quake 3 World of Goo

World of Warcraft ran fine, but we imagine any large raid would get hairy on a machine this slow. After trying a few more new games, we realized that the machine just didn't have adequate horsepower for them. However, older 3D games, such as Quake 3, ran amazingly well. At that point we switched over to more hardware-friendly games, such as World of Goo, Defcon, Puzzle Quest, and Audio Surf. All these games ran without a hitch. Their small hard drive footprint also suits the netbook's tiny hard drive much better. When you've got only 80-120GB, loading up five large games can take up a substantial portion of your available space. In general, unless the game is dead simple, you might want to stick with games that came out prior to the turn of the millennium.

Asus N10J

The Asus N10J has the Atom N270 paired with the GeForce 9300M graphics chip--this little mobile graphics chip provides more than enough horsepower to get the netbook going. We're actually stunned that the 9300M comes with 512MB of RAM to power a 1024x600 screen. The GPU is almost too much for the machine. It's clear that the biggest limitation to gaming will be the Atom N270.

Red Alert 3 Left 4 Dead Spore Geometry Wars Pirates! CounterStrike Source GRID

The GeForce 9300M gives the N10J enough power to fire up games like Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. After that little victory,we felt like walking on the wild side and clicked on Fallout 3. Bad idea. The piddly little Atom just doesn't have the power to get the game running at a decent speed. However, less demanding games, such as Left 4 Dead, Spore, Defense Grid, and Pirates, ran very well. Surprisingly, GRID zoomed along well enough to play. Even shooters like Counter-Strike: Source ran silky smooth at high quality settings. The range of games open to the N10J is considerably broader when compared to the average netbook. However, don't expect to run newer games at high-quality. We had to run Left 4 Dead at medium to low quality, however slower games like Defense Grid worked well with high-quality settings.

We weren't terribly surprised by how the Eee PC performed. Our expectations for onboard video have simply bottomed out. It has been clear for years that gaming requires a real GPU. By contrast, the GeForce 9300M found on the Asus N10J lays waste to the Eee PC. Not only could it run more games, but it ran them with far better quality and speed. As the popularity of these devices grow, you can expect their capabilities to expand as well. If you find time to mix in some netbook gaming during your breaks between banging out the Great American Novel and surfing the Web, let us hear about it in the comments below.

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Discussion

213 comments
jetbruceli
jetbruceli

In fact, I am playing Need For Speed Most wanted, Age of Empires 3 and Call of duty with no issues, so if you want to play games, get a netbook with a discrete card, besides you'll want the cards for alot of other things like videos and photos!

jetbruceli
jetbruceli

hmm well I got an Asus Netbook the N10j with a 9300 gs and it plays more games. Awesome for on the go gaming! haha!

Agelu
Agelu

Good article. I hope there could be more insightful articles of Netbooks in the future.

cortexfan
cortexfan

I'm getting a netbook soon, and it's to be pretty much the same as the Eee PC, as I play mostly indie games on my computer so I don't have a problem.

melkors_gift
melkors_gift

as long as i can play civ 3. Thats all that matters

Nexuz09
Nexuz09

I study Computer Games Development and I would gladly buy a Netbook it would come in real handy with all my different classes, shame I dont have the money.

QjB3910
QjB3910

I think these will become uber popular for gaming once the On-Live service is announced. I mean ohw can you go wrong with one of these for On Live

Brainkiller05
Brainkiller05

I presumed the screenshots were taken on the said netbooks, seeing as the CSS screenshot is a really old screenshot I guess not.

coaltango
coaltango

its high time nvidia should launch a laptop with some crazy high end GPU..

