Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Quick Picks: February 2013

Dead Space 3:

Aliens: Colonial Marines:

Impire:

Crysis 3:
Crysis 3 on a netbook? Yeah right!

March of the Eagles:
Sorry, can't play this one either.

Brütal Legend:

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quick Picks: January 2013

Since it's a rare occasion that I have time to write a full blog post, I'll be instating a new way of showing what games are playable on a netbook. I'll select a few games from a particular month and use an Excel table for each game, like I've done in the "What you'll need" section of regular featured game posts. Today's quick picks were all released in the first month of this year.

Fieldrunners 2:

Strike Suit Zero:
The (in my opinion) spectacular graphics are too much for even the fastest Kabini GPU.

The Cave:


Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Enhanced Edition):
Too graphically demanding.

DmC Devil May Cry:
Both the CPU and GPU will struggle in this game. Not recommended with currently available hardware.

Dungeonland:

Skulls of the Shogun:

Wizardry Online:
This game has high memory bandwidth requirements, and it's not hard to see why; the game uses excessive bloom and motion blur.

Antichamber:

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Gaming with Netbooks Guide to RAM Upgrades

Every good netbook user knows that a RAM upgrade makes a night-and-day difference in overall usability. From simple web browsing and word processing to complex image editing and gaming, having more RAM will reduce system lagginess and improve your overall experience. This guide will help you determine which RAM to buy for your specific netbook.

Before You Buy: Determine What You Already Have

When it comes to netbooks, few things are more annoying than buying RAM only to find that it's incompatible. That's why it's essential to find out what type of RAM is already installed in your netbook. To do that, head on over to the CPU-Z homepage and download either the installer or the .zip archive, whichever you prefer. Open CPU-Z and click on the SPD tab. If all the fields are grayed out, select a different memory slot to read info from.
Once you have the correct slot selected, look at the fields I have highlighted above. The first 3 fields are the important ones (and they happen to be listed in order of importance). Let's take a look at each:
Memory Type: This, in the vast majority of netbooks, will be either DDR2 or DDR3. Remember that, as you'll need to use the same type of RAM in the new stick.
Module Size: This one's a no-brainer. It's the amount of RAM that the stick has. In low-end netbooks, this will be 1 GB or even 512 MB. The new stick of RAM should obviously have a higher capacity than the old stick, unless you're upgrading for pure speed, which is neither worth the hassle nor the money.
Max Bandwidth: This is how fast the RAM can transfer data. The value in parentheses is actually half of what the stick is rated for, so my 800 MHz rating is actually 1600 MHz (because DDR stands for double data rate, hence the 1:2 reported/actual ratio). Note that the rated speed of the RAM is not always, or even usually, the speed the RAM will operate in your netbook, but we'll get to that later.

Capacity

Once you know the type of RAM you have, it's time to decide how much to buy. Some netbooks can utilize more RAM than others, so refer to the table below to see how much your netbook can hold.
*Official limit for N2600 is 2 GB, but 4 GB sticks have been found to work without issues **Config depends on # of physical RAM slots in netbook ***32 GB possible in the future (16 GB/stick doesn't exist yet)
Now, no one's holding a gun to your head and forcing you to buy the maximum amount of RAM for your netbook. If you don't want to pay for 8 GB of RAM and don't feel you need it anyway (say, for an E-450 netbook), you don't need to. 4 GB is perfect match for a modern netbook as it won't create a bottleneck, but there are always those that preach the 'more is better' mantra. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Speed and Bandwidth

Now that you've chosen how much RAM you want/need, the next step is looking for sticks that provide the fastest speed your memory controller supports. Once again, direct your eyes to the following table:
*Atom N450 and N470 do not support DDR3, only DDR2/667; Atom N435 supports DDR3/800 but only DDR2/667 **DDR3/800 for N2600, DDR3/1066 for N2800 ^E-450, E2-1800, E2-2000, and A4-1250 support DDR3/1333; all others limited to DDR3/1066 ^^DDR3/1333 only for E1 series
Giving the memory controller maximum bandwidth/speed allows integrated graphics to give their best performance, which, as you know, is crucial for gaming. While having slow RAM hampers performance, RAM that is faster than the memory controller supports won't hurt anything. The RAM will simply slow down so the controller can keep up, and no problems occur. I currently have a stick of DDR3/1600 running in my N2600 netbook with no problems, it just runs at 800 MHz rather than 1600.

