Netbooks make fine travel machines for surfing, typing and watching videos, but as most new owners eventually discover, things start to get a little slow when you push too far beyond the basics. After all, 1.6GHz and 1GB of RAM can only take you so far. But you needn’t resign yourself to typing in Notepad and playing Minesweeper whenever you leave the big guns at home in favor of a netbook. We’ve rounded up some of the best lightweight software from across every category that will turn your netbook into a an all-around gaming, multimedia and productivity machine without slowing it to a crawl in the process. And the best part is, almost all of them are free.
Check out our picks for the best netbooks so you can get in on these great software options.
Revisit the good old days of 1998 with Valve’s classic sci-fi FPS, which runs silky smooth on most netbooks and enjoys one of the most active followings for a game its age. A lengthy list of mods (including Counter Strike) will also help you stretch it past the original headcrab-bashing adventure.
Plants vs. Zombies, $20
PopCap’s latest tongue-in-cheek casual game will garner plenty of confused looks if you bust it out on a bus or subway, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Battle hordes of zombies using strategically arranged plants in one of the most ridiculously addicting games we’ve played this year.
Quake Live, Free
ID Software clearly had to squeeze Quake 3 down to its leanest form to get it to run from a browser window, and that happens to make it ideal for netbooks, too. Fire it up on the fly and frag wherever there’s Wi-Fi, just don’t forget a notebook mouse, or you’ll be owned in seconds online.
If you’re having a little trouble keeping up with fast-paced action games using tiny netbook controls, you might feel more at home with a turn-based game, like one of the best ever created: Civilization. This free remake plays exactly like the real thing and weighs a whopping 13MB.
Business and Productivity
Foxit PDF Reader, Free
Foxit’s ultra-lean PDF reader runs and opens documents so much faster than Adobe’s own bloated reader that it’s almost embarrassing. Forget netbooks, you’ll want to install this one on every system you own.
Many netbooks come preinstalled with this office suite for a reason. OK, that’s because it’s free. But it’s also lighter than the Microsoft equivalent, which makes it a winner from a performance perspective, too.
AVG Free Anti-Virus, Free
Yes, sadly you need to protect your netbook just as much as you need to protect your desktop. Even if you don’t have anything important stored on board, you probably have a ton of stored Internet passwords from surfing that you really wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of hackers. AVG may not have the prettiest user interface, but it will do the job without clogging up your machine, which is more than many commercial (*cough*Norton) AV products can claim.
Mozilla ThunderBird, Free
Let’s be honest: You’re far better off with Web-based e-mail like Gmail if you’re really trying to keep the system load on your netbook low, but if you need a client for POP or IMAP e-mail, Thunderbird makes far more sense than Microsoft Outlook. When we compared memory footprint with the same inbox, Thunderbird consumed 33MB, while Outlook guzzled 111MB, which makes an enormous difference in app you’re going to have open all the time.