Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AMD's Newish Fusion Processor, the C-70

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/1/13/AMD_Radeon_logo.svg/2000px-AMD_Radeon_logo.svg.png
AMD netbooks have this sticker, typically
 On September 1st of this year, AMD silently released its new C-70 processor, which can be considered a successor to their older C-60 part. The processor itself is nearly identical to the previous model. The only difference is the integrated graphics processor, which is now called the Radeon HD 7290 instead of the 6290, clocked at the same speeds, 276 MHz and 400 MHz for boosted mode, respectively. Some sites say the C-70 has Radeon HD 6290 graphics, so I suspect the new name is for purely marketing reasons. On the chipset side, the C-70 comes with AMD's updated chipset, the A68M, instead of the older A50M chipset that lacks USB 3.0 and native SD card and Ethernet support. Currently, the C-70 can be found in large netbooks such as the Acer Aspire One found here at Newegg, shown below. It comes with one USB 3.0 port and a multicard reader, unsurprisingly enough, plus a 64-bit copy of Windows 8. The new C-70 is nothing to be excited about, but should be worth the consideration of new netbook buyers or those wanting to upgrade an old single-core Atom netbook.
Acer Aspire One AO725-0494 AMD Dual-Core Processor C-70(1.00GHz) 11.6" 4GB Memory 320GB HDD AMD Radeon HD 6290 Notebook
The Acer Aspire One AO725-0494
 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Featured Game: OpenArena

Like Quake III Arena, but open source!
Year: 2005
Genre: First-person Shooter
Recommend: YES

Remember Quake III Arena back in the day? It was a heck of a lot of fun, and still is, but if you're looking for something new, or just want to support the open source community, OpenArena is a must-download. Not only does it feature better graphics than Quake III, but it's less CPU-intesive in some circumstances. Huzzah!
What you'll need
OpenArena is very easy on your netbook's delicate hardware. The only relevant requirement is an OpenGL card, which all netbooks should have.
Reviews and Awards
I didn't have time to dive into reviews for OpenArena, but a simple Google search found that people really like the game. There are some complaints about the clothing of some (female) characters, which clothing is nearly nonexistent. OpenArena was the base used to create L3DGEWorld, a  visualization program for network data. OA has also been used to test streaming graphics from a server in computer science studies.
Tips
If you have kids that play OpenArena, or are offended by the almost-nudity in the game, you can relax. Removing this questionable content is easy. Just open up the 'baseoa' directory in the main game folder and delete 'pak2-players-mature.pk3'. That's all it takes. In the place of the deleted characters are clones of whichever player you're using when you start a map. Know that you won't be able to join a pure server with the package file missing.

This is the final map of single-player mode. Don't fall to your death!



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Make Your Netbook More Awesome with ReadyBoost


Netbook kinda slow? Word takes forever to open? Don't wanna crack open your netbook to upgrade the RAM? There's an easy solution to all of these problems. It's called ReadyBoost, and it's as simple as popping in an SD card and clicking a few times. You could be a few bucks away (or none, if you have a card handy) from a faster netbook.

How It Works
Hard drive on left, solid state drive on right. Know the difference! Credit goes to appleinsider.com for this image.
Traditional hard drives are built using platters that hold microscopic bits of data. A device called an actuator arm moves back and forth across the platters to grab the magnetic chunks of data and send them to the processor inside the hard drive, which in turn sends the data to the computer. Because the actuator arm has to move back and forth across multiple platters to get data, hard drives are quite slow at random reads. Enter flash storage. Flash storage uses a special chip to store data, so it doesn't give a rip where the data is on the chip. It can just nab data from anywhere and present it to the computer quickly. ReadyBoost caches often-accessed data on the flash device, and when it's faster to pull data from the flash storage, ReadyBoost does so. ReadyBoost can even compress data to store more cache on the chosen device.
 
Which Flash Device to Use?
 
OK, you could use a USB flash drive for ReadyBoost. That's a less-than-ideal solution, as you'd have a bulky drive sticking out of your netbook that you have to be sure not to break. There's a better way. Most, if not all, netbooks have an SD card slot. SD cards don't protrude from your netbook, so you have one less thing to worry about. At an absolute minimum, a 256 MB card will work. Will it make your netbook faster? No! You need a lot more space than a quarter of a gigabyte. Microsoft recommends having 1-3x the amount of RAM available for ReadyBoost, thus a netbook with 1 GB of RAM should have 1-3 GB of ReadyBoost space, and 4 are even better. Speed is of paramount importance; if the card is too slow, ReadyBoost won't work at all. The best way to see if any given card is acceptable is to do your research. Read as many customer reviews as you can. Newegg is a great site for this purpose. I currently use a Transcend 8 GB Class 6 SDHC card.
 
