Great Games That Don't Require Great Hardware

Not all PC games require the newest and most expensive hardware to run. We put together a list of ten great games that you can play on less than stellar systems.


The PC gamer's life may seem tough, given the expensive systems and the constant pressure to upgrade. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, for example, only required a Pentium 3 and 256MB of memory to play, but you'll need a CPU, video card, and memory upgrade if you want to play its hit sequel, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Not all games are as demanding as Oblivion. Developers can't afford to narrow down a game's potential audience by only targeting the most powerful hardware.

Many current releases can be very playable if you're willing to lower the graphics settings--the gameplay will still be there even if the graphics aren't. The PC platform also has a huge back catalog of older games that run fine on less-powerful hardware. These timeless classics may not have the best graphics compared to today's shader-driven games, but many are just as enjoyable as they were when they were first released.

We put together a list of recent games and several past favorites that all run decently on less-powerful hardware. We tested all the games on two systems: an Athlon XP 3200+ system with a DirectX 8-compatible AGP Radeon 9250 video card and 256MB of system memory, and an Athlon 64 2800+ system with a PCI Express DirectX 9 GeForce 6200 video card and 256MB of system memory. Even though both of our test systems had weak CPUs and underpowered video cards, we found that limiting our system memory to 256MB hurt game support the most. Games like World of Warcraft become unplayable with such a small amount of memory, because the system slows to a crawl as it thrashes the hard drive to load information that would normally sit within system memory.

The Radeon 9250 256MB and the GeForce 6200 64MB (128MB with TurboCache) cards both functioned adequately, but we had to set most resolutions to 1024x768 or 800x600 and lower image-quality settings to get games running smoothly. We couldn't avoid some hitching in more-recent games like Guild Wars, but we were still impressed with how well the games ran on the four-pipe cards. The more-recent DX9-enabled games looked better on the GeForce 6200, since the Radeon 9250 forced games to fall back to less-impressive DX8 graphics. We used our GeForce 6200 for the in-game screenshots.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

Release Date: Jul 3, 2002
Quite a few systems struggled to run Warcraft III with all the bells and whistles enabled when Blizzard first shipped the game in 2002. Warcraft 3 played smoothly on our GeForce 6200 with maximum resolution and detail settings, but we had to lower the resolution from 1600x1200 to 1280x1024 to smooth out frame rates on the Radeon 9250. The action might chug a bit in a large-scale battle, but the game remains very playable.
Download the Demo | Full Review >>

Sid Meier's Pirates!

Release Date: Nov 22, 2004
This 2004 sequel to the 1987 classic follows the adventures of a young nobleman-turned-pirate who's out to seek revenge against the Spanish aristocrat that jailed his family. Sword fights and sea battles all came off without a hitch for both systems. We could get the game running on the GeForce 6200 with all the eye candy at maximum and at a resolution of 1280x960. We turned the resolution down one level to get the game to play nice with the Radeon 9250.

We only listed a few of the great games that don't require great hardware. Can you recommend more great games with forgiving system requirements?

Starcraft: Brood War

Release Date: Nov 30, 1998
Starcraft: Brood War is a goodie, but clearly an oldie. The game requires almost nothing in terms of processing power, and it should run well even on laptops. The game has no resolution settings, or detail settings to speak of, so even onboard graphics shouldn't have any trouble running it. The Brood War expansion requires the original Starcraft game, but you can find both for bargain prices these days.

Guild Wars

Release Date: Apr 26, 2005
If you want to get your MMO on in the low-end PC environment, it will have to be with Guild Wars. World of Warcraft runs well on slower CPUs and four-pipe video cards, but you'll need more than 256MB of system memory to get Azeroth in a playable state. Guild Wars bogged down our systems at standard settings, but we got the game to run decently well once we dropped the resolution down to 1024x768 and reduced the quality of the texture and terrain settings.

Civilization IV

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Release Date: Oct 25, 2005
Civilization IV is a fairly new game, but it worked fine on our test systems. We dropped the texture settings down to minimum levels to smooth out the frame rates. Load times were on the lengthy side and we encountered some hitching, but gameplay didn't suffer too much since the game is turn-based. The game's minimum specifications only call for 256MB of memory, but going up to 512MB would probably help.
Download the Demo | Full Review >>

Half-Life: Counter-Strike 1.6

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Release Date: Nov 8, 2000
It might be seven years old, but Counter-Strike still has a huge online community playing the game every single night. Our Radeon 9250 and GeForce 6200 cards ran the game fine at 1024x768. We also got CS: Source running at 30-40 frames per second on our systems with minimal eye candy. The upgraded version was playable, but we recommend going with 1.6 because you'll need as many frames as you can get in a shooter like Counter-Strike.

We only listed a few of the great games that don't require great hardware. Can you recommend more great games with forgiving system requirements?

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

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Release Date: Jun 7, 2005
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and the entire Grand Theft Auto series for that matter, should have no trouble running on most PCs, as the games were originally developed for the PlayStation 2. You won't be able to crank up the resolution or the draw distance on older hardware, but you can still play the game just fine. (You can also use the mouse and keyboard to shoot!) We had the game running nicely on the GeForce 6200 and the Radeon 9250 at 800x600.

Rome: Total War

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Release Date: Sep 22, 2004
Go forth and conquer the known world with all details at 1024x768 on the GeForce 6200. We experienced a little chugging while loading user-interface animations, but we didn't encounter any problems that affected the gameplay. The mouse cursor really lagged on the Radeon 9250 when we first loaded up the game, but we fixed the problem by lowering and disabling several graphic settings to ease the workload.
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Heroes of Might and Magic V

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Release Date: May 23, 2006
Heroes of Might and Magic V is one of the most recent games on our list, but it's a borderline selection since we encountered uneven performance. The game ran very well on our older Radeon 9250 card, but frame rates stuttered everywhere on the GeForce 6200 system. The turn-based nature of the game makes sluggish performance more forgivable, but we kept on going back to the Radeon to get a better playing experience.
Download the Demo | Full Review >>

Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords

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Release Date: Feb 27, 2006
Simple graphics and a slow-paced game don't exactly demand much in terms of performance, but Galactic Civilizations II will surprise many with its addictive gameplay and rich strategy simulator. Our GeForce 6200 ran Galactic Civilizations 2 at 1280x1024 with maximum details.
Download the Demo | Full Review >>

We only listed a few of the great games that don't require great hardware. Can you recommend more great games with forgiving system requirements?

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