Steam Deck, Schmeme Deck!

Want a portable gaming system with a large screen and full Windows compatibility?  Don’t have several hundreds of dollars to spend on the Steam Deck or one of its knock-offs?

Get a used netbook!

That right there is the venerable HP Mini Note 2133.  I bought that back in 2008 when it came out.  It has a 9 inch screen, a Via C7-M processor, and a really, really nice keyboard.  I remember back when I bought this thing, the awesome keyboard and big screen were its selling features among more diminutive netbooks.

I used this thing – surprise surprise – for playing games on it.  My version was the one that originally came with a tiny 4GB SSD and SUSE Linux pre-installed.  There was also an alternate, and probably more popular version that came with a larger hard drive and Windows Vista Starter Edition (remember that nonsense?) pre-installed.

I soon found the 2008 version of SUSE Linux to be way too restrictive to do anything, so I went about installing Windows XP on it.  HP never officially supported that with drivers, but I found suitable drivers for every single aspect of this thing’s hardware, including the webcam.

And since I had installed Windows XP on my netbook, I could then fully load it up with games and emulators.  This is where I ran into the limitations of the hardware.

This computer is (and was) the slowest and weakest Windows XP machine I’ve ever owned.  Even my vintage 2004 Compaq laptop with a Pentium 4 runs circles around it.  But I was able to run plenty of older games and some emulators on it.  More about that coming up.

I used this thing on and off, and eventually packed it away when the original battery died.  With these particular netbooks, if the battery is completely dead, they won’t even turn on any more.  But with the desire to sit in a more comfortable chair while I do some gaming, I pulled this thing out again.  I bought a replacement battery which is twice as big as the original, and now it works like new again.

Here now is a run-down of the emulated game systems which I can run on this little thing, and the emulators which I use.

  • Apple II – AppleWin
  • Atari 2600 – Z26
  • Odyssey² – O2EM
  • Intellivision – Nostalgia
  • Commodore 64 – CCS64
  • Coleco Vision – MEKA
  • Atari 5200 – Altirra
  • NES – Nestopia
  • Sega SG-1000 – MEKA
  • Sega Master System – MEKA
  • TurboGrafx 16 – Magic Engine
  • Sega Genesis – Kega Fusion
  • TurboGrafx CD – Magic Engine
  • Game Boy – BGB
  • Neo Geo – NeoRageX
  • Sega Game Gear – MEKA
  • Super Nintendo – ZMZ (Snes9x with a ZSNES interface)
  • Sega CD – Kega Fusion
  • Sega 32X – Kega Fusion
  • PlayStation – ePSXe
  • Game Boy Color – BGB
  • Game Boy Advance – No$GBA

See my post here about emulation on Windows XP to see more details about these emulators, and where to get them.

This provides me with quite a quantity and variety of great 8-bit and 16-bit games to play.  Not every game runs smoothly, due to the weak processor inside that netbook, and not all of those emulators are known for being super accurate.  But I can still play through plenty of old games this way, and resting this little netbook on my legs while I recline in a chair is pretty comfortable too.  A wired USB controller makes things a little less portable, but there are supposedly wireless USB controllers that work with Windows XP, if that’s your thing.

So if you’re poor like me, and you want a comfortable portable gaming solution, and you can’t afford a newfangled handheld PC, then dig out your old netbook.  Buy one cheap from somewhere, because these things are essentially useless for anything else these days.  Chances are you’ll even have a better experience than I was able to get, because the Intel Atom processors seem to be about twice as powerful as the little Via chip inside my Mini Note.

As I said before, let’s get that “Re-use” part of the three Rs of recycling going, and put some old hardware to use again.