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In the past, buying a computer meant purchasing a desktop PC with a screen and mouse and keyboard. But now notebooks are also widespread and tablets, which function like a conventional PC or can be converted, are also on the rise. Children in particular are showing great interest in the newer technologies. As a parent who wants to buy a first computer for their schoolchild, it’s easy to lose track of what’s available.
Today’s schoolchildren can benefit in many ways from having their own computer. But how do parents make the right choice when buying?
Which PC is suitable for which child, or what preferences should be taken into account when using it? What should be known about the performance and the individual components? What are the special features of each type of PC?
The Different PC Types
The Classic: The Desktop PC
Desktop PCs are the classics among computers. Before the first portable computer was officially launched in 1981 and could be bought by anyone who could afford it, they represented the only possible form of computer for private use. Today, desktop PCs still have their rightful place in many workrooms and children’s rooms.
First of all, the essence of the desktop PC: It usually comes in the form of a so-called “tower”, also called a “midi tower”. This is a rectangular box, usually about the size of two shoeboxes, in which all the complicated technology is installed. In order to be able to use this technology, a monitor, an external keyboard and a mouse are required in addition to the PC.
Tower PCs are usually fully equipped computers that can be used immediately after setting up and connecting the cables and external devices. Probably the biggest advantage, however, is that the computers can be easily upgraded instead of being discarded. With a few simple steps, the towers can be upgraded again over several years and thus kept technically up-to-date.Also interesting:
This can save money, as a new graphics card, for example, is usually cheaper than a complete new computer. In addition, slightly older children who have an interest in technology can also get to grips with the hardware sides of a computer themselves in this way and gain their first practical experience in this area.
The big disadvantage of a desktop PC is that they are stationary. Even in times of flat screens, a desktop PC can’t just be packed into the satchel for a presentation at school. At the latest when certain programs are not available on the school computers and the own PC becomes indispensable, there could be difficulties.
Be More Mobile With A Laptop, Notebook Or Netbook
This is where laptops, notebooks and netbooks have a big advantage: they were created to make computer work possible while on the road. They are smaller, lighter and more compact than desktop PCs and are equipped with all the necessary components: The computer, the screen, the mouse in the form of the touch-sensitive touch pad and the keyboard.
By the way, laptops and notebooks are not really different anymore. To clarify the terminology:
- In the past, people used a laptop (the older term), which means something like “on the lap” or more appropriately “lap computer.” So behind that are computers that can be taken on the lap to work with. A few years ago, they were significantly larger and heavier than notebooks (in German: “Notizbuch”).
- Notebooks were smaller than laptops and about the size of an A4 notepad, but usually had weaker technology built in. However, since most laptops today are also compact and quite light, there is basically no distinction made anymore, even though the terms still both appear at retailers.
- Netbooks, on the other hand, are still clearly distinguished from the other laptops today. They are significantly smaller and usually cheaper, but of course have to compromise on features and performance.
At first, the laptop family seems to provide the perfect computers for students for mobility reasons. However, the disadvantages are the performance: A desktop PC with a correspondingly high performance is comparatively almost always much cheaper than a laptop with the same performance. In addition, the hardware of a laptop often cannot be expanded or upgraded at a later date.
Tablets with touchscreens have changed computer culture. Especially when it comes to the Internet. While the WWW as we know it today has been around since 1991, you could never surf the web as easily and practically as with a tablet computer until the introduction of Apple’s first iPad in 2010.
The devices are also space-saving, lightweight and flat, making them unbeatable in terms of mobility. Moreover, with their formats and the ability to display e-books, they are a real substitute for heavy (school) book bags.
Some disadvantages, however, make the Tablet PC almost completely unsuitable for learning in some applications:
- Tablet PCs can almost never keep up with the technology in desktop PCs or laptops.
- The physical keyboard is missing and must be purchased as a (sometimes unwieldy) Bluetooth device. Or the user works on the touchscreen keyboard, which then covers part of the display.
- The exclusive use of the touchscreen makes some things unnecessarily complicated. Starting with creating PowerPoint presentations with pictures, researching and writing on a text at the same time, up to playing games on the device.
- Not all tablets have a full USB port, let alone other practical interfaces. Thus, a stick can usually only be inserted via detours to exchange data.
- Tempting free apps are often only slimmed-down versions of purchased programs and therefore only have limited functions in the free version.
Convertibles And All-In-Ones
Convertibles, also called all-in-one computers or hybrid PCs, are laptops that can be transformed into a tablet PC via a folding or rotating mechanism. They are usually a bit more expensive than conventional tablet PCs and often also than laptops with comparable technology. However, they have the great advantage that they can be used with maximum flexibility in everyday school life.
For example, students can comfortably use the tablet to read class material. However, writing homework or creating presentations is better and more precise than with a pure tablet thanks to the keyboard dock and mouse (and the additional touchscreen option).
A convertible PC can also be conveniently set up for watching movies or playing games with medium to slightly higher system requirements on the way there and home, for example, with public transportation or on longer car trips.
Additional: From Mouse To Software
Most mobile computers eliminate the cost of additional input devices. Unless the convenience of a mouse is preferred on the go. However, a laptop or a convertible PC can also work well without additional devices.
Desktop PCs, however, require these devices. Of course, mouse and keyboard are the most important. For most parents, the ergonomics and ultimately the suitability of the devices for children’s hands and the protection of their health play a major role. Manufacturers are aware of the demand and have been offering special mice for children for many years.
