Gaming on Air

Posted: February 7, 2008 in laptop gaming, Macbook Air, X3100

After reading all the hoopla about tradeoffs and lowered specs and the MBA being the “slowest Mac available” I’d pretty much resolved to only running a couple of casual games and leave it at that. After the first week of playing around, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised time and again at how well it’s held up. Here’s the tally to date:

Mac native games:

Flip Words – one of the first things I installed (at the time I was still thinking casual games only). Very fun, obviously no issues here.

Diablo 2/LoD – one of my all time favorites. Sadly it runs only in Software mode right now, I think I read there is an issue with Leopard. Bad news is it still requires CD present. Running on I seemed to experience horrendous lag bursts, not sure what that was about. Runs but thus far a disappointment.

Minions of Mirth – free MMO type game. Installed and ran OK, performance seemed a bit choppy relative to the look of the graphics.

Heroes of Might and Magic V – I thought I’d give this a chance after reading in a couple of places it ran on Macbooks with the older graphics chip. I purchased the online version so I wouldn’t have to deal with CD. Everything seemed OK (opening cutscenes looked great) until the game actually started. Graphics look exceedingly dark and washed out, even after I used the manual “fix” I found. Definitely playable but disappointing.

Shadowbane – installed this on a whim. SB is now completely free to play and is nearing completion of a complete server reset. Seemed to run OK but I didn’t spend enough time to see just what it could handle yet.

Armageddon Empires – been reading a lot of good things about this old-school style hex-board-strategy mixed with deck building game. Tough learning curve, but makes for a great curl up on the sofa “one more turn” game. I like that it was Mac native, no CD required, and plays well with the touch pad.

Windows XP games:
(note most recently updated 12/07 X3100 drivers for XP were used)

Space Rangers 2 – turn based, space RPG/strategy game. I haven’t played much yet but it’s had great reviews. Also a no-CD needed game.

Fantasy Wars – another turn based strategy game, this one with some nice 3D graphics and flair to augment it’s old-school Fantasy General gameplay. Looks decent even on low settings and plays well.

Hellgate London – this was the big “leap of faith.” HGL has been a bit of a terror to run on my PC systems. I’ve repeatedly had some issue or another, and it’s a known resource (particularly memory) hog. I had originally not intended to bother trying, but after success with a couple of these other games and reading some posts in other forums, I thought I’d give it a try. With everything set to low, I was able to get online and run the game halfway decently. In a station I was in the 30+ fps range. In one of the known worst zones (adds a bunch of excess NPCs on top of enemies, plus my character has a bunch of pets and pet effects), I was in the 12ish range, so just borderline playable. I was surprised that I could get it running at all.

Sins of a Solar Empire – just released this week, a 3D RT4X as they are calling it (RTS mixed with 4X sci-fi strategy layer). Runs beautifully thus far at max res and most settings at high.

– – –

So bottom line is the MBA is a very, very decent gaming machine. Many of the listed games have minimum requirements above its base specs in one category or another, but I believe the overall combo and design is solid enough to overcome various shortcomings (for instance, the fast 2GB of RAM and 800MHz bus speed certainly help). Just to get a game like HGL running at all is a nice achievement. The lack of a built in optical drive is a nuisance for protected games, but there’s certainly a nice mix of games out there which are no longer requiring it.Of course it is never going to be a desktop replacement or power gaming notebook, but neither is it a hapless “casual games only” machine. It does tend to get hot when running the intensive games so I’m using one of those external fan cooler bases for longer gaming sessions. For the less intensive ones, it’s great to have the option to have it sitting nearly weightless on your lap.

  1. rittchard says:

    Just a quick update.

    Diablo 2/LoD now runs correctly in OpenGL mode on the Air, and with the recent patch update, no CD is required. Rejoice!!!

  2. Robert says:

    Thanks for an interesting article!

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