Read you like an open netbook

I am thinking about buying a Windows netbook. All those classics being reissued by Good Old Games for PC — and not for Mac — have broken me. Planescape Torment, Icewind Dale, and now the complete Baldur’s Gate II!? Why, it’s more than any one man can bear.

This would be the first time in 20 years of buying computers I will have purchased one built for Windows. It’s a frightening frontier.

I need advice, obviously. I’d really like to find a perfect delta of reliability, affordability, and ability — specifically, an inexpensive netbook capable of running GOG’s releases and some popular emulators up to and including ePSX. I don’t know if such a thing exists or is even possible! But it would be nice if that were the case. I turn to you, the erudite and ever-helpful readers of GameSpite, to give me guidance. Please note that I really would prefer a netbook, as I want this to occupy as little space as humanly possible. I do not have room to tote around a full-sized laptop behemoth (nor the money to afford one), and I do not have desk space for a desktop computer. Help!

(Incidentally, I am amused that the Mac’s built-in spellchecker does not recognize the word “netbook.” Sometimes Mr. Jobs is not very subtle in his disdain for things.)

53 thoughts on “Read you like an open netbook

  1. I’ve been using a Toshiba NB205 and have been playing Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment on it without any issues.

    I can say it runs pretty hot once it’s running for a while, and it was a little pricier than some of the other netbooks when I picked it up (~$350 if I remember correctly). I had a Toshiba laptop before this and no major issues with it, so that coupled with a battery life of about 8-10 hours was the clincher for me.

    Here’s Toshiba’s basic info page:

    • Also, FYI, I bought my netbook late last year/early this year and there are of course newer models out now.

  2. I’ve no experience with netbooks but the Asus Eee’s seem to garner decent reviews. I’d start there, and I wouldn’t buy one without actually having it in my hands first — if it’s a gaming machine you definitely want to see how the keyboard and trackpad feel (even assuming you’ll be using external ones most of the time).

    A quick Google search indicates mixed results from people running ePSXe on netbooks. There’s a thread at that looks promising; it’s for a 1.6GHz Atom with 1GB RAM and 256MB video RAM.

    So that’s probably not terribly helpful as it’s just me punching things up on Google and not actually ever trying one, but maybe it’ll point you in the right direction, and hopefully you’ll get some commenters who are more knowledgeable than I am.

    Oh, also consider checking benchmarks to see if you want to go with WinXP or 7 — my understanding is that 7 actually has very good netbook support and outperforms XP even on low-end hardware. (I can’t vouch for that personally, but I do have it running on an old P4 with 1GB RAM and can confirm that it’s perfectly zippy for simple desktop stuff, though I haven’t tried any gaming on it.)

  3. Take a trip down to a local computer store and check out what they have. More than likely there won’t be much that can run ePSXe too well. I bought a netbook recently, it was pretty hard to find one with a graphics chip that wasn’t complete garbage. I can run most 2D PSX games but most 3D stuff stutters quite a bit (Final Fantasy Tactics for example runs well, but when the camera tries to rotate on any map it slows down quite a bit).
    If you’re hellbent on picking one up, you need to look at graphics memory and ram more than anything, considering what you want to use it for.
    Good luck though, and let us know how it works out!

    • No. Rebooting every time I want to play a video game is unreasonably disruptive, since my MO is to have a few dozen text and InDesign files perpetually open. I reboot as rarely as possible (once a month, usually) because getting my system back to where it was before shutdown is a huge waste of time.

      Also, my 500 GB hard drive doesn’t have nearly enough room on it for a Windows partition.

      • Why not use Parallels or VMWare? None of these games are going to be too intensive anyway. That way you can fire up a virtual machine when you need one any stick to OSX for the rest of your computing life.

      • Virtualization runs like crap on my machine. Just getting Windows to run kills the machine; launching an app is almost impossible. That was the first option I looked into.

      • Well, the older virtualization programs are pretty dire, turning a 2.8ghz dual core iMac into effectively a 800mhz Athlon in the Win 98 era. Icewind Dale was a bit slow but playable with the older ones. (I have the 24″ 2007 Imac.)

