Gaming isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think about netbooks, and it's true that they weren't built for that purpose. The hardware typically consists of a more or less lethargic Atom N270 CPU coupled with an integrated Intel GMA950--a "Graphics Media Accelerator" that wasn't good for gaming even a few years ago. On the other hand, notebooks of this type are small, versatile and closer relatives of handheld devices than of mainstream laptops. It's the perfect device to carry around, and moreover it is easy to find some very cheap mini laptops nowadays thanks to the heavy competition.
But it is possible to play great, high-quality games on a netbook. You just have to backtrack a little to find games that don't require a massive amount of graphics and CPU power to play, and you don't even have to go that far back. Remember five years ago when a mainstream laptop cost at least $1,000 and came with a Pentium M processor, 512MBs of RAM and a 30GB hard drive? Compared to those laptops, your netbook suddenly looks like a high performance gaming rig.
So I've rounded up a number of older, but still excellent games that stands the test of time and beats any browser-based time waster by leaps and bounds. I have tried most of them and they run fine (or are at the very least playable) on my MSI Wind U100. The MSI Wind has all the standard netbook entrails including the usual Atom/GMA combination. In other words, these games should be playable on most netbooks (no guarantees though).
GTA: Vice City
The Grand Theft Auto series has hardly escaped anyone's attention--it is well known for both its upstanding moral standard and original gameplay. Surprisingly, Vice City (the 80s one) runs silky smooth on netbook hardware. Even better than GTA 3.
If you can get past the linguistic slip-up in the name, Deus Ex is an excellent game from the year 2000 that will run fluidly on your netbook. It's a combination of first-person shooter and RPG, set in a near future where nanotechnology can be used to augment human abilities. The game has a really immersive atmosphere, interesting plot, and looks great considering its age.
Both the first and second part of Diablo became instant classics and have been shamelessly imitated countless times. Both will run just fine on low-spec hardware, but Diablo 2 is clearly more modern and better-looking.
All the classic Quake games up to the third installment (including Arena) should run on netbooks. To get Quake 3 to run properly, however, you'll have to dive into the game directory and edit the ini file to allow for the non-standard 1024x600 widescreen resolution.
Freelancer is a "space trading and combat simulation" game, quite similar to Elite--the old space classic for the Amiga. Being a 2003 game, Freelancer is obviously a bit more advanced as far as graphics go, but it runs well enough on a netbook.
Command & Conquer
All of the C&C real-time strategy games up to and including "Tiberian Sun" work fine on the slowest old laptop you can dig up, so naturally it runs on a netbook. These games are starting to show some age, but are still great, trendsetting RTS games.
Baldur's Gate II
All of the RPGs using BioWare's Infinity game engine are playable, including BG 1&2 + expansions, Icewind Dale 1&2, and Planescape: Torment--all of which are fantastic RPGs. If you are planning to play them all, set aside a few hundred hours for "quality game time".
Thief: The Dark Project
Thief is the first 3D sneak-em-up--a truly original game with an adrenaline-packed gothic atmosphere. As you have probably guessed, it involves stealing stuff and preferably without getting caught, so there's a lot of skulking in the shadows (after all, it's about a Dark Project). If you didn't play it back in the day, there's no excuse not to pick it up now and play on your netbook.
Most point-and-click adventure games put little stress on your system, and Grim Fandango is one of the classics. It's made by LucasArts - the masters of the genre - and is set in the land of the dead. Like so many other games of its kind, Grim Fandango will keep you vexed for hours until you figure out all of its illogical puzzles. Some are really into this kind of masochistic stuff though.
Don't bother trying to get Fallout 3 to run on your netbook, but the predecessors are 2D and run just fine. Both of them are excellent games and contain much of the same elements as their sequel; a post-nuclear setting with lots of mutants, deathclaws and radscorpions. Also, Fallout 2 is most likely one of the best games ever, so play it now or play it again on your netbook.
