Gaming on the Asus EEE PC (tips & tricks)
Running games smoothly on your EEE PC netbook is no longer a challenge with this guide. Improve FPS and visual quality at the same time. It's a must-stash!
by Y. Mladenov a.k.a. ItKnol
I remember buying an EEE PC 1005HA for going to university lectures. It was fun seeing all my colleagues caring around a laptop and a bag full of notebooks (paper ones), since the battery of their laptop would be dead in less than 3 hours.
Back then the EEE PC was amazing in terms of battery life. I remember squeezing out the max of it reaching 9.5 hours of running time. Well, worth for its money.
Now, just like anyone who has made some frags back in the days (or not so long ago), it was a natural question to ask myself..
What games would run on my EEE netbook?
First there was Quake 3. Refused to run because of OpenGL error. In fact, OpenGL was missing on the system. Natural course of action - QuakeLive.
QuakeLive ran with an impressive performance of 1 frames per second (FPS).
Many other 3rd person action games refused to start, while others were just 1 FPS (if at all).
If you are currently going through this...
Or even better - don't want to be...
then read the tips below and save yourself hours of head-banging.
Important: Since this guide references parts of two other guides, reuqires changes to your OS which will require you to reboot, please make sure to bookmark this article, so that you don't loose it.
Determining the Grade of Your EEE PC Netbook
In case you have a netbook with nVidia Quadro graphics, then you don't need this guide at all.
This guide is for low-end EEE PC's. And an easy test for that is how smooth a 720p video runs. If you get visual or audio skipping, then this guide is for you.
If not - well, go get a gamepad, get in your favorite easy-chair and see how lazy you can get.
For testing see this trailer (make sure to switch 720p). A game which used to be the best of all times in its genre.
Now that you know how bad your Netbook is, in terms of performance, let's get down to business.
1. Choosing the Right Windows 7 Version
My EEE PC came pre-installed with Windows 7 Starter Edition.
Also known as "Windows 7 Netbook Edition" this version of Windows works as good as installing Windows XP on any modern netbook.
note: If you would like to, educate yourself on how Win7 and XP work on your netbook.
Starter Edition is good only for browsing and typing text. Seriously, you cannot even change your wallpaper.
Realize it or not, whenever you have tried to make any modern game on your old netbook or pc most likely you have:
- modified services on your system,
- installed pre-modified video drivers, or
- installed software that requires excessive access to your video hardware.
Those, dear reader, are things that are just not possible while running Windows 7 Starter Edition.
Quick Comparison of Windows 7 Versions
- Windows 7 Starter (distributed with your EEE PC)
- doesn't provide basic features such Theme Customizations
- lacks a lot of administrative options
- provides crappy support for video performance (don't know why and don't care)
- Windows 7 Home, Home Premium
- has some nice multimedia apps (read 'Windows Media Center'), but still lacks support for system customization and tunning
- haven't tested video performance here
- Windows 7 Professional
- provides good support over video performance (solves the 1FPS issue)
- has the apps required for hacking and tuning (loves techies!)
- allows you to fully manage application permissions
- Windows 7 Ultimate / Corporate
- comes fully packaged will all kinds of apps for administrative access, services management, network management, etc.
- in fact, it is so fully-packed that you won't likely use even 10% of those features unless you are running 80 computers network at your home
- provides features mentioned in Professional and Home edition
Since Ultimate edition will just eat up your disk space, and we need to save it for the gazillion games we are going to install, I recommend you to go with Windows 7 Professional.
As I already mentioned, it solved my 1FPS issue, and comes prepackaged with OpenGL support as well.
Now that we have chosen a Windows 7 distribution let's get it running.
Installing Windows 7
Naturally, you will need to install your Win7 from a USB stick, since the EEE PC doesn't support any optical drives.
If you are uncertain how to do that, please check my article on running Windows 7 with AHCI support. By the way, AHCI is a great feature and if you have it, you should definitely run it.
On the article page, see section "1. Create Windows 7 Bootable USB Drive" for step-by-step instructions on creating your USB stick installation.
Setting up Windows 7 after Installation
Now that you have Win7 up and running make sure to set it up in order to get the best out of it. It will also help you reduce lag spikes during gaming later on.
2. Asus EEE PC Video Drivers and DirectX
Now that you have set up your Windows to the best of it, it is time to lay down the ground work of tuning your netbook for gaming.
If you have read other guides on the net, then you have most likely noticed that all of them recommend you to update to the latest versions of your DirectX and/or video drivers.
That is absolutely correct, since a lot of driver releases include support and performance fixes for older games. Which is most likely to be your case as well.
Furthermore, I recommend you to install the DirectX distro included along the installation of the games you will install later on.
The DirectX installer adds only files that are missing from your current installation, expanding your game support to a maximum.
No need to install DirectX 10 or 11.
Let's face it. If your EEE PC cannot handle 720p playback without breaking a sweat there is no chance for you to run smoothly a DX10+ compatible game.
Intel GMA Driver Settings
After you have updated drivers and DirectX, and rebooted, follow these steps:
- Right-click in the Intel GMA icon near your clock
- Select "Graphics properties..."
- Click on "Display Settings" button to the left
- "Power Settings" button to the right
- Move the slider to "Disable Power Savings"
Since you already have the slowest 3D hardware of modern times, you don't really need to power it down for energy saving.
Give It a Further Boost
Speaking of power savings, you should edit your Windows 7 power plan as well.
