Laptop computers have been available with specs that can enable them to be desktop replacements for a couple of years now. Even casual gamers can pick up a notebook with components that will handle most video intensive games on the market today without having to resort to one of the gaming machines in a notebook form like the Alienware or the Voodoo. Many laptops you buy today have a full-blown video chipset like the nVidia or the ATI Radeon and come with 64 MB (or more) of video memory which is more than enough for those first person shooters like Half Life 2 or Doom 3. I have a decent laptop that I use for gaming but recently ran into a problem that it turns out was easily solved.
I have used a Compaq laptop for a couple of years and it completely replaced my old desktop computer. Even though this notebook computer is old by computer standards I made sure when I bought it that the hardware specs would stand the test of time, at least for a while. It has 1 GB of memory, an 80 GB hard drive, Pentium M 1.5 Ghz, WiFi and an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 video chipset with 64 MB of video RAM. This laptop has been a magnificent game machine for the two years I’ve owned it and it is only recently that I started running into trouble trying to run the latest games.
What laptop owners have to realize is most game developers are always pushing the envelope in the video display area. They must do so to be "state of the art" and competitive and to satisfy the ever increasing demands that gamers put on them. One of the tricks I use to make sure a game will run on my older hardware is to download and try the demo version that almost all major games have available. If the demo runs it is almost a given the full version of the game will run too. What I recently discovered is it is not always a lost cause if a particular game will not run on your laptop.
I am a fan of the Medal of Honor series of WWII games and have played every one of them on my gaming laptop. The hardware handled them perfectly so when the latest game in the series, Pacific Assault, was released I went straight for the demo to make sure it would run on my now old laptop. Much to my horror the game would not work, even though my laptop’s specs were within the requirements for the game. It seems the video just wasn’t good enough to run this latest version of the game. Around this same time Pirates! was released which is a sequel to a game from the late 80s that was one of my favorites. With great anticipation I tried the demo for this game and got the same results. Needless to say I was really bummed as two hotly anticipated games would not run on my laptop. Was it time to give up on these games? Upgrading the laptop was not an option so I set out to see what I could do about it.
One of the first things that game developers tell you if their game won’t work on your hardware is to upgrade the video drivers to the latest version. This works fine on desktop systems that use off the shelf video cards but laptop owners are out of luck in this regard. In my case, even though my laptop sported an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 I could not get the latest drivers. The major video chip makers, ATI and nVidia, tell you to get the latest drivers from the laptop manufacturer. Most OEMs of laptops do not upgrade the drivers as often as the video makers because it creates a support nightmare for them. So laptop owners find they are always stuck with very old video drivers. This was my problem and why these new games would not run.
Fortunately there is a third party alternative that provides another option for laptop owners. There are a set of video drivers called the Omega drivers that have been developed by a video expert and revised over time and it has become a very stable set of video drivers for both ATI and nVidia equipped laptops. The drivers are free and I downloaded the latest set of Omega drivers for my video card and installed them. I must admit I installed them with some trepidation as I had no guarantee they would work but they do work, and flawlessly. The installation was painless and both games now work perfectly. What the Omega drivers do is update your video drivers to the equivalent of the latest drivers from the chipset manufacturer. For laptop owners this can be the only way to update those drivers and even if they don’t work on your computer you can uninstall them and go back to the the original drivers. I am quite pleased with these new drivers and glad that I updated so if you are in a similar situation don’t give up, try them out.