Gaming Netbooks - 10.1'' Or Less
There are actually netbooks out there usable for casual gaming.
When I checked several years ago when I bought my first eeepc, there were no gaming netbooks on the market at all. I'm not talking about netbooks that a hard core gamer could use, I'm just talking about something that I could run casual games on once in awhile without causing everything to crash miserably. While gaming on a laptop is always going to be a substandard experience when compared to a desktop with similar- or hopefully greater, if your lucky- specs, there are netbooks available on the market now which actually have a hope of playing many modern games comfortably.
My first netbook was an Asus eeepc 701, the one that started the netbook craze several years ago. It came with an underclocked celeron processor, a 7'' screen, and intel integrated graphics that were hopeless for most anything beyond light internet use. (I even have trouble with flash and regular quality video playback on that thing under Linux, though I need to search out a new distro to try to see if I can improve performance). It did serve its purpose very well, allowing me to do homework on my 1.5 hour public transit trip to and from college every day and occasionally surf the net at lunch but I would have enjoyed having the option to play the occasional video game as well.
For the purposes of this list, I'm going to define netbooks as laptop style computers with screens 10.1'' and smaller that cost less than $500. I'd throw in some larger, more expensive stuff, like the Alienware MX11, but I honestly think at that point the "netbook" classification is kind of meaningless. There are quite a few 12'' netbooks being sold right now, but the prices are usually over $500 and features look about identical to 12'' laptops in the same price range, making the distinction meaningless, at least in my opinion.
10'' Gamer Netbooks For Under $500
Eee PC 1015PN
The Eee PC was the first, and has always been a personal favorite. That keyboard is pretty small, though.
The Eee PC 1015-PN - A Gamer's Netbook For Cheap
If I could afford to drop $400 for a netbook right now, the Asus Eee PC 1015PN is what I'd buy. You can find it in black, red, blue, and white (I'm partial to the blue one myself) with the highlights on the blue and red ones both done in black. This netbook comes with a dual core atom processor, Nvidia ION dedicated graphics, and 1 gig of RAM (standard for netbooks, though a bit small if you ask me). It isn't the most awesome gaming setup imaginable, but it is about as good as anyone can find in such a tiny package. The price is also about $100 less than most similar options.
Customers who bought the 1015-PM say it gets pretty hot, which may be a concern for some users. I'm not sure there is any way to avoid that in something as small as a netbook, though it is something to consider if you plan on trying to use it in your lap. Some people also thought HD was unnecessary with the laptop's small screen, which makes sense. You can use an HDMI port to output to a monitor or TV, though.
I'm dubious about Windows 7 starter edition, though I think it should work fine for playing games. Personally I've always been a Linux user primarily (I dual boot for serious gaming, though the casual stuff I play works fine in Linux), so I'm not sure what to make of the different Windows versions. The starter version is missing the aero eyecandy and a lot of extra bloat, which may actually improve performance. It stinks that it doesn't let people install language packs or do many advanced networking tasks, though, which could be a turn off for many users. I'd also recommend going up to 2 GB of ram to use the Asus as a gaming netbook, though 1 is probably fine for other stuff since you don't have aero running in the background.
The Acer Aspire AO521 - A Solid Netbook At A Good Price
The Acer Aspire A0521 comes with an AMD Althon Neo 2 processor, an ATI Radeon HD 4225 video card that delivers good performance for the price, 1 GB of RAM, and a better camera than the one in the Eeepc. It's a little more expensive than the Asus machine, but looks like it will deliver better performance to justify the cost. Amazon lists a list price for this laptop as around $350, but I think this price is a mistake since I haven't found it listed for that little anywhere else, including the Amazon site itself. So far as I can tell, some of the lower end models of Acer's netbook line cost around $350, so I think that may be the starting cost for the line instead of the specific machine.
Customers who purchased the A0521 were really happy with the netbook's ability to play games and run videos, saying it performed much better than other netbooks in its price range. Every review I read universally hated the huge amount of bloatware that came with the default installation, so expect to either spend some time deleting a lot of extra junk or installing your own operating system. The Windows Starter issues I had with the Eeepc apply to the Acer as well, so keep that under consideration when you consider the price. An upgrade to a version of Windows with more features will cost at least $50, though I think you can do it in a simple fashion through Microsoft's website. (An upgrade to Linux is free, but it won't be as much use for gaming...).
10'' Gaming Netbooks Under $500 Are Still Hard To Find If You Want Power
While there are quite a few gamer netbooks on the market right now, finding something cheap enough and small enough to justify buying a netbook instead of a traditional laptop is still pretty hard. I'm going to keep an eye on the market and see if anything esle comes up at a size and price small enough to catch my interest. I saw quite a few netbooks reasonable for gaming in the 11-12 inch range, though at that size it seems like you might as well just look for a small laptop and get the extra features associated with one. Most of the really good gaming laptops sold as netbooks right now are the size of what used to be considered a normal small laptop and priced much higher than the defining prices of netbooks.
Some Gaming Netbook Resources
- Alienware M11x
The Alienware M11x is a gaming "netbook" that is probably the highest end small laptop you can find. If you want the best machine (a lot of) money can buy and you still want a smallish laptop for some reason, I doubt you'll find better than this.
- Wikipedia Netbook Page
Wikipedia knows a little bit about everything, including Netbooks. A good starting point if you've never heard of a netbook before and somehow ended up reading this.