Latency

If you've been shopping online for RAM lately, you'd see that all good RAM has its CAS latency listed. But what is it? CAS latency (or CL) is the delay between when the memory controller asks for data stored in RAM and when the RAM makes that data available. CL is measured with a single number, with typical values being 7 for DDR3/1066 and 9 for DDR3/1333, etc. Lower numbers are better, because the RAM can give the memory controller what it needs faster, although in real-world scenarios, low latency RAM doesn't make a noticeable difference against standard latency RAM. 

OS Version

In addition to hardware limitations, the version of Windows you're using also has a say in how much RAM you can use. Windows 7 Starter puts a cap of 2 GB on your RAM; add a 4 GB stick for example, and you'll have 2 GB of RAM functioning and 2 that sit idle because the OS won't let you use it. In order to use more than 2 GB, you have to fork over money to Microsoft to upgrade to Win7 Home Premium or higher. The "bitness" of your OS also determines your RAM ceiling. A 32-bit version of Windows can only handle up to 4 GB of RAM, but a 64-bit copy can go up into the hundreds of gigabytes of RAM, more than you'll ever need. A visit to the 'System' applet in the Control Panel will give you the bitness of your OS.

Other Considerations

Some netbooks have RAM built into the motherboard that can't be upgraded, like the Asus VivoBook X202E or Eee PC X101CH. A Google or YouTube search for reviews of your particular netbook model should reveal whether or not the RAM is upgradable.

If you have a Nvidia ION netbook with 2 RAM slots, you can utilize the ION chipset's dual-channel memory architecture and install two identical sticks of RAM for maximum graphics performance. Some ION netbooks have 1 RAM slot but have additional RAM soldered onto the motherboard. I'm unsure as to whether or not the dual-channel architecture will work in that scenario. I'm fairly certain, though, that a 4 GB stick of RAM won't work in netbooks like these.

The brand of memory you choose won't play a role in performance of RAM, but it might make a difference in reliability. As common sense will tell you, go for a highly regarded brand with plenty of good reviews.

It's better to have a large single stick of RAM than two smaller sticks, i.e. one 4 GB stick vs. two 2 GB sticks in all but ION netbooks. This way, the memory controller only has to pull data from one stick instead of two. Remember that the Brazos (2.0) family of netbooks only support sticks up to 4 GB, so you can't plop in a single 8 GB stick and call it a day.

Memory Recommendations by Platform

Diamondville
Kingston HyperX 2 GB DDR2/533 CL3
For Diamondville netbooks, nothing is faster than this Kingston RAM, and for $39 new (or $27 used), it won't drain your wallet.

Pineview/ION 2 DDR2
Mushkin Essentials 2 GB DDR2/667 CL4
If your netbook only supports DDR2/667, this Mushkin RAM is perfect for you. It runs at a low latency and costs only $33.
Team 2 GB DDR2/800 CL5
If your netbook can go up to DDR2/800, you can step up performance while stepping down in price with this Team RAM for $28. I wanted to find CL4 RAM, but that was only available for desktop RAM.

Pineview/ION 2/N2600
VisionTek Black Label 2 GB DDR3/1600 CL9
While it's not DDR3/800, this VisionTek RAM will underclock just fine, and it's significantly cheaper than DDR2, at $21.

N2800
 
Corsair Vengeance 4 GB DDR3/1600 CL9
Since the Atom N2800 can officially handle 4 GB of RAM, why not max it out? This Corsair RAM is as fast as you can get for $39.

Zacate/Ontario/Brazos 2.0

ADATA XPG Gaming Series 2x4 GB DDR3/1600 CL9
 If your AMD netbook has 2 RAM slots (and many do), you can go crazy with this ADATA RAM kit, but it doesn't come cheap at $73.

Temash/Kabini

Crucial Ballistix Sport 2x8 GB DDR3/1600 CL9
 OK, no one really needs 16 GB of Crucial RAM in a netbook, but there's something to be said for bragging rights. To get this much RAM, you'll have to fork over a hefty $148. Ouch.

Keep in mind that all of these recommendations are based purely on performance. It will be quite easy to find RAM that isn't as fast but is much cheaper. If you don't feel you need to go hog wild with your RAM, don't. It's quite easy to find something more conservative. Also remember to shop around so you can find the best price.

