Like all computers, netbooks have internal RAM (random access memory). Over the years, as RAM prices have declined steadily, however operating systems and programs have gotten more bloated (they have higher RAM requirements to support those glittery, new features), desktops and laptops are now have gigabytes of RAM. Even so, it’s a bit weird to see a low-end computer stuffed with 4 GB of RAM, because usually, it hardly uses more than 2GB. When you are considering about netbooks, you may be surprised that a few models only have 512 KB of RAM. You may ask, “Won’t the netbook run as slow as thick molasses in the end of December?”
Actually, no, both Linux and Windows XP can easily run on 512 Kb of RAM and still have satisfactory performance – if you don’t have many files or programs open at once or run a memory-intensive program, like editing a 50 MB image in Photoshop CS3. That said, 1 GB of memory will give you better performance and you don’t have to worry so much about curbing the multitasking. Netbook makers offer 512 KB of RAM in cheaper netbooks and 1 or 2 GB in standard models. Most netbooks can only support 2 GB of RAM. It is not caused by technology limitation, Microsoft’s licensing agreement stipulates that makers can’t sell netbooks that run Windows XP, with more than 2 GB of RAM.
Choose netbook with at least 1 GB of RAM, or if you are stuck with 512 KB, make sure it is possible to upgrade the memory some time in the future. Also make sure your RAM is the DDR2-800 type to get better performance.
Because Netbooks first introduced at the end of 2007, you’d think the little notebooks would be running the cutting-edge, greatest, latest OS. But guess what? The most favored Netbook operating system is the venerable Windows XP (especially Windows XP Home), which was first came out in October 2001. In the past few years, Microsoft has tried its best to supplant the dated operating system, but has not had much success. Even though the company has ceased mainstream support for Windows XP, it will continue providing free security updates until 2014. Microsoft’s marketing problem is obvious, XP just works. It’s easy to use, predictable, reliable, supports all kinds of hardware programs and devices, and is as convenient as an old sweater. Six months after the release of Windows Vista, sixty-three percent of PCs connected to the web are still running Windows XP – compare that to a meager twenty-four percent for Windows Vista, with the remainder split up evenly between Mac and Linux. Windows 7 has a better chance to replace XP or even Vista, in the next few years. Aside from overall consumer popularity, Windows XP is well suited for underpowered Netbooks. Even a 1st generation Netbook with just 512 Kb of RAM and a 900 MHz CPU can run Windows XP and many Windows applications reasonably well. Netbooks with more RAM and a faster CPU are even better. Surely, aside from a dinkier screen, you should expect Windows XP to run on a Netbook just like it does on a normal desktop or laptop – and that means almost all the Windows programs work with acceptable stability.
At first, the fame of Linux in Netbooks took many by surprise – certainly, including Microsoft. When mini-laptops were first introduced, they exclusively ran lite flavors of Linux OS. Manufacturers provided instructions for putting in Windows XP if the user happened to own a spare copy, but a buyer could not purchase an off-the-shelf mini-laptop with the Microsoft OS installed.
Then all of a sudden, Windows XP Netbooks became available in many stores – for the equal price as Linux Netbooks. This was strange because Linux was free and did not need any manufacturer licensing fees, like Windows did. Some industry experts (and naturally, conspiracy theorists) thought Microsoft recognized a looming threat to its hegemony. The stories go that the Redmond executives started offering computer manufacturers some very attractive incentives and licensing deals if they sold Netbooks with Windows XP Home edition installed. And in just a few months, Windows XP Netbooks were outselling their Linux counterparts by a wide margin of 9 to 1. Some suggested Microsoft was only making about $15 from a Netbook that uses XP – just compare that to around $55 each time a notebook with Windows Vista is sold. Nobody knows what had happened, but even that’s true, it’s unlikely that Linux community will sue Microsoft.
First of all, your netbook is not a gaming rig. Yes, it’s a normal computer and runs a fully-functioning Windows OS, so theoretically it can run popular Windows games. However there are a few things going against netbooks when it comes to running games. These limitations mostly apply to 3D, graphics-intensive multiplayer online or commercial games. A netbook will easily handle light games like Solitaire, Tetris, and other well-known time wasters.
Screen resolution: A 10-inch (or less) display just doesn’t cut it with many games – either in terms of game requirements or usability; for instance, many games require at least 1024 x 768 resolution. Your only option is to hook up an external CRT/LCD monitor.
Processor: The Intel Atom processors aren’t what you would call a rocket ship, and you will experience significant lag on newer games compared when using desktops or laptops equipped with faster processors. The more your little processor has to work, the hotter your netbook gets.
Graphics card: This is the most obvious stumbling block when playing modern graphics-intensive games. Many best selling Windows games require a cutting-edge VGA card that performs complex 3D computations to give you realistic animation. Currently, most netbooks have integrated graphics chipsets, more suitable for basic home or business computers, not for heavy-duty gaming – even so, a few netbook models are starting to feature dedicated graphic cards, like GeForce 9300M.
RAM: The more RAM you have, the better, and although netbooks with 1 or 2 GB of RAM are still usable, more is always preferred – but we are stuck with Microsoft’s licensing stipulation that limits netbooks running Windows XP with maximum of 2 GB of RAM. That limitation will likely also apply with Windows 7.
Optical drive: If there is no external DVD drive for game installation, you need to get around the obstacle with a small amount of trickery. On a computer with a DVD drive, use a DVD backup program to make an ISO image of your entire game DVD. Transfer the ISO image to your netbook’s hard disk and then install Daemon Tools version 3.47 to emulate a DVD drive, and mount the ISO. Windows will think you have a physical optical drive and the game’s installation menu is run.
This might seem like bleak situation for netbook gaming. But, you really have to accept netbook’s feature limitations and you shouldn’t try to turn it into something that it’s not. Even so there are many exciting games that can run well on a netbook. For instance, if you have old games lying around the attic gathering dust like Red Alert 2, Starcraft, and Diablo 2, just give them a try. On typical netbooks (Atom processors and Intel GMA 950 graphic chipset), your oldie-but-goodie games will run just fine.