To anyone familiar with the hardware demands of today’s 3D computer games, a gaming netbook seems like an impossibility. Designed for portability and affordability at the expense of performance, netbook makers cram inexpensive, and sometimes dated processors, graphics cards and other components into their diminutive laptops and purposefully choose laptop hardware that is light on the power usage. All of these factors add up to a laptop that’s not going to perform well under high graphics processing demands. But there are a select few netbooks or subnotebooks that come close to being able to handle 3D gaming. Here’s a comparison of some of the best.
Dell Alienware M11x Notebook - $800
At about $800 MSRP, the Alienware M11x costs more than any netbook you’ll find on the market. But that extra coin goes towards some serious hardware advantages. Packing a Core 2 Duo processor and an Nvidia 335M graphics card with Optimus power-saving technology, this little notebook has a lot of muscle. For about $150 extra, you can even boost it to a Core i3 processor. Both the stock CPU and the upgraded CPU are practically unheard of among netbooks, which tend towards the Intel Atom processor, which, while scrappy for its size and power demands, doesn’t hold a candle to most dual cores.
Compared to a full-size notebook, the Dell Alienware M11x isn’t quite as fast—but none of the netbooks you’ll find this list will be. In spite of that, it still has an impressive battery life of about 6 hours, though that’ll certainly vary depending on your usage.
Acer Aspire One AOD255-2509 10.1-Inch Netbook - $300
The Acer Aspire One is your typical netbook, but it distinguishes itself as a viable gaming computer with its 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150 video processor with support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0. The most limiting factor will be the Acer Aspire One’s native resolution of 1024 x 600, which may seriously inhibit your ability to play some of the latest games. But slightly older and less demanding games can be played on the Acer Aspire One with ease.
Asus EEE PC Seashell 1215N-PU17-BK 12.1-inch Netbook - $484
You can’t have a list of top netbooks without mention an EEE PC from Asus. The godfather of netbooks offers this 12.1-inch netbook that pushes the limits of what can feasibly called a netbook. With its 12.1-inch WXGA 1366x768 LED screen, 2 GB of RAM (upgradeable to 4 GB), Intel Dual Core Atom D525 (1.8Ghz) and Nvidia Ion 2 graphics with 512 MB dedicated video memory, this is undoubtedly a next generation netbook. It even runs Windows 7 and features an HDMI out port. Perhaps the only thing that truly distinguishes it from a notebook is its lack of an optical drive and weighs just 3.2 pounds.
Of course, you’ll pay a premium for all of this—but if you want performance from a netbook, this is one of the most affordable routes you can go.