How to Set Up ReadyBoost
 
The first step is a given: insert the card and wait for it to initialize. Once that's done, you should back up any data on the card; if it's empty, just proceed. 
Right click on your SD card in My Computer, then click Format.
Change the settings so they look like this (except for the capacity field). Then click Start!
Right click on the icon for your newly formatted SD card and click on Properties.
Click on the ReadyBoost tab. Make sure the window looks like this (alternatively, scroll down to see your other options). Click Apply, and that's it!
 
In case you're wondering why I had you format your card as exFAT with a 32 MB cluster size, it's for speed. exFAT is Microsoft's proprietary filesystem specifically for flash drives, and when coupled with an enormous cluster size, much more speed can be wrung from your SD card. If you don't want to use the entire card for ReadyBoost, you can click 'Use this device' and use the slider to specify how much space you want to use. If you plan on using your card for more than ReadyBoost, it's a good idea to reduce the cluster size, so any other files you put on the card won't waste obscene amounts of space.
 
 
To get a good idea of how much of a performance boost you can expect from ReadyBoost, go here. Keep in mind that Windows 7 does a better job of boosting your netbook than Vista, which is what Anandtech used in their benchmarks. Also know that netbooks with SSD's (solid state drives) won't benefit at all from ReadyBoost, because SSD's are flash storage drives themselves, so adding more flash storage won't speed anything up. If you have a slow hard drive, though, ReadyBoost is the solution.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Featured Game: Left 4 Dead 2

Even more demanding than its predecessor
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/ba/Left4Dead2.jpgYear: 2009
Genre: First-person Shooter, Survival Horror
Recommend: Depends
















Thought the first Left 4 Dead was tough on your netbook? I have some bad news for you, then; its sequel is even more demanding. The only thing L4D2 doesn't need more of is CPU processing power, which is good, considering that the CPU is one of the biggest bottlenecks for an AMD netbook. Still, if you can play this game, you'll be rewarded with a zombie-slaying experience that's every bit as good, if not better, than the original.

What you'll need

Reviews and Awards

L4D2 received reviews much like its predecessor, which is to say, very positive. The aggregator sites mentioned in my L4D1 feature gave the sequel nearly the same scores, around 89%. IGN, who positiviely reviewed the first game, "considered that the game improved on the first in every way, and that anyone who liked the concepts introduced by the first game should buy the second." (Wikipedia) GameSpot gave L4D2 a 9/10, a 0.5 point increase over the first Left 4 Dead. Eurogamer called it "overflowing with personality."

Tips

It's very important to be running the fastest RAM possible for intensive games like L4D2. I highly recommend nothing less than DDR3/800. To see what speed your RAM is, download and install CPU-Z at cpuid.com. Look for a field that says 'PC6400 (400 MHz)' or something similar. If your RAM is that fast or faster, you're all set. If not, you may want to consider a RAM upgrade.
http://www.ngohq.com/attachments/screenshots/1355d1227273859-left-4-dead-screenshots-hl2-2008-11-21-14-32-13-01.jpg
Screenshot from ngohq.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Netbook Chipset Comparison

Sure, info on processors and graphics is useful, but it doesn't tell the whole story of a netbook. It's worth taking a look at the feature sets of a netbook to ultimately help you decide which first netbook to buy, or whether an upgrade is worth your time and money.


Confused? Never fear, I'll explain this chart in its entirety.

Which chipset is which?
The best way to identify your chipset is to know which processor you have. Atom N2x0 processors use either Intel's 945GSE or Nvidia's MCP79MX chipset. The former utilizes Intel's GMA 950 graphics processor, while the latter comes with ION graphics. All Atom netbook processors succeeding the Diamondville series use the NM10 chipset. AMD's netbook processors use the A50M and A68M chipsets, with the former being used for first-generation Brazos netbooks.
PCI and PCIe Support
PCI and PCIe (stands for Peripheral Component Interface, the 'e' is 'Express') are standardized ports on nearly all mainstream computers, used for adding devices and functionality. For example, my netbook has a Wi-Fi adaptor and a multicard reader on the PCIe bus. The difference between PCI and PCIe is the age of the technology and their speed. PCI crawls at 132 MB/s, while PCIe zooms along at 8 GB/s on Nvidia's chipset. For the A50M and A68M chipsets, 4 x1 lanes are available from the chipset, and 1 x4 link is provided from the CPU, both at PCIe 2.0 speeds, which, for a x4 link, are 2 GB/s.
Ethernet Support
Ethernet is what allows you to connect to a wired network. Most chipsets have native support, but the NM10 does not. Native just means support is built-in, thus it's less expensive to implement in a netbook, as a third-party controller is unnecessary. The numbers in the table indicate the possible operating speeds of the Ethernet port, in megabits/second.
IDE and SATA
IDE and SATA are interfaces that connect drives, like hard drives or optical drives, to the main computer. IDE is much older and slower than SATA, as it is an older technology. IDE tops out at 133 MB/s, while SATA can go over 700 MB/s, with higher speeds on the way in the future. Notice the number of ports decreased in the move from the A50M to the A68M. This isn't a big deal for netbooks, because you can't cram more than 2 hard drives into a tiny netbook chassis.