If you have any other questions about RAM upgrades (or if I missed something important), feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: Bay Trail Specs Leaked

Bay Trail is on the move again, barreling right along toward its holiday 2013 launch. Specifications for the next generation of netbook processors have been leaked alongside those for desktop and industrial Atoms, Celerons, and Pentiums, and the numbers look very promising. (Oh, you haven't heard yet? Intel's Silvermont microarchitecture is fast enough to be used in some Celeron and Pentium processors. Woof.)
An interesting thing to notice is the absence of the Atom name in the leaked Bay Trail-M model names. Perhaps Intel wanted to improve the public image of their new mobile chips by avoiding the Atom moniker, which, as you all know, has a bad reputation for being a slow, worthless piece of silicon. It's a smart move, as the names will not only avoid the bad Atom PR, but will be reflective of the architecture's massively improved performance. Basically, Silvermont is all of the improvements the Atom line should've had over its lifespan rolled up into one release, especially in the graphics department. With the slowest of the bunch, the Celeron N2805, Doom 3 will be not only playable on Ultra, but fluid on High settings. That's a huge leap over today's Cedar Trail GPU's (believe me, you wouldn't want to play Doom 3 on them unless you have an unusual tolerance for low framerates), and from the look of things, it will only get better from here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Featured Game: Full Tilt! Pinball

Now you know where Windows pinball came from
Full Tilt! Pinball Macintosh Front Cover
Year: 1996
Genre: Pinball + Arcade
Recommend: YES














Have you ever played 3D Pinball on Windows XP? Of course you have! Many a Windows user, gamer or not, has fond memories of playing it as a kid, myself included. What you may not know is that it's a stripped-down version of a 1996 Maxis game called Full Tilt! Pinball. The Maxis version has 2 additional tables as well as support for additional resolutions, multiple balls in play, and additional sounds; basically, it's a lot more fun than the game bundled with pre-Vista Windows. If you enjoyed Windows' little gem back in its heyday, give Full Tilt! Pinball a try.

What you'll need

This game will run on a 66 MHz processor. Instead of wasting your time telling you about the unimportant system requirements, I'll direct you to the site where I downloaded the game.

Reviews and Awards

Unsurprisingly, Full Tilt! Pinball was dealt positive reviews from multiple critics. Gamespot gave the game only a fair score of 6.5, even though the only negative remark was for the game's soundtrack. (Typo, anyone?) Coming Soon Magazine (who?) dished out an 83% rating, with no subcategory falling below 80%. Oddly, CSM gave the highest subscore to the sound category; apparently tastes differ between CSM and GameSpot.

Tips

If you're anything like me, you'll find that the small screens on netbooks just aren't big enough for most pinball games. I recommend plugging in to an external monitor and running at the max resolution of 1024x768 if you have the option. Disabling visual themes in the Compatibility tab will allow the game to display properly in fullscreen mode.
Here's a table you won't see bundled with Windows

Monday, June 24, 2013

Featured Game: FlatOut

Fun, but could be more fun
Year: 2004/2005 (depends on region)
Genre: Semi-Simulation Racing
Recommend: YES
Requested by NSDCars5













I really like FlatOut. The graphics are superb, the damage modelling is a joy to behold, and unlike some racing games, it provides some challenging gameplay. If only it weren't held back by those criminal GMA 3600 drivers. At 1024x600 on the lowest possible settings, my netbook gets around 15-25 fps. A GMA 3150 netbook can muster 35-40 fps at 800x600 (thanks to NSDCars5 for that data). It's a real shame Intel doesn't seem interested in customer service, because Cedar Trail could be a great platform for older games like this.

What you'll need

FlatOut doesn't care as much about processing power as it does RAM. While you only need 512 MB RAM if you're running integrated graphics (ie, not ION 2), more really helps. 1 GB is the least I would recommend, and 2 GB makes a big difference in versions of Windows past XP.

Reviews and Awards

FlatOut's ratings can be described as "just good." Gamespot handed the game a 7.9/10, applauding the environmental destruction, graphics, and minigames. The reviewer was very unimpressed by the lack of online multiplayer for the PC, as well as it's "middling soundtrack." Speaking of middling soundtrack, IGN slammed FlatOut for its soundtrack in their PS2-version review, with a weak score of 5 for the sound category. The game was also criticized for its lack of creativity and subjective gameplay. Despite this, FlatOut was awarded a 7.5/10, which is still in the Good category.