If it should not become a separate children’s mouse, the offspring should at least have tried the mouse before the purchase to determine whether it fits the individual hand and whether it is light enough to work with it for a longer time. Special keyboards for smaller hands are also available. The most common models are about a third smaller than conventional keyboards, so that the smaller fingers have to cover shorter distances between the keys, or do not cramp.
In addition, the colors are usually child-friendly. If a “normal” adult keyboard is chosen, it might make sense to prefer simple models without multimedia keys that don’t seem so cluttered. This makes it easier for children to find their way around the many keys. Splash-proof devices are also interesting from time to time.
Software is also important for tablets, laptops and desktop PCs. Basic programs for learning and working are standard, but there may also be other, more specialized programs, for example for image or video editing or for other interests of a student.
While there’s not much you can do wrong when buying software online via app stores for tablets and some convertibles (provided parents take on this task and take a close look at the app and its ratings), buying software for conventional computers doesn’t always go smoothly.
Here, one should not save at the wrong end. Software is more often offered on the Internet on numerous portals as a special offer or even as a free download. In any case, you should pay attention to reputable and renowned providers. This eliminates the risk of getting counterfeit software with manipulated licenses or even downloading malware.
Trustworthy providers can be recognized by various criteria, such as good service or the unlimited usability of the software. When buying used software online, on the other hand, it is necessary to take a closer look, as the clear origin is not always transparent. Certificates of authenticity or real media as data carriers of the software, on the other hand, are indications that it is a serious purchase. DVDs or a so-called dongle testify to the originality of the program.
The Performance Of The PC
If parents want to buy a computer for students, they will come across numerous technical terms that provide information about the performance of the PC. Without going into depth, the following will briefly explain what to look for in which features, or system components.
The CPU is something like the heart of the computer. It is also called “processor”. Depending on how expensive and up-to-date a processor is, the faster a computer basically runs. Notebooks with faster processors unfortunately also get very warm or even hot quite quickly and are more sensitive. Therefore, such combinations are sometimes more unsuitable for children, or it is necessary to look closely at the respective model.
The main memory is also one of the most important purchase criteria, as it also has a significant influence on what and how fast the computer can execute processes. The more RAM the computer has, the better. Modern computers are advised to have at least 8 GB RAM or even 16 GB RAM.
For children with a great interest in videos and their own video creation and editing, you should pay attention to especially large memory. Sometimes 32 GB RAM is the best choice here.
All kinds of data are stored on the hard disk: Programs are located here, but also, for example, documents that a student creates for school or learning, pictures and videos as well as games and much more. Children who like to take pictures, download videos and music (only legally, please!) and also like to install modern games with a large volume also need large hard drives.
A hard drive should have at least 256 GB or even better 500 GB, especially that of a desktop PC.
A distinction is made between SSD and HDD or hybrid hard disks. The former are significantly faster than the other two types. They make all computer processes smoother and even faster. However, SSD hard disks also cost correspondingly more money.
Every computer also has a built-in graphics card, which is responsible for displaying various graphics or visual effects. Students actually only need good and expensive graphics cards if they want to play a lot of new games in addition to using the computer for school.
Mobile devices with good to very good graphics cards (high-end graphics cards) can become costly. Since gaming offers the most comfort with an external mouse and keyboard and a sufficiently large screen anyway, tower PCs are the best choice for gaming enthusiasts. Provided the computer is basically never to be moved away from home.
When it comes to modern screens, size is the most important factor. Mobile devices usually have displays in the size of 9 to 17 inches. For work programs, 9 inches can be sufficient, but these screen sizes are mainly suitable for surfing, viewing photos and videos, or mobile playing of simpler games.
As soon as longer work is done on a screen or larger games are played, inch sizes from 15 inches are recommended.
Professional computer gamers usually play on external monitors of about 23 inches. For desktop PCs, however, screens in this size are generally a good orientation, as they allow an overview on the desk and can display applications in a pleasantly large size. For laptops, on the other hand, the “normal size” is the 15-inch display.
The most common two operating systems are Microsoft’s “Windows” and Apple’s “MAC OS”. Children usually get along with both operating systems. When it comes to the variety of programs and the ability to set and discover a lot on the computer quite easily by themselves, Windows PCs may be the better choice. Apple cannot yet keep up with Microsoft when it comes to computer gaming, either.
Above all, because Apple computers with the same performance as a Windows PC are significantly more expensive.
Apple computers, on the other hand, are characterized by their design, their long durability and the sometimes cheaper programs. When it comes to photo and video editing, many industry professionals also prefer a “Mac” from Apple.
The Right PC For Every Child
For children who like to play computer games as well as work on the computer for school, a desktop PC is the best choice. However, if there is enough budget available, it can of course also be a gaming laptop, to which, if necessary, external devices can also be connected for a better gaming experience at home.
If the computer is to be used exclusively for learning and school activities, a tablet or netbook is well suited. These devices are compact, lightweight, often quite inexpensive and can always be taken to school in a backpack, bag, or even under the arm. These devices can also be sufficient for occasional surfing and movie streaming.
As soon as children use the computer for certain hobbies, such as video or image editing, music production or similar, and also want to play a more demanding game, the technology in small devices is usually no longer sufficient. In this case, desktop PCs with better performance are recommended. However, if children still want to remain mobile, parents should look into modern convertibles or more powerful laptops and notebooks and make a joint decision with the child.