USB Ports

Over the years, USB has undergone major overhauls since its official release in 1996. USB 1.1, the first widely accepted version of USB, released in 1998, can only transfer data at 1.4 MB/s. For some reason, the A50M chipset supports it, but I highly doubt you'll find a USB 1.1 port on a netbook. Next came USB 2.0, capable of speeds exceeding 57 MB/s, in theory. This is the most common USB version, since it's been around since 2000. Finally, the latest-and-greatest USB 3.0 can zoom by at nearly 600 MB/s. It's relatively new, with the official specification released in 2008. The only chipset natively supporting USB 3.0 is the A68M, so implementation of USB 3.0 is cheaper.

RAID Support

You likely don't need to worry about RAID, since it requires multiple hard drives. With RAID, you can configure your computer for high-speed data access or safety in the event of hard drive failure. You probably won't use it.
SD Card Support

As a special bonus to the A68M chipset, native SD card support is added to make Brazos 2.0 netbooks cheaper. Most netbooks have an SD card slot, and rely on a third party controller to make it work. Because no separate controller is needed, the manufacturer can build a Brazos 2.0 netbook at a lower cost, and pass those savings on to you.
Time to Upgrade?

Ultimately, the decision to upgrade is entirely up to you. I can only give advice on the matter. If you're running a first or second-gen Intel netbook with non-Nvidia graphics, I strongly suggest biting the bullet and picking up a current-gen AMD netbook. Yes, it will almost certainly be bigger than 10.1" and have less battery life, but its power in games is well worth the negative aspects. With Windows 8 available though, an 11.6" screen ain't such a bad idea, as 1024x600 isn't enough anymore. Keep in mind that the A68M uses 18% less power at idle than the A50M. Intel's graphics drivers for its Cedar Trail platform are in a sorry state right now, so I don't recommend one over whatever you already have. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Featured Game: Nexuiz

This game rocks. 'Nuf said.
Year: 2005
Genre: First-person Shooter
Recommend: YES











If there is any doubt in your mind that open source games are fun, get rid of it. Nexuiz is an absolutely fantastic shooter with spectacular graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and low system requirements (by today's standard's, anyway). Don't get me wrong, though; Nexuiz can really stress even the mighty Radeon HD 7340 in top-of-the-line Brazos 2.0 netbooks. No matter what kind of netbook you have, Nexuiz is definitely worth your time.

What you'll need
Any netbook with 1 GB of RAM (512 MB for ION 2) can run Nexuiz. Make sure to balance the settings to match your graphics card's strengths and weaknesses. For example, the GMA 950 and 3150 don't have hardware transformation and lighting, so it would be smart to drop lighting and geometry to their minimums. Nexuiz really brings out the benefits of the Cedar Trail platform; I get playable framerates with geometry and texture detail maxed out at native resolution, despite Intel's horrid drivers.

Reviews and Awards
Nexuiz has been featured in numerous major tech magazines. In September 2006, PC Gamer included it in an article about the impact of free games. PC User put the game on its May 2008 and August 2009 cover disks. Maximum PC included the game in its March 2007 issue. Phoronix deemed the game "the best open source FPS we have played, with refined gameplay and graphics that take advantage of modern hardware." GameStop once held a PC gaming competition using Nexuiz.

Tips

IllFonic developed a game, also named Nexuiz,  released this year based on the original. Because the name is now licensed to IllFonic, the original Nexuiz developers created a fork named Xonotic. The game I'm featuring is referred to as Nexuiz Classic by IllFonic. Remember that now!
Sure, the graphics probably won't look like this on a netbook, but they're still gorgeous.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Featured Game: RollerCoaster Tycoon

For those who love money
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1d/Rct-box.jpgYear: 1999
Genre: Construction & Management Simulation
Recommend: YES


















I'm the kind of person who likes more than solely action-oriented games, e.g. first-person shooters. If you're anything like me, RollerCoaster Tycoon ought to be on your list of favorites. It's one of the most addictive constructive and management simulations ever, and, come on, who doesn't like making money, even it is virtual?