Tips

If at all possible, stay away from stacks of tires. While you'll build up a nice stockpile of nitro by plowing into them, chances are you'll get stuck and fall back in the race. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: AMD Beats Intel to Market with Temash and Kabini

Before I start, I want to give a big thank-you to monstercameron, who alerted me to the existence of Temash long before I would've known about it otherwise.

Intel's Bay Trail is all fine and good, but it has one major problem.

It's not here yet.

Fortunately for netbook gamers, AMD's next generation of ultramobile processors is here, and improvements abound. More processing power, more CPU and GPU cores, faster memory controller, lower power consumption, you name it. If you're fed up with your old single-core netbook with crappy graphics, now is a great time to upgrade.

Temash: Quad Core at 8 Watts!

In my opinion, single-core processors in netbooks should disappear forever. AMD, it seems, agrees. Unlike Ontario with the C-30 before it, Temash shuns single-core processors intended for netbooks and tablets and only offers dual or quad-core CPU's. Good thing, too; multitasking on a single-core netbook is no fun at all. But more CPU cores aren't the only things that give AMD a leg up in the ultraportable market. Power consumption is another key element.
temash_05
As you can see from this table from Liliputing, max power consumption for the two higher-end APU's has dropped to 8W, down a watt from the previous-gen Ontario. That doesn't sound like much, but when you factor in the DDR3L memory support (the L stands for 'low voltage'), it's a pretty big deal for road warriors. Even better is the A4-1200 APU, which has a TDP of 3.9W. A netbook/laptop with this APU would be perfect for a business professional that wants a cheap notebook with very long battery life (and functional graphics drivers).

AMD increased the number of integrated graphics cores in Temash (and Kabini) from 80 to 128. While newer games can take advantage of more cores, it's questionable whether or not a netbook can play these games anyway. After all, Temash's maximum memory bandwidth hasn't changed since Ontario, and neither has its pixel or texture fillrates. Fillrate is very important for older games that rely less on complex shaders and more on textures. For this reason, gaming bottlenecks might move from the CPU to the GPU. I shouldn't complain, though; Temash is faster than Ontario at a lower power consumption, and that's what counts.

Kabini: Skyrim on a Netbook is Now Enjoyable

Have you ever tried to play Skyrim on a netbook? There are videos on YouTube that say it's possible, but how much fun will you really get out of it? Most likely, not much. Kabini will change that. With fast quad-core and dual-core options, more memory bandwidth, and more performance per watt, Kabini will take netbook gaming to a whole new level.
kabini_02
Don't let the names of the new APU's fool you. The E1-2100 is not faster than the E1-1200. But with a TDP of 9W, it shouldn't be. The E1-2100 does a better job of replacing the C-50. Because of architectural changes, the CPU portions of Temash and Kabini are 22% at the same clock speed compared to their last-gen counterparts. Thus, the E1-2500 is 22% faster than the E1-1200, and the E2-3000 is 15% faster than the E2-2000. More exciting are the quad-core options. The A6-5200 should be faster than AMD's own Phenom X3 8650, which was released in mid-2008. To be able to get better performance in a small laptop than a 95W desktop processor is impressive, even if the latter is 5 years old. This new CPU performance is critical for newer games like Skyrim and Rift, and should give those 48 additional GPU cores something to do.

Desktop Equivalents

Since games cite desktop parts in their system requirements, I thought it would be a good idea to compare these new APU's with said desktop parts.

CPU portion:

A4-1200, A4-1250, & E1-2100 = Athlon 64 3500+ (early 2007)
A6-1450 = Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2007) (can go faster if thermals allow)
E1-2500 = Athlon X2 3250e (late 2008)
E2-3000 = between Athlon X2 3250e and 4050e (mid-late 2008)
A4-5000 = faster than Athlon X2 7550 (late-2008)
A6-5200 = Phenom X3 8650 (mid-2008)

The GPU portion of the APU will perform between a Radeon HD 8350 and a desktop Radeon HD 8400 at the same clock speed. The HD 8180 will be significantly slower than the HD 8350, while the mobile HD 8400 will be only slightly slower than the desktop HD 8400.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Featured Game: Motocross Madness

This was hot stuff back in the day
Motocross Madness Windows Front Cover
Year: 1998
Genre: Vehicle Simulation + Racing
Recommend: YES














Maybe you're nostalgic. Maybe you want to see what game graphics were like a decade and a half ago. Maybe you tried Motocross Madness 2 on your Cedar Trail netbook and were disappointed by how poorly it ran, but still wanted to experience the action of motocross (hint hint). Whatever your reason for trying the original Motocross Madness, you will find that it's a fine game that's plenty of fun. Sure, it pales in comparison to its sequel, but come on, this was 1998. This game was da bomb, and it's still enjoyable today. 