Most likely you are using "Balanced". If not, switch to balanced and follow these steps:
- Click on "Change Plan Settings" link next to balanced
- "Change Advanced Power Settings" at the bottom-left
- Extend "PCI Express"
- Extend "Link Power State Management"
- Set "Plugged in" to "Off"
Important: Gaming on your netbook will surely drain the battery in less than 2 hours. Whenever you plan on having a long gaming session (anything more than 45 minutes) remove your battery and plug in your power adapter.
About Unplugging the Battery
Windows is awful at charging your battery.
Quick explanation - 1 battery charge cycle is charging your battery from 0% to 100%. When you have your battery on your netbook and the charger plugged in as well, every time power drops to 99% Windows will recharge it to 100%, wasting 1 full charge cycle for recovering that 1%. So, in a few words, remove your battery because Windows will shorten its life in times. Speaking from personal experience here.
Back on Topic
As for the power settings of your video graphics adapter - while it might not give a significant boost to your FPS it will most certainly reduce video and audio spikes of lag.
3. The Real Kicker: Software for Boosting Your EEE PC Performance
Now that we have set power management to drive more power to the video graphics accelerator (video card), it's time to safely overclock and increase 3D features support.
Doing that will boost your FPS and allow you to emulate hardware support for old and new games alike.
And the great tools for that are:
- GMA Booster, and
- 3D Analyzer.
note: Download links provided by the end of each section.
GMA Booster is a super-simple-to-use application developed by Vladimir Plenskiy. A developer truly worth everyones' admiration.
This guy has developed a program that supports Intel GMA 950 (mobile GMA 945 family) and GMA 900 (mobile 915 family) video processors.
All you need to do is specify what boost to your video processor's frequency you would like to give, with a maximum of 2.4 times!
Proven to boost 1.8 times FPS on the pixel shader test of FutureMark's 3D Mark '06.
GMA Booster uses a donationware distribution model.
What does 'donationware' mean?
Basically, the program is free to use, as long as you renew its installation every week.
If you make a donation, however, you will be supplied with a personal cd-key, that will make your installation permanent.
And now for the more technical part...
Bought to you by another tech guru(s) - ToMMTi-Systems.de; 3D Analyze is a free-to-use application that emulates specific hardware features of the following video graphic cards:
- nVidia GeForce Ti 4600
- nVidia GeForceFX 5900 Ultra
- ATi Radeon 8500
- ATi Radeon 9800 Pro
As noted by CyberFreak in the comments below, 3D Analyze can sometimes cause compatibility issues with certain games or not work at all.
Using 3D Analyze on Your EEE PC
Basic steps for running a game, emulating features your GMA video does not have:
- Start 3D Analyze
- Click on the big "SELECT" button to specify .exe file of your game
- Fill in VendorID and DeviceID text fields (bottom left)
- use the list to the right for reference
- I would recommend going with the 5900 Ultra
- Click the big "RUN" button to see if the game starts (most likely will)
If the game doesn't start, google-up the video hardware requirements for that game.
If your game requires Hardware Transform and Lightning, then simply check "emulate HW TnL caps".
I know this might be too complicated at first, but it all comes down to testing.
And, after all, if you are going to tune your EEE PC for gaming, I doubt you were planning to go with out-of-the-box solutions.
Finally, click on the "Save Batch File!" button at the bottom of the 3D Analyze. While this application will save all settings associated with a given .exe file, it is handy to save out a batch (.bat) file so that next time you want to start that game, just start the batch file for it.
Note: Since 3D Analyze requires extensive access to your hardware, it is best to always run it with administrative access. To do that, simply right click on the executable and select 'Run as Administrator'.
If you don't want do to this every time then create a shortcut, right click -> properties and in the Compatibility tab select the checkbox 'Run as Administrator'.
Performance Trick That Will Make You Want to Brag about It!
Based on the fact that games running in window mode (windowed) run faster I will show you a great trick with 3D Analyze.
What we'll do is load up a game in forced window mode. Forcing window mode with 3D Analyze loads up the game as expected, but hides the title and borders of its container window.
By the way, it makes ANY game run windowed.
So if you load the game this way and set it to your screen's native resolution (1024x600 pixels in my case) it will look like it is running in full-screen mode, but will actually be windowed, giving you all the benefits from windowed mode.
Let's sum it up
This trick allows you to run a game in your native resolution (better visuals) with an improved frame rate all along!
- Open 3dAnalyze.exe
- Select the .exe file of the game you are going to run
- Check "Force window mode" in the first column to the right
- Fill in 'VendorId' and 'DeviceId' fields
- Click "RUN"
- Set the game to run in your native resolution
- Exit the game
- "RUN" the game again through 3dAnalyze.exe
- This time it loads up, looking like full-screen mode!
I hope this guide was useful to you!
If you encounter any difficulties - leave a comment at the bottom. I will gladly assist you!
While those tips won't turn your EEE PC into a gaming beast, they will definitely make it much more entertaining. And since bonus content always excites, us, gamers here are some bonus tips for you:
Bonus tip #1: I never realized running games in windowed mode improves FPS. Check out this great article reviewing the ups and downs of running games in windowed mode, by CyberFreak.
Bonus tip #2: Once you have tried your favorite games on your tuned EEE PC you might wonder what other gaming options you have left. Check this extensive List Of Good Games On Netbooks ("Formerly known as the L.O.G.G.O.N." - epic!).
Bonus tip #3: If you are looking for good old games ported with guaranteed Windows 7 support, running with proper graphics *and* sounds / music, then head on to GOG.com - you can get many of those for just under 10 dollars.
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