klugenbeel
klugenbeel

The HP Mini-Note that i won from work just came in today, looking forward to testing out some old games on it, just for kicks...for my real games, thats why i got the Asus G50....such a slick gaming notebook.... *drools*

macros746
macros746

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Half-Life 1 Half-Life 2 Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Halo Combat Evolved Halo Custom Edition Hardwar Harry Potter and the philosopher's Stone Heavy Metall: F.A.K.K. 2 Hegemonia: Legions of Iron Heretic Heretic 2 Heroes of Might and Magic Heroes of Might and Magic 2 Heroes of Might and Magic 4 Hexen Hidden And Dangerous Deluxe Highway to the Reich Hitman Hitman Contracts Homeworld Homeworld 2 Homeworld Catalysm Hostile Waters House of the Dead 2 Icewind Dale 1 Icewind Dale 2 Il2 Forgotten BattlesLegacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 Independence War 2 Infantry Jagged Alliance 2 Jedi Knight Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Knight: Academy King Pin Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 Survival Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy Leisure Suit Larry light Simulator 2004 Lineage II Live for Speed Lord of the Rings Online LOTR: Online Lunar Magic Luxor 3 M.A.X 2 Mabinogi Mafia Magic the Gathering Manhunt Maplestory Marathon Master Of Orion III Max Payne 1 Max Payne 2 MDK2 Mechcommander Mechwarrior 3 Medal of Honour: Allied Assult Messiah Metal gear solid midtown madness 2 Might & Magic 6 Might & Magic 7 Might & Magic 8 MOO2urban terror Moonbase Commander Motocross madness Mount&Blade MS Flight Simulator 95 & 98 MS pinball demo MUGEN Myth II Mythos, System Shock 2 Navy Field Need for Speed 3 Hot Pursuit Need for Speed 4 High Stakes Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 Need for speed Most Wanted Need for speed porsche Need for speed underground Nethack NetPanzer Neverwinter Nights Neverwinter Nights 2 NHL2002 No One Lives for Ever 1 No One Lives for Ever 2 No One Lives Forever Nox Openarena OpenTTD Operation Flashpoint Operations Pac-Man Adventures in Time Pangya Peggle phantasmagoria Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst Pharaoh and Cleopatra Pharaoh Gold Pirates Planescape Torment Planetside Populous 3 : the begining Port Royal 2 Postal2 Prince of Persia - Sands of Time Project IGI Psychonauts Quake Quake 2 Quake 3 Arena Race driver 1 Rage rally Rage's E-racer Ragnarok Online Rainbow Six Rainbow Six 3 Rally Masters Rally2000 Rayman 2 Rayman 3 Recoil Red Alert 2 RED FACTION Resident Evil Resident Evil 2 Resident Evil 3 Return to Castle Wolfenstein Return to castle Wolfenstein Revenge Revolt RF Online Rise of Rome Road To Rome RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Rome Total War Rubies of eventide RUNE Saga Sam & Max Sam & Max season 1 Scourge Screamer 4x4 Sea Dogs Second Life Sega Rally Serious Sam: First Encounter Serious Sam: Second Encounter Settlers 3 Gold edition SFC2: Orion Pirates Shadow Warrior Shogo: Mobile Armor Division Shogun TotalWar Silent Storm Sim City 3000 Sim City 4 Simpsons hit and run Sims SimTower Sins of a Solar Empire Soldat! Soldier of Fortune Soldier Of Fortune 2 Sonic Adventure DX Space Empires 5 Space Empires IV Splinter Cell Spore STALKER Star Ocean 2 PCSX Star Trek DS9 The Fallen Star Trek Klingon Academy Star Trek VoyagerComanche 4 Star Trek: Birth of the Federation Star Wars : Republic Commando Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds Star Wars Jedi Knight 1 Star Wars Jedi Knight 2 Star Wars Jedi Outcast Star Wars KotOR star wars pod racer Star Wars Rebellion Starcraft Starfleet Command 2 Starlancer Startopia Startrek Voyager: Elite Force Steel Panthers StepMania Street Racing Syndicate Stronghold Survival Crisis Z SWAT 4 System Shock 2 Tachyon The Fringe Talisman Online Team Fortress 2 TES: Daggerfall TES:Morrowind TES:Oblivion The Curse of Monkey Island The Longest Journey The Movies The Secret of Monkey Island The settlers IV The Witcher Theme Hospital Thief Thief : The Dark Project Thief Deadly Shadows Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Sheild Tomb Raider: Anniversary Tony Hawk 2 Top Spin 1 Total Annihilation Trackmania Trackmania Nations Transport tycoon Tremulous Tribes 1 Tribes 2 Trickstyle Turok: dinosaur hunter Tux racer Unreal II The Awakening Unreal Tournament Unreal Tournament 2003 Unreal Tournament 2004 Uplink Urban Terro Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption Virtua Fighter 1 Virtua Tennis Virtua Tennis 3 Virtual Boy Advance Virtual Pool 3 Wall-E Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness Warcraft 3 WarCraft 3: The Frozen Throne Warsow Warzone 2001 Warzone 2100 Wild Metal Country Wizardry 8 Wolfeinsten: ennemy territory World Of Goo World of Warcraft worms 3D Worms Armageddon Worms world party X: Beyond The Frontier X: Tension Xcom Apocalypse Xcom Terror Xcom UFO XIII X-Men Legends II ZDaemon Zombie Shooter Zoo tycoon 2 ZQuest This is the list on EEEUser of games that play well on the Asus series of Netbooks........