What you'll need

For being such an old game, Motocross Madness works well right off the bat. You don't need to mess with compatibility settings, no-CD patches, or anything else that tends to plague games of this age. The only problem I can see so far is the invisibility of player names above the AI's heads and on the scoreboard. Whether this is a driver or a Windows issue, I don't know. (I'll look into it.) The game runs very smoothly, as a game with such simple graphics should.

Reviews and Awards

Motocross Madness has garnered positive feedback from reviewers. IGN gave the game 8/10 (a 'great' score), praising the realism of the game by saying it "portrays the sport in all its agonizing glory -- a fast, maniacal sport that's more fun (and much safer) to watch than it is to participate." Gamespot awarded an even higher score of 8.4/10, still great, proclaiming "this is pretty much everything you could hope for in a motocross simulation, and then some."

Tips

From here on out, I will make my best effort to more tightly integrate this blog and my YouTube channel. That's why I've embedded my gameplay video of Motocross Madness below. Screenshots, like I've used in previous posts, are a dime a dozen, but a video really shows what you can expect from a game. Feel free to check out my other videos here, and their descriptions. I put important info in the descriptions (because I don't like too much fluff in my videos, and text uses next to no bandwidth), so read them!



Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: More Details Surface on Intel's Next-Gen Atoms

The more I hear about Intel's next-gen Atom platform, the more excited I get. Bay Trail, if it lives up to the hype, will supercharge the netbook experience. More details on Bay Trail have been released in the past few days and weeks, and it is now viable to make predictions on the caliber and breadth of games that will work comfortably on the next generation of netbooks. Put on your sunglasses, 'cause the light at the end of the Intel-netbooks-suck-tunnel is getting close.

 
Naming
 
All of the codenames associated with Intel's upcoming Atoms can be quite confusing: Bay Trail, Valley View, Silvermont, Saltwell, agh! What do they all mean?

*Bonnell - name of the microarchitecture used in Diamondville and Pineview
*Saltwell - name of the microarchitecture used in Cedar Trail
*Silvermont - name of the microarchitecture used for the next generation; by far the superior of these three
*Valley View - name of the physical next-gen chip itself
*Bay Trail - name of the next-gen platform

Do these names really matter? No, at least not on this blog. Cedar Trail and Bay Trail are the only codenames I'll regularly use.

Processor
 
The most exciting part about Bay Trail, in my opinion, is the improvement in processor. The best Intel netbook processor today, the Atom N2800, is slightly better than a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 HT from early 2004. Nowadays, the vast majority of games require some sort of Core 2 Duo-class processor, and Atom can't keep up. That's where Bay Trail comes in. Using a quad-core CPU, Bay Trail can run neck-and-neck with an equally clocked Core 2 Duo from mid to late 2008, as long as the application is optimized for 4 cores. That's a massive improvement over anything available in the past. With this kind of power, a Bay Trail Atom clocked at 1.8 GHz can take on games like Assassin's Creed 2 or Battlefield 3 (whether the graphics can keep up or not is another matter...). In addition to the increase in power, the new CPU's will also have new instruction sets, like SSE 4.2 and cryptography extensions. Sadly, HyperThreading is gone, but having a quad-core CPU more than makes up for that.
Source: Anandtech
 
Graphics
 
We already know that Bay Trail will be employ Intel's 7th generation graphics (the kind used in the iwhatever-3000 and 4000 series). The only things that tells us are that the feature set will be much better than all GMA's, well, ever, and that there won't be any more suckish drivers (we can hope). According to Anandtech, the graphics will consist of 4 execution units, only 25% of what Intel's HD Graphics 4000 has. Still, that's a big improvement compared to Cedar Trail. 4 Intel execution units are like 32 of AMD's, Nvidia's, or PowerVR's shader cores, and can deliver double the fillrate of the GMA 3600 at the same clock speed of 400 MHz. What does that mean? It means you can play the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Left 4 Dead series on the weakest of the Bay Trail chips, and it only gets better from there. Rift and Skyrim will play just fine on the strongest of the Bay Trail family. You still won't be able to play F1 2010 or Metro 2033, though, but still, having DirectX 11.1 and OpenGL 4 support on a netbook is going to be epic.
 
