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Below Minimum: Netbook Gaming?

Suffering from an acute case of Old Man Shoulder due to schlepping around the country with a fully size laptop in my bag, I’ve invested in a netbook. I hope and pray I’ve done this in timely enough fashion to save myself from tragic hunchbackery. This is important and fascinating news to you all, I’m sure, but the reason for this post is an interest in where low-spec gaming is these days. I know, I know, netbooks are rubbish for games and by buying one I’m condemning myself to a lifetime of soullessly replaying Monkey Island and muttering about those damned kids and their good-for-nothing pixel-shaders. Oh, wait, that’s poppycock.

It’s eminently possible to construct a PC capable of playing pretty much any modern game for around £300, but it’s a very different state of affairs for netbooks, saddled as they are with Intel’s poxy GMA 950 integrated graphics. It shares system memory and it lacks the shader grunt to cope with most modern retail games. That doesn’t make it irrelevant.

From my own experience, that ubiquitous GMA 950 chip can, of course, handle any 2D stuff you throw at it (so a lifetime of Kongregate titles awaits, for instance), but couldn’t cope with the recently-released-on-PC P.B. Winterbottom due to pretty shader effects. At a pinch, I can make it run World of Warcraft, but not in a way which would be pleasant for me or anyone I was playing with. GTA Vice City, meanwhile, ran as smooth as butter, and Trackmania with all the settings minimised was rather a delight. There is some gold in them thar integrated hills.

It’s easy to scoff at these cheap, chuntering machines, but the rise and rise of undemanding 2D stuff like Maple Story, Dofus and Farmville is, like it or not, fundamental to modern PC gaming. It would be foolish to dismiss netbooks purely because they can’t play TF2.

So, really, I wanted to poll you lot to see what kind of gaming success you’re having with low-end machines. PC gaming is moving fascinatingly away from being about maximum graphicsosity – but is trying to be a habitual gamer on integrated graphics truly possible? Share!

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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