Netbook games: is it possible?

How did I get into netbook games? It’s a good question: a netbook is far from being anyone’s gaming platform of choice. I bought my netbook about 18 months ago to use as a work computer, and it has performed its functions admirably. However, being a lifelong gamer, I found myself unable to resist the temptation to install some games to pass the hours on trains, in conference hotel rooms, etc.

Unfortunately, the somewhat limited hardware capabilities of the machine meant that most of my early gaming experiences were slow and frustrating, requiring changes to be made. The first of these changes was a RAM upgrade. Most netbooks today are sold with a 1GB RAM chip, but it can usually be easily replaced with a 2GB chip. When upgrading the RAM, a massive performance improvement was immediately obvious. I should add that it was great for the job too – the new ability to open more than two programs alongside a web browser was something I had missed a lot.

Armed with 2GB of RAM, an external DVD drive, and my collection of old games, I set out to test the capabilities of my netbook. To my delight, many of my old favorites worked perfectly, including classics like Neverwinter Nights, Age of Empires 2, and Black and White. This was particularly satisfying as Black and White completely refused to run on my gaming rig, due to 64-bit processor issues. The 32-bit netbook handled it superbly.

An old favorite, Starcraft: Brood War, works brilliantly on a netbook, albeit with Windows’ “graphics options” or “screen resolution” menu open in the background. This seemingly bizarre solution fixes common ‘psychedelic graphics’ glitches that are familiar to anyone trying to run older games on modern hardware. This allowed me to play Starcraft sitting in the middle of a Stockholm street, patiently waiting with hundreds of players for Starcraft 2’s midnight launch party last summer.

The big question is: can you play World of Warcraft on a netbook? Surprisingly, the answer is yes – I have successfully played WoW on my HP Mini 210 (after the cataclysm with all expansion packs installed). It’s certainly not the smoothest gaming experience you’ve ever had, but with all graphics set to minimum, no plugins, and avoiding populated areas, you could achieve a staggering 10-15 fps. Of course, it is not perfect, but it is better than expected. I should probably mention that this was after I upgraded to 2GB of RAM; I think trying with 1GB is looking for trouble.

So there you have it – netbook games of all kinds, from MMO to RTS. If that doesn’t ruin your productivity, nothing will.

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