The computer helper: Buying notebooks for kids
By Jay Dougherty Aug 6, 2007, 11:25 GMT
Washington - Notebook computers sit prominently atop the 'back to school' shopping list for many parents these days. The reason is simple: schools want kids to be computer-literate.
Some schools are even requiring that students have access to a computer, and notebook computers - because of their portability - are the obvious tool of choice.
That leaves parents with lots of questions about what to look for when buying a notebook for their kids. Read on for some answers.
Q: We're going to purchase notebook computers for our two kids this year - 12 and 13 years old. What should we be looking for?
A: The kids might be focusing on screen size, brand name, or maybe even some technical specifications, such as processor type or whether there's a built-in Webcam. But as the parents of two youngsters, your focus should be on two things: durability and warranty.
Put simply, most kids are tough on notebook computers. And to make matters worse, many notebooks today aren't exactly built for the rough treatment they can receive in the hands of kids. A short fall to the floor can irreparably damage a notebook's screen, for instance, and being anything but gentle in closing a notebook's lid can, over time, cause the plastic around the screen in some notebooks to crack.
So whichever model you consider purchasing, be sure to budget for 'no fault' warranty coverage, if offered by the vendor. In fact, if a 'no fault' warranty is not offered by the dealer, you might want to look elsewhere. No-fault warranties cover the equipment if it fails to operate correctly for just about any reason - even if it's because one of your kids drops the notebook onto concrete. Yes, this type of coverage will cost a bit more, but it's generally well worth the piece of mind.
You could also be on the lookout for models that are advertised as 'durable' or 'tough.' Panasonic makes a Toughbook series of notebook computers that consistently win 'torture tests' published by trade journals. Lenovo Thinkpads are reported to be quite durable, as well, and some of Dell's business notebooks have sturdier cases.
But you'll generally pay more for these road-ready notebook computers than you will for the budget-line models generally aimed at students. So if money is an issue, you'll have to weigh the cost of getting a less expensive notebook with a no-fault warranty against the higher cost of a rugged notebook without one.
No matter which model you purchase, also budget for protective notebook carrying cases, and spend some time with your kids discussing how to take care of these machines. With careful handling, a notebook computer can last for many years.
Q: We need to buy a portable computer for our son, who wants Windows Vista. Are the inexpensive notebook computers offered online suitable for running this?
A: Some of the lowest-priced notebook computers offered by Dell and other large online dealers come with only 512 megabytes (MB) of system memory, and that's insufficient for Vista by most accounts. What's more, the graphics subsystems employed by some of the models use part of that main system memory, leaving even less for the operating system itself.
So consider 1 gigabyte of system memory (RAM) to be the bare minimum you have in a notebook that will run Windows Vista. If the budget allows, also prefer a model that offers a discrete graphics card rather than the 'integrated graphics' found on many lower-priced models. Most kids want to play games on their computers in addition to doing school work, and games rely heavily on the graphics subsystem in any computer.
Also make note of the software that comes standard with the lower- priced notebooks. Many no longer include commonly-used business applications such as Microsoft Word, which might be the word processing tool of choice at your son's school. Find out which software is needed, and budget for that, if necessary.
Q: I see AMD processors in the inexpensive notebooks. Are these suitable for Vista and the types of work a school-age person would do?
A: Yes. Most notebook computers you buy today, even if they're budget-priced, will have hardware that's more than sufficient to run Vista and applications typically used by school-age people: Web browsers, e-mail, word processing, and presentation or graphics programs.
Don't fret too much about the hardware specs of notebooks that are aimed at the back-to-school crowd. Even the lowest-end models have hard drives that offer 60 gigabytes (GB) of storage and a processor that's more than capable. Worthy upgrades might include more memory (1 GB minimum), a DVD burner rather than CD/DVD reader, dedicated graphics, and perhaps a dual-core processor if the budget allows. You may not want to go up to a 17-inch screen on a notebook that will indeed be moved around a lot, since these notebooks tend to be larger and heavier.
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