SKU's
 
Leaked information from CPU World indicates that there are 7 unique SKU's, 3 "standard temperature" and 4 "extended temperature" ones. Whether netbooks will use standard or extended temperature SKU's is unknown. All standard temperature parts get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum memory bandwidth of 17 GB/s (for netbooks), as well as GPU clocks of at least 300 MHz. One of the standard temperature SKU's will be a quad-core solution that supports speed boosts of up to 1.9 GHz or higher, with a TDP of 12 watts at most. The other 2 SKU's have unknown clock speeds, but one will be dual-core and one will be quad-core, and both will consume less than 10 watts of power.
 
Extended temperature SKU's come in 4 flavors: entry-level, mid-class, high-end, and premium. The entry-level will have a single core clocked somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 GHz, with a 400 MHz GPU. The mid-class parts gets two cores clocked between 1.2 and 1.5 GHz with a GPU running at 533 MHz. Both of these SKU's only get a single-channel memory controller, which, if used in netbooks, will put out a little over 8.5 GB/s of bandwidth. The high-end SKU is also a dual core part, but is clocked between 1.5 and 1.7 GHz with a 667 MHz GPU. Finally, the premium solution will be quad-core and run between 1.7 and 2.0 GHz combined with a 700 MHz CPU. The high-end and premium SKU's will get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum bandwidth of, again, 17 GB/s. All extended temperature SKU's will consume less than 6 watts of energy.

 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Format for 'What you'll need' Section

You may have noticed tables like this one popping up around the blog.


They are intended to make it easier to determine if your netbook can handle a game at a glance. In case you're unsure of what some information means, I've explained it all below.

Platforms
Don't know which platform your netbook is built on? All you need to know is which GPU you have.

GMA 950 = Diamondville
GMA 3150 = Pineview
GMA 36x0 = Cedar Trail
Radeon HD 62x0/72x0 = Ontario
Radeon HD 63x0/73x0 = Zacate
ION & ION 2: self-explanatory
Colors
It's easy enough to tell the difference between red and green, but what about the different shades, and what do they mean?

Red - You can't play the game on this platform.

Orange - There's a chance you can play the game with some overclocking (mainly on Diamondville netbooks); in the case of Cedar Trail, it means the hardware is theoretically capable of playing the game, but is being held back by Intel's atrocious driver.

Yellow - Cedar Trail only. It means the game will theoretically work, but hasn't been tested.

Light Green - With exceptions, the platform can handle the game well. These exceptions are specified in the Notes.

Green - Think of this as a 'Gaming with Netbooks Seal of Approval'. The game will run on all processor/graphics configurations in that platform (with enough RAM, that is). For Cedar Trail, it means the game has been tested and runs with a satisfactory framerate.

I've only prepared tables for games that only work on more powerful netbooks. In other words, if a featured game is headed by 'Recommended: Depends', then there'll be a table. Games with 'Recommended: YES' or 'NO' don't need one, for obvious reasons. Games like StarCraft 2 that fall under the questionable category will be explained with text, rather than a table.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gaming with Netbooks Is Now on YouTube!

After a lot of tinkering with FRAPS's recording capabilities and the Handbrake video encoder, I have now set up a YouTube channel, dedicated to people trying to game with netbooks. My first video is a demo of Project64, which is available here. Much of my free time will now be dedicated to creating and posting more videos of previously featured games, so don't expect frequent posts here for a while.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Featured Game: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Plays on the same hardware as SoC
Year: 2008
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Survival Horror
Recommend: Depends
















If you can run S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl on your netbook, you'll be happy to know that its prequel, Clear Sky, will run on exactly the same hardware. The minimum system requirements for the game are unchanged, although it takes more juice to run the game with more eye candy, like volumetric light and fire, DirectX 10 support, and fancy weather effects. If you enjoyed the first game, it wouldn't hurt to give Clear Sky a try, and flex some GPU muscle in the process.