nurse_tsunami
nurse_tsunami

I am glad that GS did this article. I was thinking about getting a netbook to use in class and to take with me with my music and movies and ebooks, etc. They seem very handy and a lot have pretty good sized drives (160GB+). It is real good to know that they can handle some of the older games out there, and as other commenters pointed out, there are a lot of good titles worth playing and replaying. I'd never use this as a primary gaming rig, that's what my desktop is for, but knowing I can play diablo 2 or something else while I am stuck at school or on the road is good to know. And really, the price on these guys can't be beat!

zaphod_b
zaphod_b

Shame on you so-called gamers! Why *wouldn't* you try to play games on your netbook?! Diablo II and Starcraft make great netbook gaming fodder.

syafiqjabar
syafiqjabar

Netbooks plays old games fine. Don't look down on them; I have Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 installed but I still play Fallout 2 and Diablo 2 a lot. I would've bought that Asus N10J. But the biggest obstacle to netbooks for me is the tininess of the thing, and I have large hands (I would probably have little problem with the ORIGINAL Xbox gamepad). I tell you where you can find games that run on netbooks (no CD or DRM!): GoG.com. Old games that have been patched and made xp/vista compatible for $6 or $10. They have the Fallouts, the Disciples, Rise of The Triads, Freespace, Jagged Alliance and stuff.

belekoy
belekoy

how bout onlive on this?

Kist101
Kist101

Hey that's a cool feature. I bought the Asus EeePC 1000 with Linux and that works a treat. Sure playing HL2 at 20 fps isn't acceptable but still it was awesome to play a game or two on a lil netbook. Trackmania nations was ok but HL worked fine, so did uplink and other old school games. Since there is no CD/DVD drive on it it's a little tricky to put games on it and run them with a CD. That's why there Steam! Steam all the way :D. Kist101 @Phmall_Phill: The Acer netbook is the 'Acer ONE' NOT the Asus EeePC!!! Though they do have the same spec, sorta. The EeePC hamers the 'Acer ONE' for battery life with 7 hours!! Hope this helps.

sammysalsa
sammysalsa

Good to know it can actually run games. I'm thinking of getting one of these for uni and ill probably put some old games on there like f2, ss2, dues ex, diablo 2 and world of goo which will be good for the odd bit of boredom. Hopefully quakelive and battlefield heroes will work too!