Bonus Tip: Emulators
Most if not all emulators should also run flawlessly on any netbook and provide a treasure trove of old classics for your enjoyment. Play all those old NES and SNES games that you never got around to back in the day
Samuel Franklin on September 10, 2014:
I'd also add the original Diablo and RCT, great for netbooks.
CG on May 10, 2012:
hello for u guys interested in nebooj games.....don't forget about the playstation 1 emulator....PSx or ePSXe.....awesome for a netbook....cool games on PS!
adeelrao on May 07, 2012:
btw i have aspire one intel atom n455(1.66ghz , 512 cache)
1gb ddr3 ram and 250 gb storage but still medal of honor allied assault and any other medal of honor is not working it say " system does not support " plz help me what should i do o that i can play this on my system .. :(
adeel rao on May 07, 2012:
my medal of honor allied asualt isn't working on my acer aspire one what should i do :/
Khal Blogo from A gas station on the yellow brick road on April 18, 2012:
You should put "Sacrifice" on the list, works like a charm on a netbook.
MrSparkel on January 24, 2012:
the Sims complete collection runs beautifully on my netbook.
pino on January 12, 2012:
Gta San Andreas & Unreal Tournament 2004 on intel atom n450 at max quality. 34-45 fps
waltonian on November 08, 2011:
what would be good to run on a hp mini-210 n450 1.67ghz 1GB ram
Nader on July 02, 2011:
Awesome Collection :)
Sheianne on June 30, 2011:
merwoweof on January 14, 2011:
also world of warcraft, halo, guild wars(not the smoothest, but works) empire earth, starcraft
Jesper Berg (author) on December 05, 2010:
No worries 2ceasar5! But you're partly righ, the nf310 is classified as a netbook. Only much more powerful than average. Looks like a great model!
2caesar5 on November 30, 2010:
ok, now i'm relly sorry. i don't now in what i was thinking about when i wrote, SORRY, REALLY
the laptop i was talking about is nf310 - samsung, whick, i think, was a more powerfull processor
Sorry an thanks again,
2caesar5 on November 30, 2010:
example not exemple
2caesar5 on November 30, 2010:
this is kind of a strange question and I know it depends, but how "old" must a game be for us to able to play it in ours netbooks?
like for exemple: need for speed is 2005 game such as madagascar and many others, but can we, and i'm talking about all, not just this and that, play them in a laptop, like for exemple in samsung, that is a more recent netbook? Did "we" already got there?
Jesper Berg (author) on November 03, 2010:
Doughboy: Congratulations on your new laptop. If you are looking to play games on it, you may want to look here:
Doughboy on November 03, 2010:
Does anyone know where I can learn more about computers and soft/hardware? I don't know anything but just got a 1005H eee PC and would like to know everything I can about it.
afirdaus3228 on October 18, 2010:
Hi ! Thanks all for the tips. I got my self an HP Mini. Right now i'm `re' playing my Fallout Tactic Brotherhood of The Steel.
Anybody try Starcraft 2 on the netbook yet?
Jesper Berg (author) on August 11, 2010:
NM4991: Thanks for the great list!
eltranced: The laptop should be equipped to handle the high temps, otherwise it would be a manufacturing flaw. They can hardly say that playing Q3Live voids the warranty :)
eltranced on July 25, 2010:
i play CS1.6 and Q3 on early AA1 model, once in a while
but recently i've fallen in love with Q3Live and been playing nonstop and wondering how bad is it for netbook to constantly be playing a game ... i've stripped XP for performance and in game have the lowest setting to give the cpu n gpu less stress... but this things gets hot.... it just seems if you keep it at cooking temperatures(that's what if feels like) for 8 hours a day something will fry?