What you'll need
RCT is a 2D game from 1999. You can play it. Really, you can.
Reviews and Awards
RCT was a huge success because of its uber-realistic model of an amusement park, as well as its originality. GameSpot and IGN gave the game 8.6 and 8.5/10, respectively. Some negatives: There's no sandbox mode, the isometric viewpoint can sometimes be irritating, and you can't fast forward time. The theme park industry and roller coaster enthusiasts applauded the game for its realism.
Tips
I strongly encourage you to get your hands on the Corkscrew Folllies and Loopy Landscapes expansions packs. More rides, more lanscaping options, more music, more scenarios (much more challenging than the stock scenarios), more everything! How can you go wrong?
I have no idea why I can't take screenshots, so here's Wikipedia's.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Featured Game: AssaultCube

Free, optimized, awesome
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/fd/Logo_on-white.svg/2000px-Logo_on-white.svg.png
Year: 2006
Genre: First-person Shooter
Recommend: YES
Requested by NSDCars5





 
When I first heard about AssaultCube, I was impressed. A free shooter capable of multiplayer functionality on a 56k dialup connection? Meow. My positive opinion didn't change as I played on. On my desktop. See, Intel's ever-worthless GMA 3600 driver support crashes AC right before 3D rendering begins. That's annoying. Still, if you have a non-Cedar Trail netbook, this one's worth looking at.
 
What you'll need
AssaultCube, like the engine it's based off of, is cross-platform. Unlike Cube, AC is more advanced, but you can still run it on any netbook, provided that you have working drivers. I've seen a GMA 3150 netbook crank out 60 fps on medium settings on YouTube. Impressive!
 
Reviews and Awards

An editor at reloaded.org gave AC a 3.7/5 (users rated it 3.1) for its graphics, shooting action, and "lots of options." On the other hand, it is criticized for its lack of music and map diversity, among other things. Softpedia gave it 2 stars/5, much to the dismay of certain commenters. Users of SourceForge recommended the game 80% of the time.

Tips

If you're as frustrated with the current GMA 36x0 driver situation as I am, go here. This petition is intended for tablets, but Cedar Trail netbooks and Intel tablets use the same graphics core. If any positive change comes about from the petition, it will likely affect netbooks, too.

I can't get a screenshot, so Wikipedia comes to the rescue.
 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Featured Game: Cube

Doesn't feel like a true game
Year: 2001
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Recommend: YES
Honestly, Cube feels more like a tech demo than anything else. You won't find a polished interface like pretty much all commercial games out there. What Cube is really for is allowing game developers to experiment with level design on the fly and create their own shooters. But hey, if you want to shoot some trolls, more power to you.

 What you'll need
Any netbook will do. Since Cube's open source, you don't even have to be running Windows. Linux, Wii, even PocketPC users can play the game.
Reviews and Awards
LinuxDevCenter had a postive opinion of the Cube game/engine, saying, "It may be yet another first-person shooter engine, but Cube is one that the game mod community can use, without limitations, as the basis for their own creations." The Linux Game Tome awarded Cube with the first Happypenguin award for Best Free 3D Action Game. MacUpdate users rate the game 3.5/5 stars.
Tips
Gotta have native resolution? Dig into the Cube directory and pull up cube.bat in Notepad. It should say:
bin\cube.exe -w1024 -h600 %*
Use whichever resolution you like best.
The Odyssey, the biggest, most demanding, and most advanced map in Cube.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Featured Game: SimCity

The very first

Year: 1989
Genre: City Building
Recommend: YES
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Feel like going old school? What better way to do that than playing the original SimCity? Featuring a top-down perspective and vintage graphics, it doesn't get any more classic than this, as far as city building games go.
 
What you'll need
The Windows version of the game was released in 1992. You have nothing to worry about.
 
 
Reviews and Awards
SimCity won a boatload of awards in 1989 and 1990, namely Best PC Game, Game of the Year, Best Entertainment, Educational, and Simulation program, and so many more. IGN ranked it the 11th PC Game of All Time in 2009. The wave of Sim games that followed this one are a testament to just how great this game was at the time.
 
Tips
 
There are many versions of the game out there. My favorite is the 1992 Windows version at abandonia.com. Keep in mind that when saving a city, you have to follow the 8.3 naming rule, so BLUFFTOWN.CTY is not a valid name.
 

