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Top gaming netbooks and mini laptops – the best picks

By Mark , updated on April 8, 2021

Netbooks and mini laptops are widely considered to be entry-level productivity machines, to use at school or at the office for the occasional pie chart.

Well, that was the case anyway a couple of years back, in the days of the first netbooks, which were barely able to deal with word editors. However, graphics platforms like ION or Fusion made gaming less of a fantasy on netbooks.

Also, gamers’ habits have changed, as PSP and other mobile gaming gadgets caught on and many gamers want to have a strong rig to carry around for social-gaming events.

Still, this is yet a niche to develop, as the hardware can’t offer the same performance as a console or gaming desktop PC, but progress is constantly being made.

Later Update: Our follow-up coverage on modern gaming netbooks and highly compact laptops is available over here, and you should definitely check out that article if you’re after that kind of a device.

We have for you a selection of the best gaming netbooks and mini laptops, which you should expect to cost more than entry-level or mainstream machines, but clearly offer something in return.

10-inch gaming netbooks

For such a small machine, it’s a wonder that games actually play on it at all. Most 10 inchers able of some gaming are packing a AMD Fusion chip, namely the dual core C-50, which comes with on board Radeon HD 6250 graphics. Also, these machines are also relatively affordable, considering that the entire Fusion line was thought as an Atom competitor, both in terms of performance and price.

The Asus EEE PC 1015B can be equipped with a C-50 processor and on board Radeon HD 6250 graphics, which is a minimal setup for playing games. After adding an extra 1 GB to the sparse 1 GB you get out of the box, you’ll be able to play titles like World of Warcraft, first Half Life installments or COD 3 on decent settings, while newer titles will run, but on low frame rates. The C-50 equipped 1015B will probably be available around September in the US for a maximum of 350 bucks. You can find it in Europe though and here you can see our thorough review for this unit.

The Toshiba NB550D packs virtually the same hardware as the 1015B and can deliver kind of the same gaming experience. It can run Flash games at maximum detail and 3D games on medium settings, with the condition that these are not top notch games, but 3-5 years old titles or games especially designed for modest configurations- think MMORPGs. The NB550D, which goes now for around 279 pounds in the UK, comes with great Harman Kardon speakers and a spectacular 9.5 hours estimated battery life. We’ve also reviewed this model, and you can read more about the NB550D in this post.

Toshiba NB550D

Toshiba NB550D

The Acer Aspire One 522 packs the same hardware and offers overall a similar experience, but also adds a ND 1280 x 720 px display, something most 10 inchers lack. On the other hand, both the screen and the body are glossy, thus a fingerprints paradise, and battery life is only rated for around 6 hours,.  The netbook also has an excellent price tag,going for around 300 dollars online.

The Asus EEE PC 1015PN, for a change, runs on a Intel Atom dual core N550 chip and Nvidia ION graphics. The dedicated graphics sure help when it comes to gaming performance, as titles like Battlefield Heroes or World of Warcraft are able to run properly with medium details. There’s also a slightly updated version of the 1015PN which comes with a N570 dual core CPU.

Still, on both of these you won’t get Optimus unless you upgrade the devices to Windows 7 Home Premium.

Asus EEE PC 1015PN

Asus EEE PC 1015PN

11.6 inch gaming mini notebooks

Moving on the 11.6 inch category, we also find a couple of decent machines for gaming, most of them offering a better experience than the 10 inch models, but have higher price tags.

The Sony Vaio YB packs an AMD Zacate E-350 dual core processor clocked at 1.6 GHZ and Radeon HD 6310 graphics, as well as 4 GB of RAM and a HD 11.6 inch screen. For a pretty hefty price tag of around 500 bucks, you get a machine able to deal with titles like Left for dead 2 and Mass Effect 2 on medium or even low settings.

But these results open many doors when it comes to gaming, as there are numerous less demanding games than these titles which will run even smoother. So Portal 2, the first Bioshock installment or 2009-2010 football sims should work pretty decent.

Plus, everyday performances are quite good on such a machine, as you can see from our review of the Vaio YB series.

Sony Vaio Y series

Sony Vaio Y series

Lenovo’s ThinkPad x120e is not marketed as a gaming netbook, but considering it packs the same hardware as the Vaio Y, it definitely can handle some decent gaming, including Bejeweled 3, WOW: Cataclysm and more.

The X120e has the advantage of that great Thinkpad design, great keyboard and decent battery life of about 5 hours. The price is just slightly lower than what you’d have to pay for the Vaio Y,as the X120e goes right now for about 480 bucks.

There’s also the ThinkPad x121e with a screen you can lean back all the way to the back. Plus, both these Lenovo’s offer non-glare displays, while most of the other laptops in this list come with glossy ones.

The Lenovo IdeaPad S205 packs the exact same hardware, but comes with a completely different design. Like the X120e, it can play complex games like Far Cry 2 on low settings and resolution and older games at very decent frame rates and detail levels. Price wise, the S205, which is only available from the Lenovo website, has a discounted price of $499.