        VMWare Fusion 2 was rough.

        Parallels 5 was MUCH better, and by all reports 6 is even closer, probably bringing the machine up to 2 ghz equivalency.

        I didn’t bother and now just went back to boot camp when my system decided to crash and require a total format and reinstall.

        In P 5 Dawn of War 2 was ungodly slow, but playable solo. Its smooth as buttah dual booting.

        Honestly I think your best bet would probably either be a cheap desktop PC from previous generations ( figure a 2.4 ghz single core with a fair videocard would be like 300 or less second hand these days..) or just get Parallels 6 and a USB 2.0 or Firewire external drive to give your HD some breathing room. I got a 1TB USB 2.0 one at Target last spring for around 90 bucks. 500 megs for files I dont want to lose, 500 for Time Machine. My internal HD isnt really full as I don’t pirate or have a massive song collection so 100 gigs for my XP partition, and like 250 gigs for OSX and stuff. (Also not full or even close.)

        I’m sure your more recent Mac notebook could handle it, and at a cheaper price than buying a netbook.

  4. I wouldn’t get a Dell. I assemble and disassemble Dell laptops for a living, and I don’t like what I see inside their netbooks.

    I know you like graphic design, but are there any other reasons why you buy Macs? I couldn’t live with their software “variety”.

  5. Atom processors are… not the best for running things as demanding as ePSX. Especially since a great number of them are paired with low-end Intel integrated graphics processors. After all, they’re built for web-surfing. If it has to be an Atom, it’s better to find something with Nvidia ION graphics.

    The EB1501 might be a viable option, if you have a monitor to connect it to.
    The price has come down a little since then.

    • What he said, besides the particular netbook, I wouldn’t know. For the Infitiny Engine, anything goes, though at a lower res.
      Seem to me that the windows api emulator for OSX (Cedega/Wine derivative) could be an option.
      Or join the Dark Side, at least there’s no dual boot.
      If only the Pandora were cheaper, I guess?

  6. Assuming you have a somewhat recent macbook, it seems odd that you’d be willing to spend several hundred dollars buying an inferior laptop/netbook.

    I know you don’t like restarting to use bootcamp (I don’t either), but have you tried running Windows in a VM? Performance under Fusion or Parallels would be more than adequate for running older PC games (ePSXe might be a stretch though).

  7. I actually just got through with scouting out netbooks, and I’ve run the gamut between wimpy machines all the way up to a beast of a netbook/sub-notebook.

    What I had been looking at was one of these bad boys:

    Dual-core Atom, with an ION2 switchable graphics chipset. Pretty spiffy stuff, but it’s going to set you back around $500. I suspect it will have no issues with either PSX or the Infinity Engine games. That being said, I’m pretty sure that most of the stock Atom N450s can also handle PSX, at least as long as the right plugins are used.

    The next selection is going to probably be overkill, but it’s what I ended up going with… an Alienware M11x R2. Yeah. Decided that I wanted to play some modern games, have at least some modicum of portability, and decent-ish battery life (around six hours). It’s a bit of a brick for a netbook / sub-laptop, though, at around 4.5 lbs. But I’ve been thoroughly pleased with it so far. I’m coming up just short of being able to pull PS2 / GC emulation well, which is pointless given that I have all the systems and games I’ve tried, but the geek in me demands I try them out!

    As you can guess, that’s going to set you back a good chunk of cash. I think the original model (SU7300 Core 2 Duo) starts at $799, and I went crazy and got the i7 Mobile version, which was… $1099. Ouch. But I haven’t bought a new computer in around nine years, so it’s high-time I did so. That’s what I tell myself, anyway…

    • I’m looking for sub-$400. For $1100 I may as well just buy a danged MacBook Air! I’ll keep the 1215N in mind, though — eventually the price has gotta come down, right?

      • Sub $400? Limiting your options quite a bit, dude. Though I guess it’ll do if you want a retro PC game machine.

      • Also, apparently there’s a 1215N on Amazon for $423 + free shipping. It’s getting close.