Melies
Melies

My Lenovo 3000 N200 is my only personal computer right now so, yeah, I'm often quite disappointed that I can't play all the next-gen games on it but hey - it's a business class notebook with 1680x1050 screen (for graphics), perfectly responsive keyboard (for everything else) and sturdy chassis. No way is it a gaming rig, yet I have played titles like: Sins of a Solar Empire (1680x1050, max. details) Civilization 4 (1680x1050, max. details except antialiasing (only 2-3x)) Fallout 3 (800x600, cca medium details... I could play on higher resolutions with lower details but I found out that in general games look better with smaller resolutions and higher details than the other way round) Half-Life 2 (1680x1050, max. details) Left 4 Dead (1024x768, high details, low shader... another proof that Valve's Source engine is one of the best strings of code to hit the PC, ever) Bionic Commando Rearmed (???, I don't remember exactly... not very high resolutions and details but definitely playable... for a PS3 title) Mirror's Edge (???, smaller resolution and low to medium details but thanks to it typical 'sterile' look this was not a big deal really) Spore (???, above average) And of course zillion older AND high-quality games, from legendary RPGs like Baldur's Gate, Deus Ex and Knights of the Old Republic to Psychonauts, Black & White 2 and even Lord of the Rings Online or Company of Heroes. And all that, once again, on a NB made for working with graphics and video editing, two things it has no problem doing. PS: Lenovo 3000 N200; T8100 2.1GHz Penryn processor, 3GB 795MHz RAM, GeForce Go 7300 256MB.

Melies
Melies

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Melies
Melies

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

johnnyreb2565
johnnyreb2565

@ macros746 Exactly, old school does not mean throw away. Your post says it best!

PaaCs
PaaCs

1 questions the netbooks r the ones wid low ram n hdd???

opoolo3737
opoolo3737

The Eee pc may not have the power of the higher priced models but when onlive comes out it wont matter. netbooks will be far more worthwhile

peterg500
peterg500

Everyone get "Onlive" and the Netbook will have some relevancy.

johnnyreb2565
johnnyreb2565

So i guess netbooks are not a substitute but its a definite enhancment

johnnyreb2565
johnnyreb2565

After reading this thread I want to say: 1. Just cause you go to a laptop you don't lose the games now, (ten years ago definitely) But Laptops now can play anything the desktop can (minus all the candy). But for me being able to move my pc easily out weighs the extra graphic output. It's still the same game. That said, I have 2 laptops, (that I use) my gaming lappy is a 2.53 dual core intel with 4 gb memory and a 9800 gtx card with 1gb memory. good for the new games and can play them all. sure some compromises need to be made but nothing like 2000-2004 when lap top gaming was basically stuck where netbooks are now but htat was top of the line ggaming so now i can play my desktop games that i loved on a net book which vista wont reconize is great plus it can run for 7 + hrs and i can even watch at least 2 of 3 lord of the rings on a flight maybe the whole thing.

johnnyreb2565
johnnyreb2565

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

RonHack
RonHack

I found this informative. Nice to know there's SOME acknowledgment out there among netbooks for gaming. I find that the lack of DVD players isn't much a negative. Many modern systems come with USB ports, and USB flash drives are roughly $130-135 per 64GB on NewEgg. Just turn your fave game into an image, transfer it onto your system, then "patch" the installed game! When SSDs (Solid State Drives) drop in price further, imagine how fast and reliable laptops and netbooks will be.

BlazeEagle
BlazeEagle

All the hate is ridiculous in regards to this article. GS isn’t being a whoremonger sales person for Netbooks, they’re just describing what games work on Netbooks. While it’s obvious Netbooks aren’t Alienware comparable monster gaming rigs, This article gives valuable insight into the capabilities of these machines. I personally have zero need for a Netbook, but nonetheless I found this article interesting & insightful.

the_pharaoh
the_pharaoh

Thanx guys for this feature. I've been thinking for a long time to get a gaming laptop, but I was put off by the prices so far, I didn't think that these small netbooks would be able to run any type of games at all, but after reading this, I think i'm starting to consider buying a netbook. Although, I'll wait a while until one with a decent horsepower pops up, since I would like to play more recent games. Thanx again.