What you'll need

Reviews and Awards

Clear Sky earned some mixed reviews; on average, the game is the worst-rated in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. The best rating came from GamesTM, with a 90/100 for "transform[ing] grim fantasy into a startlingly real-world experience." On the other hand, X-Play wasn't so kind, awarding Clear Sky a 60% for its boring environments, numerous bugs, and antiquated gameplay. GameSpot nominated the game for Best Atmosphere in 2008, but it was shot down by Dead Space.

Tips

OK, I'll admit it. There's no netbook out there that meets Clear Sky's recommended requirements.  I suggest starting off at medium settings at your netbook's native resolution, then tweaking settings from there.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Stalker_Clear_Sky_screenshot_god_rays_01.jpg
Sunbeam effects; thanks, Wikipedia

Monday, March 11, 2013

Featured Game: Nerf Arena Blast

A colorful, Unreal Engine-powered shooter that's well worth a download 

Year: 1999
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Recommend: YES









Colorful neon arenas? Nerf darts instead of bullets? A complete absence of the concept of death? Yep, NAB's a kid's game, for sure. That doesn't mean you can't play it, of course. Nerf Arena Blast runs very well on most netbooks, in theory, anyway. Since it's based on the first Unreal Engine, it runs like a slug on Cedar Trail netbooks unless software rendering is used, and even then, fullscreen mode doesn't work. DirectX mode on a Diamondville netbook with the stock 1 GB of RAM works just fine at native resolution in fullscreen, and at a solid 60 fps, no less. Even if you are stuck with faulty drivers, NAB is still worth checking out.You can download it for free at Abandonia. Keep in mind that the free download doesn't include the original music from the CD, and will instead play any audio disk you have mounted in a virtual or external CD drive.

What you'll need

As far as hardware goes, Nerf Arena Blast runs on just about anything. You might want some friends to play with on a LAN game too, as the bots aren't particularly skilled. This is a kid-friendly game, after all.

Reviews and Awards

Nerf Arena Blast has been met with mostly positive reviews. IGN awarded NAB a, 8.8/10, praising the gameplay and lasting appeal with scores of 9 in those categories. GameSpot gave a slightly lower score of 7.0, saying the game is "really fun", but suffers from poor AI and online support.

Tips

Having trouble with NAB on a Cedar Trail netbook? Set your 3D renderer to Software, then drag the game window toward the top of the screen until it turns a translucent blue. It'll expand to fill the screen. That's the best option we N2x00 owners have for the game at the moment, until alternate renderers become available or Intel fixes their drivers, both of which are unlikely.
Methinks I need more ammo. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Featured Game: Street Fighter X Mega Man

A disappointing resource hog
Year: 2012
Genre: Action + Platform
Recommend: Depends






Ah, nostalgia. Both the Street Fighter and Mega Man series have let their marks in gaming history. Now these two classics have come together with the collaboration of fans and Capcom. It's too bad that the game overloads most netbooks, even with its NES-style 2D graphics. On my netbook, the game runs at about 2 fps. Fortunately, higher-end netbooks can handle the game.

What you'll need
Reviews and Awards
While not the groundbreaking game of the century, by any imaginable means, the game has enjoyed largely positive reviews. IGN and Destructoid rated it a 7/10, saying the game is "solid" and "fun," but lacks replay value and a save system (version 2 of the game implemented a password system). GameRankings and Metacritic both give SFXMM a rating of approximately 71%. On the other hand, Edge magazine gave the game a 5/10, saying the level design is inconsistent and functionality is limited.

Tips
It's a little hard to give any tips when the game won't run at a tolerable speed. If you have a subpar netbook, don't bother with this game.
A pain to run in more ways than one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: Upcoming Chips from Intel and AMD

It's been said in many places that the netbook is dead. That may be true, but future processors from AMD and Intel could make the netbook drought a temporary hibernation. Intel finally seems to be focusing on jacking up the performance of its Atom processors (as opposed to further reducing power consumption), which will give AMD a run for its money and netbooks a desparately needed shot in the arm.