        One of the issues with the 1215N is that it doesn’t get quite the battery life of your typical netbook, it’s around five hours. If you’re looking for longevity above all else, you probably want something else, but you always pay the penalty somewhere. :P

      • Actually, the 1215 is bigger than what I’m looking for. I’m hoping to find something with a smaller screen and body — the 1015PED seems promising.

        Not that I can actually afford any of these options right now. Maybe in a year or three. Yay, poverty.

    • For old Infinity Engine games pretty much any netbook is going to be usable, the only real limitation is resolution. Since there are patches to adjust the resolution to whatever you want I’d say just go down the list until you find one at the res and price combination you want.

      Aside from that form factor and comfort are the main things things that you should be looking for. Unfortunately that makes it a hard call without putting in a few hours with the model you’re thinking of…

  8. Can’t you get just get these games for your Mac?

    Yes, I know, that wasn’t too helpful. I apologize.

    • Not really. BG 2 you can, but I don’t think Planescape or Icewind Dale has been ported to Mac and with a lot of other older games you’re running into a lot of issues with being able to run them reliably if at all.

      Plus, Mac ports are usually not the greatest to begin with.

    • Yes, but they use an ancient version of Mac OS. At least everything on GOG is guaranteed to run.

    • Icewind Dale runs under OS X, though it’s an older version of the OS, so I doubt it runs well. BGII I think also runs under OS X, but again, not well. The rest either never made it to Mac or were only released for OS 9, compatibility with which Apple broke when they migrated to Intel processors years ago. Sad trombone time again!

      • What about Cider? I’ve run the BG games on my 3-year old intel Macbook, and they ran well enough.

        Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of running PS1 games, but, well, that’s what my old PS3 and hacked (er, customized) PSP is for.

        But yeah, virtual WIndows is not an option. What a waste of space.

  9. Whatever you decide to get, please let us know how it goes! I’m also a long-time Mac user, though I infrequently borrow a friend’s Windows laptop to play choice games. If you find something that works out well for PC games at a reasonable price, I might consider getting one too.

  10. Most of GOG’s releases are repackaged copies of DOS games, using DOSbox. I’ve found they tend to work really well under WINE, on Linux.

    I know MacOS has the ability to install WINE, and it’s not ‘virtualization’. Have you tried that?

    Beyond that, most netbooks with the newer dual-core ATOM chips will be able to play GOG releases, but emulators like ePSXe will want something beefier. You’re better getting, say, a $500 HP notebook with a dual-core amd and radeon chipset at that point.

  11. I have an Asus Eee 1215N that I bought for pretty much the same reason. It’s a nice little machine, and it runs everything I need. Best of all, it has an HDMI out port, so I can play Megaman Legends at high resolution on my nice TV.

  12. I love how, whenever anyone says “I have decided to look into x platform but don’t know much about my options” someone ALWAYS says “have you tried Linux?”

    • because it’s free and does a lot of Neat Shit?

      Parish, if you’re looking at netbooks keep in mind that they have dog slow processors, low-quality screens and unusable keyboards. You’ll likely be upgrading the RAM out of the box.

      You could buy a Sony Vaio UPMC to achieve these goals, but at that point you’re spending Macbook Air money.

      • It was, in fact, a helpful comment. It didn’t say to try linux, it used linux as a segue to suggesting WINE. Not sure if mac’s WINE will actually work, but it’s worth a shot, since it’s free.

        Although I guess you’re looking for a gaming netbook to lug around and taking your mac everywhere isn’t going to cut it?

      • I tried to suggest a method of running Windows games/apps on the Mac you already have, and followed by giving a suggestion of what sort of hardware you might want to look for should you still want to get a PC of some sort.

        Next time I’ll leave helpful, budget-conscious comments to myself. They’re clearly not welcome.

    • I love how someone reads the word “Linux” and thinks it’s preceded by “Have you tried” in cases when it’s not.

      Seriously, I was providing an example saying the games Parish specifically mentioned worked well under WINE when I used it — under Linux.

      MacOS is a BSD Unix, similar to Linux, and I know it has the ability to also install WINE. I was asking if he tried WINE on MACOS. Not asking if he tried Linux.