Ye olde Blufftown, known as Bluftown. Sorry about that.





Sunday, September 16, 2012

Featured Game: Icy Tower

Fun little time waster
Year: 2001
Genre: Action, Platform
Recommend: YES
 
 
 
At first, I didn't really see the point of Icy Tower. "What's so fun about hopping up platforms?" Then I read the instructions, and, "Oh, if you run fast, you jump high!" Suddenly, it became a challenge to land on a platform at high speed and make sure Harold the Homeboy got to the next platform. Icy Tower has a small footprint, charming music and graphical style, and a very simple concept. This game'll stay on my hard drive for the foreseeable future.
 
 
What you'll need
 
Icy Tower can run on PC's from the AT motherboard days. I don't think you need to worry.
 
 
Review and Awards
 
This game can't be judged by its reviews, but by its popularity. The game makes the "Most Popular" list for PC games at Download.com, and has an estimated 11 million downloads as of 2008. There are some sites devoted to Icy Tower from the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland.
 
 
Tips
 
If getting a higher rank is important to you, just view your profile to see what you have to do to reach the next one. (I just can't get to the 300th floor!)
 

Boing!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Say Hello to the Gaming with Netbooks Netbook


I found it a bit hypocritical that I was telling my readers what they can and can't play on a netbook without actually owning a netbook myself. So I scoured the Internet for deals, and decided that a Cedar Trail netbook would be the best option for my low budget. I finally found the Gateway LT4004u, a fairly standard Cedar Trail netbook.
Normally this netbook would be out of my price range, but I found a killer deal at Newegg. My model is being offered for $213.98, but it's refurbished. That's no big deal, though; all that was wrong with the netbook was a few scratches on the lid.
Not only did I get a great deal on the netbook, Newegg was kind enough to include a free Targus sleeve with my purchase. In the product listing, Newegg claims the sleeve is black. It's not black. It's purple. Fortunately, the images Newegg uploaded clearly show the correct color. Note that the sleeve is refurbished as well, but I can't see any signs of use.
My case looks like this, but purple
The LT4004u houses an Atom N2600 processor and its accompanying GMA 3600 GPU. It supports 802.11b/g/n wireless networking (of course) and has a 6-cell battery. The netbook ships with 1 GB of RAM, but I plan to upgrade to 2 ASAP. Finally, the hard drive holds 250 GB of storage.

Gaming is definitely a hit-and-miss experience on the Cedar Trail platform. In my preliminary gaming tests, I found Project64, my favorite N64 emulator, to have major fluctations in framerates while emulating Super Smash Bros. Both Motocross Madness 2 and Midtown Madness exhibited slowdowns from time to time. I blame both Intel's pathetic driver support (only Windows 7 32-bit is supported, and weakly at that) and the fact that I only have 1 GB of RAM.

Some final thoughts: the screen is nice and bright, and the webcam is 'eh, ok'. The hard drive included with this model is pretty zippy, much to my appreciation. Another good thing is the low amount of bloatware; I didn't feel the immediate urge to uninstall everything I've never heard of.

On the whole, this is a peachy netbook  for productivity purposes, but gaming performance is a little underpowered. Once Intel updates its drivers, my opinion may change.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A "Come on, Intel!" Moment

It seems like the more I research the N2600 and its accompanying GPU, the GMA 3600, the less powerful they become. See, the GMA 3600 has a core clock of 400 MHz, which is great compared to previous generations. Problem is, that only applies to the shader and texture mapping units of the GPU. The PowerVR SGX545 core that the GMA 3600 is based on doesn't come with any Render Output units, or ROP's. Intel adds 4 of them, just as the GMA 950 had, and twice as many as the GMA 3150. Here's the rub: they can clock the ROP's at whatever speed they care to use, and they chose 200 MHz. Slowing down the ROP's reduces performance, naturally, enough to keep the GMA netbook series from playing Half-Life 2 (without tweaking). Is it enough to make performance worse than previous generations? Absolutely not. The new GMA 36x0 is better or equal in every way. The margin of improvement is just smaller. In the majority of applications, the GMA 3600 can't compete with the GeForce FX 5600, released over 9 years ago. It's more of a super Radeon Xpress 1150, and even then the Radeon integrated graphics can beat the GMA 3600 in memory bandwidth with a dual-channel DDR2-800 configuration.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Featured Game: Midtown Madness

Drive around like a maniac with no repercussions
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2a/Mm1_boxshot.jpg Year: 1999
Genre: Racing
Recommend: YES


















Got the need for speed? Well, you could play one of the Need for Speed games, or you could give Midtown Madness a try. There's nothing quite like hurtling down a Chicago freeway in a Panoz GTR-1 at 200+ MPH, trying to evade the cops. Or you could rumble down the avenue in a Freightliner Century, crushing every Geo Metro in sight. However you play, Midtown Madness gives you a super-fun experience, and the graphics aren't bad, considering the game's age.

