This seems the best place to post this. Last month I decided that I wanted a netbook for my PC tech work that I do, but I also wanted something I could do some gaming on the road with. So, made the hunt a bit of a challenge.
My other laptop, is a 15" HP Pavilion that games well, but is a beast in size and weight, and I don't really like lugging it around that much.
So, I hunted around and did research and found that for the most part, this is the specs for your basic ~$300 netbook sold by companies such as Dell, ASUS, MSI, and such:
Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz Single Core CPU
1024 x 600 max res.
1 GB DDR Memory
Intel GMA 3150 shared memory graphics
Windows 7 Starter
These are great specs if you are only going to browse youtube, facebook, and use MS office. Not so great specs for any gaming outside of flash based, nor will this give you good HD video experiences.
So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the ACER Aspire One 721. It looks just like any other netbook. Small, lightweight, good battery life. However, it has far better specs. Here's what is has over the others:
1.8 GHz AMD Athlon II Neo single-core processor K145 (This has 2x the L2 cache as the Intel chip, and is actually based on the Athlon desktop line, not a gutted, over glorified cell phone chip like the Intel Atom. The Neo will stomp faster clocked Atoms in almost every singe CPU benchmark and test.)
ATI Radeon HD 4225 graphics card with 384 MB dedicated RAM. (Huge improvement over any Intel graphics chip. The intel chips can display 2D graphics just fine such as desktops and webpages, but if you throw OpenGL or DX3D at them, they scream for mercy. They are to PC games, what American Express cards are to businesses = Nobady accepts them.)
1366 x 768 resolution. (Not a huge increase over 1024 x 600, but it is large enough to give you true 720p movie playback.)
2 GB of installed DDR3 RAM (Double the RAM = 1/2 the headaches and slowdown of having to page file on a 5200RPM hard drive.)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium x64. (A real full OS!!! Windows 7 Starter is like a timed demo version a Windows 7 that never runs out. It gives you only the most basic features, and no ability for user customization.)
The rest of the features are the same as most other Netbooks in it's price range:
250 GB SATA hard drive (5400 RPM)
11.6-inch LED-backlit screen
1.3-megapixel Crystal Eye webcam
Wireless-N Wi-Fi networking
Gigabit Ethernet Port
Three USB 2.0 ports
Multi-in-1 memory card reader
Kensington lock slot
One-year parts and labor limited warranty
So, what was the first thing I did when I got it home, and out of the box?
That's right, I installed Neverwinter Nights on it! Works awesome. Kick every setting to full, and it plays awesomely. Though, this really isn't a shock. NWN is almost 10 years old.
2nd thing I did?
I installed Linux under a dual boot. Why? Because Linux is a godsend when it comes to tech work with other computers. Especially for file recovery from crashed system drives.
I played around with a couple of different installs of Linux, before settling on the one I liked.
Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition. - Worked fine, but hated the interface.
Ubuntu 10.10 x32 Full edition - Worked perfect out of the box, and did not have to download a single driver to get everything working. (Well except for the multi-touch touchpad. The touch-pad worked fine as a regular single touch pad, just the multi-touch didn't work, which I didn't really care as I tried the feature once after I read about it in the manual, and have never used it again.)
Linux Mint 10 - This is the one I settled on. Why? It's has a cleaner interface, and "feels" more Windows like, but is still based off the same Debian build of Linux that Ubuntu is. It also comes with OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird, XChat, Pidgin, Transmission and GIMP pre-installed.
So, after the Linux debacle, I installed Minecraft on the Linux install. Works fine. I get about 30FPS on medium settings.
Then, back to Windows. I install VLC media player, as it has always seemed to work better than Windows Media Player for Videos, and can handle codecs that WMP cannot by default. (Such as MKV files) HD rips plays perfectly on the system. Though the onboard speakers are tinny as hell, playing music sounds like a cellphone ringtone. I highly suggest headphones or external speakers when view movies or listening to MP3s.
Alright, now back to gaming. I knew for the most part, that unless I was installing PopCap games like Peggle, that my range should be around 4-5 years or older for best playability. So here's the games I have installed and tried: (Note: Since netbooks do not have disc drives, I had to install them buy sharing my desktop's DVD-ROM over the network, and then installing No-CD cracks on most of them.)
Battlefield 2 Complete Collection - At default settings the game runs at around 20 - 40FPS. Not very playable. It also seemed to lag more when playing online. After tweaking setting and such, I was never happy with the results and uninstalled it.
Battlefield Vietnam: Works perfect. I figured since BF2 almost worked, that's it older brother should work perfect, and I was right. Max settings 60+FPS, even online.
Dungeon Siege 2: Works good. Default settings other the raising the resolution to native. (Which requires an ini hack) Seems like it lags a bit from time to time, (I would say 20 - 60FPS) but is completely playable at all times.
Sid Meyer's Railroads!: Works perfect. Max Settings.
Fallout & Fallout 2: Work perfect.
Torchlight: Works great, and don't even have to use the "netbook" setting!
Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield: Works perfect, max settings. (60FPS+)
So how about emulation?
MAME works perfectly, and I even get playable framerates on games like Soul Blade, Street Fighter EX, and Rival Schools.
SNES, GEN, etc. All the usual suspects works perfectly. This thing is great for emulators. Though, I haven't tried N64 or PSX yet, but I suspect they should both be perfectly playable.
So, that's my review. I though I would share my findings with you all, in case somebody else was on the market for a new "ultra" portable PC.
And, no, I did not want a Tablet for hordes of reasons. Not too mention a half way decent one would by 2x the cost of this netbook.
If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask!