Netbook gaming arrives: HP's Mini 311 with Nvidia Ion graphics

With Nivida's Ion GPU, coming to several Netbooks, but seen first in the HP Mini 311, we're one step closer to a low-power, low-cost system that really can be a laptop replacement for many.

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As longtime Netbook fans, we've been well aware of the platform's limitations, from choppy video playback to a total lack of gaming ability. These sticking points have kept many people from making the Netbook jump, or forced them to also keep a full-size laptop for these tasks.

With Nivida's Ion GPU coming to several Netbooks, but seen first in the HP Mini 311, we're one step closer to a low-power, low-cost system that really can be a laptop replacement for many. In our recent review, we said:

We've seen hi-def Netbooks from Sony and others, usually with prices closer to $599, so we're excited to see HP's new Mini 311 packing in an 11.6-inch, 1,366x768 screen, as well as Nvidia's Ion graphics chip, all starting at $399.

The real payoff is in the Nvidia Ion, which, while not a true discrete GPU, offers enough power to play HD video files smoothly (a sticking point for Netbooks), as well as do some basic gaming.

We got Unreal Tournament running fairly smoothly at 800x600, and Call of Duty 4 was also playable at the same resolution (and not terrible at higher resolutions, either) -- although we did run into some stuttering on that game during more frenetic sequences (see the video above), no matter how far down we dialed down the settings .

While a new, and possibly more expensive, version of the Ion GPU is reportedly on the way, one likely workaround to squeeze more performance out of the HP Mini 311 is to add a second GB of RAM -- something that won't be possible until the Windows 7 version ships sometime after Win 7's October 22 launch. We pointed out the folly of being an early adopter in this case when we said:

As much as the Mini 311 may be our new go-to Netbook, we'd be hard-pressed to suggest buying one of these right now, when Windows 7 comes out at the end of October. With Netbooks exempt from Microsoft's free upgrade offer , it makes more sense to wait a few weeks and get the new OS out of the box (which should also make it possible to get past the artificial 1GB of RAM limit on XP-powered Netbooks).

Also, note that taking advantage of the Ion for flash-based Web video, such as Hulu, will require you to wait for the next Flash platform update, which Nvidia tells us is due by the end of November.

Read the full review of the HP Mini 311.

About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.

 

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