The HP dm1z is also built on the same platform, except it comes with only 3 GB of RAM out of the box. It has a more accomplished design, we’d say, than the others, as it has a patterned finish on the back and good looking chrome like strips around the keyboard and on the palm rest.

If low settings don’t bother you that much, you’ll be able to play Batman: Arkham Asylum, while WOW, DOTA and other online games, optimized to process textures fast, will work like a charm.

Finally, a worthy adversary. The Alienware M11x R3 is a 11.6 netbook especially built for gaming. The latest installment is far more aggressive when it comes to gaming as the second generation Sandy Bridge processors you can choose from and the dedicated Nvidia graphics card with 1 or 2 GB of memory make this mini laptop able to play titles like Crysis, COD 6 and Mass Effect 1 on high details or very close to that. D

ell offers many customizing options for this mini laptop, with the cheapest version going for around $900, while the top configuration, including a fast SSD, can cost as much as $2200.

Alienware M11x

Alienware M11x

12 inch gaming mini laptops

The Asus EEE PC 1215B has a very similar hardware platform to the Lenovo X120e and some of the other 11.6 inchers above, as it packs a dual core Zacate processor and on board HD 6310 graphics. The setup is good enough to run mainstream games on decent details and the default 1366 x 768 resolution, but for optimal results you should take the resolution down a notch.

The 1215B goes right now for around $430, which is actually less than some 11.6 inch machines packing the same hardware. True, you only get 2 GB out of the box and the design kind of disappoints, as Asus keeps postponing a series wide looks revamp.

And one more thing: it seems like the 1215B is in fact the only laptop in our list that offers an USB 3.0 slot.

Finally, the Asus 1215N opts for an Atom dual core D525, 1.8 GHZ processor and ION 2 graphics with 512 MB of dedicated RAM. It’s the best Atom based setup for gaming you can buy right now, with games like Starcraft 2 and Portal 2 running smooth even on decent detail levels. And although it’s one of the best gaming netbooks out there, the 1215N won’t leave you penniless, as the 12 incher goes for 450 bucks.

We reviewed both these laptops here on the site and you can read more about them in these posts dedicated to the Asus 1215N, or the Asus 1215B. Also, for those in a hurry, there’s also this comparison post that puts them head to head, so you’ll know what to pick if on the market for either of them.

Asus Eee PC 1215N

Asus Eee PC 1215N

Wrap up

Hard boiled gamers might consider unworthy even the thought of a gaming netbook. In the days of 16 GB of RAM per gaming rig and CrossFire video cards, playing Portal 2 on a 10 or 12 inch screen might seem comical.

But truth is that the machines we’ve had today on display are able to act as secondary entertainment devices when a console or strong desktop PC is not available.

Of course, if you’re a die hard gamer that can’t play a thing without maximum frame rates and detail level, only the Alienware entry will make your juices flow, but that mini laptop costs double than any of the others.

A gaming netbook is not just that; if it can play games, it means it can deal with multitasking a little better than entry level chaps, and can play HD content flawlessly. As long as you won’t expect PS3 degree performance from a 400 bucks netbook, you’ll be just fine and have an ultra portable gaming alternative for when you’re on the go.

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Mark is an Editor here at tlbhd.com . He's studying Screenwriting and Production in "sunny" London and in his spare time, he works as an IT editor for a couple of mobile publications, like this one.
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Anonymous

Lenovo also has the Thinkpad X121e, similar to the X120e but the screen lid moves back and behind the main body.  So the six cell battery doesn’t stick out the back and the back power and VGA ports are moved to the sides.  This also shifts the keyboard position a bit compared to the X120e.

A important feature you didn’t list though is the fact that the Lenovo Thinkpads offer Matte Screens, while many of the other AMD Fusion models are only offered with glossy screens.

While the Asus 1215B with E-350 seems to be the only one providing USB 3.0, which requires the AMD Hudson FCH M3 board for inclusion of the native controller.  Though is more common and easier to find than any Intel ATOM system with USB 3.0 at this time. 

USB 3.0 controllers are still too pricey for easy integration and Intel is behind AMD on pushing them out.  The Intel NM10 only has 2.0 Controller and needs a 3.0 Controller added in order to provide USB 3.0 port.

The AMD Fusion SATA Controller also supports SATA 3 (6Gbps), while Intel’s NM10 still only supports up to SATA II.  For those wishing to know what they can upgrade to if they install a SSD in the premium netbook range systems.

Hitesh KH

I use an MSI U270 with an 11.6-inch display and I think it is good enough to be in the list above…Hitesh KH.

Mike

Hitesh, you might be right. It’s also boosting Zacate E350 right? still, I haven’t got the chance to play with it and it’s not available all over the world, that’s why mark probably didn’t include it

Chris

Thank you very much!

Alyxena

The Asus x200MA is also a good choice for 279, 4gb RAM and 500 gb hard drive. touch screen display and 11.6 in screen.

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