What you'll need

You don't need to have the slightest worry about this game. If you can run Windows XP, you can run Midtown Madness. EDIT: You might have to reduce the graphics a bit for Cedar Trail netbooks; I get 13-32 fps on maxed out settings at 640x480.

Reviews and Awards

 Midtown Madness's most positive reviews (90% equivalent) came from Allgame and PC Zone, while the worst, 7/10 and 7.7/10 (still respectable) were given by Total Video Games and GameSpot, respectively. Midtown Madness was praised for its realistic vehicle models (for player-driven cars) and accuracy in portraying Chicago. On the other hand, the game was criticized for its poor performance on lower-end hardware (no big deal for netbooks) and AI intelligence, among others.

Tips
No, you can't commit vehicular homicide in Midtown Madness. If you could, the 'E' rating would be revoked in a heartbeat.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Featured Game: Metro 2033

Uh, no.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/07/Metro_2033_Game_Cover.jpg Year: 2010
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Survival Horror
Recommend: NO















I'll be quick about this; the graphical demands of Metro 2033 simply butcher anything a netbook can give. Maybe if you overclock the Radeon HD 7340 to 1.23 GHz and the system RAM to 2 GHz you can get it to work, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
Screenshot from Giant Bomb

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Featured Game: Lego Star Wars: The Video Game

Great game for the kids
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/81/Legostarwarsthevideogame.jpg Year: 2005
Genre: Action Adventure
Recommend: YES























It's glaringly obvious: Lego Star Wars is not a franchise meant for the avid gamer. Heck, there's no 'game over' message to be found anywhere in the game. But for the 11-year-old with sci-fi tendencies, this game's a blast, not to mention it plays wonderfully on any Windows netbook.

What you'll need

 All you really need is 512 MB of RAM (half that on ION 2, but who has that kind of netbook with that much RAM?) and around half of a gigabyte of hard drive space.

Reviews and Awards

OK, so LSW didn't win any prestigious awards, but it was the 13th best selling game of 2005, behind Guild Wars and The Sims 2, to name a few. Lego Star Wars was named Game of the Year by Kidzworld.com (who?) and received a 77/100 score on Metacritic. IGN rated the game at 8/10 (great), saying "it has personality, puzzles, cooperative modes, replay value, low violence, a lack of frustrating difficulty, and most importantly, it has Darth Vader... Darth Vader makes everything better -- it's a fact."

 Tips

Should you find yourself playing this game in multiplayer mode, don't be a jerk and stay behind to collect every single stud in the map. You'll probably get booted off and have to rejoin anyway.
Sure, big blasters look impressive; too bad they aren't any more effective than regular blasters

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Featured Game: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Tweaking necessary
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/20/StarCraft_II_-_Box_Art.jpgYear: 2010
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Recommend: Ehh.....
















There's just no way around it; StarCraft II is a heavy game for netbooks. Even with the most powerful netbook out there (A6-5200-powered), tweaking might still be required to get the game to run smoothly. Once you do, though, the reward is well worth the effort.

What you'll need

Before you even attempt to run StarCraft II, you have to meet certain requirements. For starters, 2 GB of RAM is absolutely necessary, unless you're running an ION 2 platform on Windows XP. You'll need a dual-core CPU from the following list: Atom N550, N570, N2600, or N2800; AMD C-60, C-70, E-300, E-350, E-450, E1-1200, E1-1500, E2-1800, or E2-2000. If you don't have to tweak anything, consider yourself fortunate.

Reviews and Awards

 StarCraft II has been highly praised from every direction: story, gameplay, multiplayer, graphics, and more. The game scored around 93% on the aggregator sites GameRankings and Metacritic, and received 10/10 or equivalent ratings from at least 4 sources. However, some have criticized the game for its lack of LAN multiplayer support.

Tips

"Well," you say, "I don't know how to tweak a game!" Fear not, it's not that difficult. See this site for assistance.
Screenshot from the StarCraft Wiki

Friday, July 27, 2012

Featured Game: Left 4 Dead

Not for cheapo netbooks
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5b/Left4Dead_Windows_cover.jpgYear: 2008
Genre: First-Person Shooter + Survival Horror
Recommend: Depends


















If you're wanting to play Left 4 Dead on a netbook, be prepared to spend a little money, 'cause anything with GMA in the name ain't gonna cut it. Those with ION or Radeon graphics, though, can gear up for some epic zombie-destroying fun.