      Next time try reading the words AROUND “Linux”.

  13. ePSXe’s requirements are actually fairly light – they say a 1 GHz Pentium 3 is recommended, which shouldn’t be that big a deal for most Atoms to match. With software rendering, you don’t even need a particularly good video chipset. The problem with ePSXe is that it’s very, very fiddly, even sometimes on quite capable systems, and finding the right combination of plugins and settings will likely take some considerable screwing around.

    pSX Emulator, as mentioned earlier, is a great alternative and even preferable to ePSXe if you don’t like the configuration runaround. It doesn’t have the graphical enhancements, but those just make PSX graphics look weird; what with the lack of z-buffer and the animations keyed for 240p. Unfortunately it’s not quite as compatible, or at least doesn’t have as many ways around the problems you will invariably run into while emulating the Playstation.

    Really, the only thing worse you could be getting into is Nintendo 64 emulation!

    • “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: Issues with the game hanging when trying to load something from CD/image, sometimes it recovers, sometimes it doesn’t; music failing to loop back properly, causing the game to continue without music; other problems.”

      I take my SOTN very seriously, sir. I suspect others here do too.

      • Neither ePSXe or pSX run SOTN satisfactorily. ePSXe has some weird problem with all the candles and pSX does what you just said. It’s unplayable to me, anyway, because I take it seriously, too. DEAD SERIOUSLY.

  14. You can get a Thinkpad for $360 (before tax) with free shipping. IBM hardware tends to be pretty well regarded and I should think that this would be plenty of hardware for playing games like Planescape and Baldur’s Gate.(This particular model comes in black and fire engine red.)

    Here’s the link to a review of the hardware:

    Here’s the link to the deal:

  15. Wish I had a recommendation for you, man. I was big on netbooks around the time they were released, and still think they’re a keen idea, but computer prices have dropped so much that you can often buy a legitimate laptop for just a hundred dollars more!

    I’ve still got a Celeron processor in mine if that tells you how far behind the curve I am. These days it’s all Atom processors and ION GPUs. I think there’s even a dual-core Atom now if you can believe it.

    • Dual core atoms aren’t hard to find now, no.

      the next thing, though, are CULV (Consumer ultra-low voltage) chips that aren’t as limited as atoms, but draw only a little more power.

  16. I’ve been using an Acer Aspire One for the past year and a half and it’s been pretty good to me. The six-hour battery option cost me $320 at newegg. I replaced the default 1GB RAM with 2GB, which was $27 on sale.

    It has enough horsepower to run my main apps: Textpad, Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP, foobar2000, Audacity, and VLC. I don’t usual push it by running a bunch of stuff at once, but it can definitely handle Firefox, foobar, and GIMP at the same time. I suggest AVG for a free and low-overhead antivirus option.

  17. It may seem obvious, but you may want to just hit the GOG forums general discussion and do a search for “netbook.” There are quite a few entries there.

    Also, considering that your name is pretty well-known in classic gaming circles, why not just send the staff at GOG an email asking them if they have any tips on picking a netbook that performs well.

  18. Whatever you end up getting, make sure it doesn’t come with Windows 7 Starter Edition, which prevents you from doing such esoteric poweruser stuff like CHANGING YOUR DESKTOP IMAGE.

  19. You’ve all gotten me curious about this. I keep threatening myself with trying to get a rig back together to run my old stuff, but a netbook would sure be convenient. My big fear is that any LCD a net book would have would render things so horribly that I’d never want to play.

    Playing some old DOSBOX games sure sounds like fun and would be fun after the thrill of getting back through Baldur’s Gate:) or finally trying Planescape.

    Good Luck on finding the perfect netbook Jeremy..I hope it exists..and keep us posted.

  20. Processor and video card are not going to be the issue with these games; they are pretty dang old in computer years, and anything you buy today will blow their recommended requirements out of the water. Anything you want to run pre-2000 will be fine. Possibly even things 00-02 or 03. Beyond that you might start running into issues related to the video card.

    OS is the bigger issue for compatibility reasons. I’d check on the GOG forums and see if people are complaining about win7 issues; if they are, stick with XP.

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