Intel: Bay Trail Promises Quad Core and 3x Better Graphics

Hot Hardware posted some leaked Intel slides on the 3rd of this month on their upcoming Bay Trail platform. To date, Intel has put the highest priority on shrinking the Atom's energy footprint, going from 8.5 W in the original Diamondville + 945GSE chipset combination to 5.6 W with Cedar Trail and the NM10 chipset (both worst-case scenarios), while making only small performance increases. Now, Intel is finally trying to clear the stigma of poor performance from its Atom line with performance-focused upgrades.
 The new Atoms, scheduled for release sometime in 2014, feature an architecture redesigned from the ground up. First, Intel is moving to a 22 nm process technology, which means the processor's transistors are smaller and packed together more densely. Secondly, the Bay Trail Atoms will be SoC's (system-on-a-chip). This means that the chipset, graphics, and CPU are all on the same die, which reduces power consumption and makes for a more efficient manufacturing process. The CPU itself will be a out-of-order quad-core solution, with burst speeds of up to 2.7 GHz. For an Atom, that's super fast, although I suspect the mobile parts (the ones netbook enthusiasts care about) won't be boosted that high. Current Atoms use in-order execution, which means the CPU runs all commands in the order they are presented, which reduces performance. Out-of-order execution allows Bay Trail to select the most efficient order to process data. The Bay Trail platform will support up to 8 GB of memory, the same as AMD's Brazos line. Memory speeds for Bay Trail-M remain at a maximum of 1066 MHz, just like Cedar Trail. It's unclear whether dual-channel memory will be supported. 

Perhaps the most exciting upgrade is to the graphics. Intel is leaving PowerVR graphics behind, and instead using their own HD Graphics processor. That means all of the graphics driver issues that haunt Cedar Trail are no more, and Intel netbooks will finally get the DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3.3 support they need. The clock rate for the new GPU has not been disclosed yet, but I suspect it won't matter, because Intel's HD Graphics on the market now are lightyears beyond any netbook GMA GPU. Also included is hardware-accelerated H.264, MPEG-2, and WMV encoding, as well as accelerated decoding/playback for more video formats than Cedar Trail supported.

Because the chipset will be fused with the processor, Bay Trail enjoys some small reductions in power consumption over previous generations of Atoms. Power consumption for Bay Trail-M is estimated to be between 4 and 6.5 W for low-end parts and 10 W for the high-end. Cedar Trail currently takes about 5 to 8 W.

AMD: Temash & Kabini Deliver Much Improved Performance
AMD APUs

AMD demoed its upcoming Temash and Kabini APU's at CES 2013. According to Trusted Reviews, both designs are SoC's, just like Intel's Bay Trail.  Temash is intended to be used in tablets and hybrid tablets/laptops. It will replace the current-gen Hondo chips. (In case you're wondering why I've never mentioned Hondo before, it's because Hondo is nearly identical to the Brazos C-series chips.) AMD expects    Temash to have double the graphical power of Hondo, as well as dual-core and quad-core configurations. 

Kabini is set to replace today's Brazos 2.0 as the platform of choice for power-hungry netbook users (power-hungry is a relative term). Like Temash, it will have 2-core and 4-core options. Power consumption is expected to drop by 17% compared to Brazos 2.0, while delivering 50% more performance. Both Temash and Kabini are moving to 28nm processes, essential for competing with the threats of Intel and ARM. Also, AMD's APU's are reaching the market this year, far before Intel.

In-depth data on AMD's future platforms is not available at the moment, but I expect a major battle from ARM, AMD, and Intel. This competition will drive up performance and drive down prices, and that's a big win for consumers. The question is, can netbooks be revived by newer hardware?

We'll just have to wait and see.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

AMD Makes Small Improvements to Brazos 2.0 Line

Before they unleash their Temash and Kabini platforms (more on that in a future post), AMD has released some small upgrades for their current-gen Brazos 2.0 platform. The new processors, the E1-1500 and E2-2000, are direct replacements to the existing E1-1200 and E2-1800, respectively.  Compared to the E1-1200, the E1-1500 gets a speed boost of 80 MHz (1.48 GHz vs 1.4), which is hardly noticeable. The GPU also gets a small push of 29 MHz (529 MHz vs 500). You might notice this difference, but it's not enough to get you playing any new games. On the high end, the E2-2000's CPU is 50 MHz faster than its predecessor (1.75 GHz vs 1.7 GHz); again, insignificant. The GPU gets clocked up to 700 MHz over the previous 680 MHz. Both new processors retain the RAM speeds of the procs they replace (DDR3/1066 for E1-1500, DDR3/1333 for E2-2000).

On the whole, these new platform bumps are nothing to be excited about. If all other factors are the same, however, there's no reason to buy a netbook/laptop with the older processors. If you need a computer soon (i.e. you can't wait for the next generation), now's a good time.