What you'll need
Review and Awards

For the most part, Left 4 Dead raked in positive reviews from all around the board, with an average of 89% from aggregator sites. IGN praised the game, saying "It's almost pitch perfect in how it captures the tension and the action of a Hollywood zombie movie." Gamespot disapproved of Left 4 Dead's "limited map selection," and felt the game got repetitive at times. Left 4 Dead acquired no less than 5 "Best Multiplayer Game of 2008" awards, among others.

Tips

Avoid the witch.
No, really, don't do it!
 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Can DDR4 Save the Netbook?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d3/Samsung_displays_first_DDR4_module.jpg
A developmental stick of DDR4 SDRAM from Samsung
Sick of integrated graphics? You're not alone. The next big thing in RAM, though, may finally bring integrated graphics up to a level gamers will actually consider. It's DDR4 SDRAM, or "double data rate type 4 synchronized dynamic random access memory". According to Micron Technology, a major player in the industry, DDR4 will hit sometime next year. More exciting than that are the improvements it's promising to bring over the current standard, DDR3. Plan on DDR4 running on 1.2V of power, compared to 1.5V that DDR3 currently uses. This lower voltage results in reduced power consumption, and that's always a plus for netbooks. Even better is DDR4's bandwidth, which is set to reach double the speed of DDR3. DDR4 is expected to launch at 2133 MT/s (megatransfers per second), resulting in a bandwidth of just over 17 GB/s, all in a single stick. That's a huge leap for netbook performance, as integrated graphics use the system's memory for its own use. Take a current-gen Atom netbook, for instance. You can get a maximum of 8.5 GB/s out of one today. Using DDR4, a bandwidth of over 17 GB/s can be achieved, which is required to play games like Call of Duty: World at War and Mass Effect. Or consider a larger netbook, like one with an AMD E1-1200 processor. In a single-channel configuration, over 10.6 GB/s of bandwidth is supplied. Double that with DDR4 and a dual-channel config and you have enough bandwidth for Civilization V. But for the million dollar question: can it save the netbook? Well, maybe, but not single-handedly. Newer and better CPU's and GPU's are necessary for the netbook to gain popularity. Regardless, however you look at it, DDR4 is an exciting technology that could finally grant netbooks the performance and lower power consumption they need.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Featured Game: Portal

No Intel graphics for newbies
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9f/Portal_standalonebox.jpgYear: 2007
Genre: Puzzle + Platform
Recommend: Depends



















If you're a daring soul who loves to tweak and mod your netbook to get any game to work, you can probably get Portal up and running. If you're not, Intel's graphics won't cut it. Fortunately, Nvidia and AMD have made netbooks excellent Portal machines.

What you'll need


Reviews and Awards

Portal received excellent ratings all around the board, plus a big ol' list of awards, some of which are for GLaDOS's epic villianness (is that a word?). GameSpy stated "What Portal lacks in length, it more than makes up for in exhilaration." Metacritic ratings average 90/100, with GameRankings' rates very slightly different at 89.15%.

Tips

Go here for advice on Portal for Intel's graphics processors. Do it. It's in the description.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Featured Game: Rift

Rejoice, for AMD's quad-core APU's are here!
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4e/Rift_cover.jpg Year: 2011
Genre: Fantasy MMORPG
Recommend: Depends



















It wasn't too long ago when netbooks couldn't handle Rift. Now, thanks to AMD's new quad-core Temash and Kabini APU's (Accelerated Processing Units), Rift is now playable. Quad-core netbooks are rare at the moment, and one I have seen has only 2 GB of RAM soldered to the mainboard, with no option to add more. If you do happen to come across a better netbook, then, well, you can play Rift on it!

What you'll need


Screenshot from the MMO2Go blog

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Featured Game: Motocross Madness 2

Oh, come on! I should've landed that!
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5e/Mcm2.jpg
Year: 2000
Genre: Vehicle Simulation + Racing
Recommend: YES
















I'm sure you'll be saying that over and over again as you play Motocross Madness 2. I've been playing this game for years, and it never gets old. Meet the Wall of Death and you'll see what I mean. MCM2 is sure to provide you with hours of wipeouts and action.