TimOnNet
TimOnNet

Depends on your taste in games whether these are worth your time. I've got my main gaming PC for the latest titles but my Samsung NC10 is great for running older titles... currently playing Giant Citizen's Kabuto which works fairly well. Most web games will work pretty well too... Haven't tried Quake Live (www.quakelive.com) but I reckon that could work. 1) Forget gaming with a touch pad... a bluetooth mouse works well (I got a portable Microsoft 5000 for £20). 2) If you don't mind retro and want stuff that works easily on Vista or XP (more likely on a Netbook) without pacthing, discs etc then www.gog.com does a good range of cheap DRM free games ideal for the smaller computer (and no I don't work for them... Ie just been pleased with their service).

davidwwone
davidwwone

Half life, Starcraft, and Diablo work amazingly well on the Asus 901Eee pc even off the battery. I know the games are a little old but its getting me back into pc gaming!

davidwwone
davidwwone

Half life, Starcraft, and Diablo work amazingly well on the Asus 901Eee pc even off the battery. I know the games are a little old but its getting me back into pc gaming!

jimmyjammer69
jimmyjammer69

Morrowind's playable (just) on the N270's with Intel onboard, so I'm happy.

Firex777x
Firex777x

the next computer i buy will be a gaming laptop.

ib_banging
ib_banging

I have a Eee PC 1000H and it wasnt even able to play Track Mania Nations Forever on the lowest settings in windowed mode even. But hey, at USD$345 its a steal, so Im not complaining!!!

Vomit-Tooths
Vomit-Tooths

So wait, you write an entire review about gaming on these things all the while saying how you can't really play anything on them. Bad topic or blatant promotion?

clembo1990
clembo1990

These cost under £200. There is absolutely no reason to ignore PC gaming when it comes this mobile, cheap and good!

Spybreak
Spybreak

I grabbed a laptop for my school work and have found that it can run pretty much anything that's out in the market now. Haven't tried Crysis and Supreme Commander goes a bit slow when there are a lot of units on screen but yea we're on the fast track to portable gaming pcs.^^

ninja-legend
ninja-legend

It is amazing how far portable gaming has come. So happy with my asus gaming laptop. Have not found a game it cannot play yet (did not try GTA 4. I read it needed ridiculous specs ). Now if only it would stop scorching every wooden desk I'm gaming on. My girlfriend is going to kill me when she finds my beast of a laptop marks it's territory. :)

black_ice23
black_ice23

WHAT? the netbooks can run all these games but when i try with my toshiba notebook it stutters and lags like crazy ? what is this? i can barely run team fortress and this thing runs Left 4 Dead?

x-navigator
x-navigator

Finally an interesting AND informative article on Gamespot.

DarkNeoBahamut
DarkNeoBahamut

OMG!! and I'm stocked with my Labtop T-T , GeForce 7000GS, I can only play Red Alert with settings on VERY VERY low.

hiway2hell
hiway2hell

So i can play left 4 dead in my class for as little as $600? That sounds great to me

IBEX333
IBEX333

"Some netbooks cost as little as $200, making them almost throwaway items. " Really? Damn... How much do you guys earn? I thought you weren't working with AIG... Better yet, if $200 is nothing for you, throw them away in my pocket please. I'll make sure to use em for something much more important like paying my bills or buying food. I mean, hey, it's THROWAWAY, so anyone who agrees with this statement, please forward all your throwaway money my way. "You might not be happy if your laptop bag walked away with one of them in there, but you certainly wouldn't be shedding tears. " Are you kidding? I'd be crying like a little b*tch! I realize that some netbooks are cheap in comparison to other PCs, but $200 is still a lot of money to me. So speak for yourself please, and I'm glad you are doing so damn well during these times... *a bit of sarcasm there*