Jorson on July 23, 2010:
Zeus & Poseidon addon
NM4991 on July 17, 2010:
Here's a list of the games you can play on your Netbook,
Age of Empires I + Rise of Rome
Age of Empires II + The Conquerers
Battle for Wesnoth(Freeware)
Battlefield 1942 + Road to Rome + Secret Weapons of WWII
Black and White I + Expansion Pack
Europa Universalis II
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
Medieval: Total War
Need for Speed: Porshe Unleashed
Populous the Beginning + Expansion Pack
Quake II + Expansion
Quake III Arena
-Command and Conquer:
Red Alert I and II
Tiberian Sun + Firestorm
Soldier of Fortune I and II
Starcraft + Brood Wars
The Settlers I- IV
Warcraft I,II, III
Battle Chess 4000
Btw i have a Acer Aspire One with 250 Gb HDD, 1.66 Intel Atom and GMA 3150+ 1 Gig Ram
madeline Oscar on June 19, 2010:
I always thought which Games I could run in my laptop with a descent configuration. This Hub really helped me to identify some really Good Games.
Guy on June 03, 2010:
Don't forget GTA 3
Jesper Berg (author) on April 26, 2010:
Awesome, thanks for sharing!
kamen75 on April 26, 2010:
I'm a major Sid Meiers fan. My Acer Aspire one D250-1633 with Atom N280 1.66 processor, 1 gb ram, intel 950 graphics, 250 gb hdd, and win 7 starter runs...
Alpha Centauri - settings max
Civ 3 - settings max
Civ 4 - settings low but not all the way down
Pirates - settings medium
madeline Oscar on April 22, 2010:
This is a Great Hub. I will always worry before buying any game whether my graphic card will support or not. But this collection, I will definitely get it in my collection. I already have GTA: Vice city.
Jesper Berg (author) on April 18, 2010:
@DaTiminator: StarCraft - good one! Not sure about C&C. For 3D games in general, it might be worth trying out GMABooster:
DaTiminator on April 16, 2010:
Hey don't forget StarCraft!! Best game ever... would C&C 3 run on a msi wind??
ryansjones from Snohomish, WA on March 02, 2010:
I used to have a SNES emulator during my college career, though I got rid of it after moving back home since I have an Xbox 360 and have lots of games on that to beat. I did make a few youtube videos from one of the games I played through on SNES: contra 3. Liked vice city as well, though my progress through the game got cut short after GTA San Andreas came out.
Bubba on February 20, 2010:
Great info! I have a gateway LT2107H however (found at futureshop.ca) but I cant get Civ III running on it. I've tried all the compatability modes, etc... If someone had to tweak it to get it going, please share!
Jesper Berg (author) on February 16, 2010:
Anon: Thanks for the tip!
Anon on February 11, 2010:
Good article. I think that Dungeon Siege is a perfect RPG for most netbooks. Plays flawlessly on my MSI Wind
Jesper Berg (author) on February 03, 2010:
Thanks for the tips and the comments guys! Once you start digging, there are plenty of great games from a few years back that run perfectly on netbook harware.
Amaurn on January 27, 2010:
You might want to check out Snakeworlds (www.snakeworldsgame.com), an 'indie' casual snake game. In the game, you control a snake on fully 3d spheres. I have played it on both an Acer aspire one, and a Samsung nc10. Ran smoothly.
Jar3d on January 18, 2010:
I love Quake 3 and Counter-Strike 1.6 real good game for netbooks!
Thx for your review :)
Sam on January 01, 2010:
Don't forget about this 2 great rpg running great (for some reason with the plug in):
- Endless MORRORWIND and his 2 EXPANSIONS.
- Arx Fatalis
- Infinite Infinity
- Postal 2 and Half Life I and expansions.
- N64 Emulator, work greats on some roms.
Jesper Berg (author) on November 30, 2009:
Good point. Civ 3 is a classic that deserves mention.
mindblitz on November 29, 2009:
Civilization 3 Conquests just works flawlessly on my Samsung NC10. I think this deserves to be on any "top games" list.
Jesper Berg (author) on November 19, 2009:
Thanks, and thanks for stopping by! Yeah, netbooks aren't the best gaming platform perhaps but it's definitely possible. Plus the screen is larger than on my PSP :)
Jeffrey Neal from Tennessee on November 18, 2009:
This is great info. I have a netbook and have even done a couple of netbook hubs, but I hadn't thought about playing games for it. Great hub!