What you'll need

Any netbook should do nicely for MCM2. (EDIT: Except for Cedar Trail netbooks...see video below, or better yet, it's description on YouTube. Technically, it's playable, but it looks very ugly.) The game provides some nice settings sliders for your customization pleasure

Reviews and Awards

For the time, this was the coolest motorcycle game in existence. IGN, in its 8.6/10 review, said "The eye-candy is constantly impressive, the physics are crazy enough to be fun but real enough to look right, and the multiplayer game is a blast, especially if you've got devious friends." GameSpot gave an even better rating of 8.8/10, saying "it's definitely one of the most enjoyable...motorcycle simulations you can buy." PC Gamer awarded MCM2 the 2000 Editor's Award for being "the PC's pre-eminent bike sim."

Tips

If you want to become a pro at this game quickly, load up a Stunts session with 10 opponents on Hard. You'll be able to land those stunts in no time in an effort to beat the bots.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Featured Game: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Low-end netbooks won't cut it
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b3/Shadow_of_Chernobyl_cover.jpg Year: 2007
Genre: First-person Shooter + Survival Horror
Recommend: Depends





















 You know those old classics everyone loves that can run on anything? Well, this isn't one of those games. Fortunately, you can still play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on a netbook, but it can't be one of those sub-$300 ones.

What you'll need


Reviews and Awards

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. won GameSpot's Best Atmosphere award from Best and Worst of 2007. Reviews were generally positive; Eurogamer called it "one of the scariest games on the PC". However, it was criticized for its various bugs and mediocre story.

Tips

Since all netbook GPU's support D3D 9, you might as well enable some kind of dynamic lighting. Both Nvidia's and AMD's GPU's can handle it.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Stalkershot_2.jpg
Screenshot from Wikipedia

Friday, June 29, 2012

Featured Game: StarCraft

Need I say more?
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/93/StarCraft_box_art.jpg Year: 1998
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Recommend: YES














Ah, StarCraft. I have many fond memories of getting my butt kicked by my older friends and having a blast anyway. This is a must-have for any netbook, and the 2-D graphics won't overload the integrated graphics in most netbooks.

What you'll need

You need a netbook. And Windows. That's really it.

Reviews and Awards

Wikipedia lists no less than 7 awards for StarCraft, some of which are Game of the Year by 5 different sites. The game also made two Greatest Games of All Time lists, one from GameInformer and one from GameSpot. StarCraft also received largely positive reviews from numerous sources.

Tips

Want to play StarCraft in widescreen? Read the description of my video to find out how!

A Few Words

First, if you'd like to have your favorite game featured on the blog, either write a comment on one of my posts or send an email to kory.l.hansen-[AT]-gmail.com. I would be more than happy to take a look at your game.

Second, increasing game performance can be as easy as running an installer and rebooting. These installers contain graphics drivers, pieces of software used to communicate with the integrated graphics processor inside your netbook. Updating the existing drivers on your system can add new features, fix bugs, or increase performance. To update your drivers, visit the following websites:

*Intel GMA 950 - intel.ly/LVHfWQ
*Intel GMA 3150 - intel.ly/qyy1Os
*Intel GMA 36x0 - intel.ly/Llt7VX
*AMD Radeon HD on Windows XP - http://sites.amd.com/us/game/downloads/Pages/radeon_xp-32.aspx#1
*AMD Radeon HD on Windows Vista/7 32-bit - http://sites.amd.com/us/game/downloads/Pages/radeon_win7-32.aspx
*AMD Radeon HD on Windows Vista/7 64-bit - http://sites.amd.com/us/game/downloads/Pages/radeon_win7-64.aspx

Monday, June 25, 2012

Featured Game: Vindictus

You can play it if you have the right hardware
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/44/Vindictus_Logo.jpg Year: 2010/2011, depending on region
Genre: Fantasy MMORPG
Recommend: Depends






















Best MMO nomination at E3 2010? Best free-to-play MMO of 2010? Playable on a netbook? Yes, yes, and yes. Oh, and did I mention it's free? Vindictus is a great game for netbooks, if yours has the chops.

What you'll need

Reviews and Awards
Besides its nomination for best MMO at E3 2010, Vindictus has received other praise for its graphics and action. IGN awarded Vindictus as the "Best Free-to-Play MMO Game of 2010". "Ever wondered whether or not it would be satisfying to break a pillar in half and smash one of those halves into the face of a giant wolf-man?" MMO Hut gave Vindictus an Excellent rating for its "great skill and attack animations" and other positive features. Vindictus got dinged a little for its repetitive combat and limited choice of playable characters.

Tips
Having trouble playing? Open up the Task Manager and kill all processes you can do without, using End Process. In extreme situations, this might even include Windows Explorer. Killing Explorer isn't as dangerous as it sounds; you can always use Task Manager to restart it if needed.
Screenshot from MMO Hut