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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Infinity Ward's first Modern Warfare title is growing somewhat long in the tooth, but it still has a strong following in multiplayer circles. More importantly, it's a good representative of the type of game you might want to play on a notebook that lacks serious GPU horsepower: not too old, but not too new, either. We tested Call of Duty 4 by running a custom timedemo, first at 800x600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366x768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. (With the Eee PC, we opted for the 1024x600 native resolution instead of 1366x768, and with the Zbox HD-ND22, we were only able to use a resolution of 1360x768.)

Oh my. Although Zacate falls a reasonable distance behind our Toshiba Nile notebook in CPU tests, it speeds past in Modern Warfare. The only system in the same class that comes close is the Zbox, which is powered by a first-generation Nvidia Ion chipset.

Far Cry 2
Ubisoft's safari-themed shooter has much more demanding graphics than CoD4, so it should really make our notebooks sweat. We selected the "Action" scene from the game's built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366x768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. (Again, the Eee PC was run at 1024x600, since that's the highest resolution its display supports, and the Zbox was run at 1366x760.)

We see a similar picture in Far Cry 2, where the Zacate and Zbox basically end up neck-and-neck.

That's it for our conventional gaming benchmarks. Next up: some freestyle game testing.

Off the beaten path
Scientific benchmarks or not, we like to install different games on our laptops and manually tweak the options to see how well they run. A little subjective testing never hurt anybody, right?

I kicked off my freestyle gaming tests with DiRT 2, a long-time TR favorite and one of the better racing games out on the PC. At 1366x768 with the "low" preset, the demo's Morocco track unfurled at a solid 20 FPS, give or take two or three. Frame rates dropped into the low teens upon crashes, but the game was surprisingly smooth and playable overall.

Next up was Left 4 Dead 2, which I ran at 1366x768 with trilinear filtering, no antialiasing, high shader detail, and medium effect, model, and texture detail. In the first map of the Dead Center campaign, frame rates ranged from a low of about 13 to a high of 36 FPS. From a seat-of-the-pants perspective, the game was completely playable despite notable choppiness during heavy action. Those massive zombie swarms aren't easy on low-end hardware, but Zacate did a reasonably good job of keeping things smooth.

Feeling emboldened by these good results, I tried the Just Cause 2 demo. Things didn't go so well there. At 800x600 with all the detail options turned down, the Zacate system yielded frame rates in the 18-20 FPS range in the first town. That's just not good enough for a fast-paced action game, unfortunately. I had trouble shooting and driving straight, wishing there were somehow a way to turn the graphics detail further down.

I ended my freestyle game testing with a short round of Alien Swarm, specifically the single-player training level. At 1366x768 with antialiasing off, trilinear filtering, low shader and effect detail, and medium model and texture detail, the game chugged along with highs of nearly 30 and lows in the 15-17 FPS range during heavy action. I'd say the game was definitely playable overall, and it didn't look half bad, as you can see above.