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General discussion

Laptop recommendation for children

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 16, 2008 4:58 AM PDT
Question:

I am the father of two sons, ages 9 and 11, in search of
advice in regards to the "right sizing" of laptops for them.

I have tried getting advice from the forums, but the feedback
I have received has been questions on why I want to purchase
laptops, mostly from nonparents. Sure, it might sound like a
large investment for their age, but mobility is the driver
behind the decision as we travel a lot.

Given their age, you would think that the requirements would
be easy to spec, the primary applications being Internet
research, e-mail, light doc processing, and of course gaming
both online (Runescape) and off. I'm looking for something
that can survive the treatment from their age, have enough
horsepower for gaming, and yet still be "reasonable"
price-wise. (Maybe I am being delusional.) Any advice you
could offer would defiantly be appreciated. Thanks!

--Submitted by Bob (Christopher and Willam's Dad)


Here are some helpful answers to get you started, however there are many more great advice that can found throughout this discussion thread. So please read them all.

Thinkpad T-series is childproof; get a hi-spec used model --submitted by ralphclark
http://forums.cnet.com/5208-10149_102-0.html?forumID=7&threadID=295011&messageID=2774793#2774793

I'd get something sturdy with a strong battery --submitted by sircanegiem
http://forums.cnet.com/5208-10149_102-0.html?forumID=7&threadID=295011&messageID=2774828#2774828

Laptops For Children --submitted by waytron
http://forums.cnet.com/5208-10149_102-0.html?forumID=7&threadID=295011&messageID=2775558#2775558


If you have any additional recommedations for Bob, please click on the reply link and post it. In your answer, please provide as many details as possible which can also include links to products.
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Gaming laptops for pre-teens?
by glenfotre / May 16, 2008 11:13 AM PDT

Take them out for a hike, instead!

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Hiking or L-Tops\
by MrAJ / May 24, 2008 4:46 AM PDT

Why would you give someone advise like that; you don?t know anything about them, and you judge them based on what, your life failures? Do you have disengaged teens? May be they are looking for balance to outwait the over hiking site of the children?s life. If you have nothing to say about computers, the question was about that, right? Further if you cannot give a useful advice on the subject, may be you can move to a hiking forum elsewhere and give your hiking advises to those who hikes. I am sure there are forums for that out there.

To help answer the question what and how, unfortunately there is no black or white in this. You need good specs for the games and stable O/S for everything else. Thus stay away from Vista for another year or so. You will avoid the driver?s issues. Many manufacturers are coming up with the drivers for their peripherals for Vista, but there are many who don?t, so if you already have things at home, you want to work with the new L-Tops, pay attention to this, DRIVERS. Further networking but also overall stability is very important Vista is not quite there yet. Make sure that there is plenty of RAM, and good graphics as well as other stuff you want to do. If you know you will burn CD or DVDs you will need a good drive for that. Make sure you will get the L-Top with it.

For most of the other things I had seen a reasonable answer on this forum.

High end used machines with multiple cells battery the more the better. One thing you need to pay attention to is the price. Compare the prices and chose the highest possible parameters. The other thing , what you need to look for is the battery. 4 cells will do but not as well as 6 or 8 cells. Further look for the specifications. The higher the better but balance it with the price accordingly. Remember the machine you buy today will be low level tomorrow so don?t get too crazy with the specs/price. Don?t buy highest end Toshiba or HP but also don?t go for the lowest priced Acer. The quality of built of the L-tops is pretty much equal among the brands today. Everything else is a matter of preference.
Respectfully AJ

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Innappropriate comment
by lemonshark10 / May 26, 2008 1:36 PM PDT

That comment "Take them for a hike" is completely inappropriate. as a personal success story I'll have you know i have been using computers since i was 3 years old and playing games since the age of around 7. Hell i've had a playstation 1, 2 , and now 3. I am now just going into high school so i was gaming well before and through my preteen years. The trick is moderation. I am a total nerd and i'll admit it, i love computers. this is no doubt a result of my using them since such a tender age but i also hold a job, am one of the top students in my grade, and am physically fit. I applied to a job at the age of 13 last spring and have since been working at that nusrey. I am because of that job out side all day every weekend and also after school two days a week. Also while i am not currently on any sports teams it is because it would have conflicted with work and boyscouts. So instead me and my friends play manhunt almost every weekend. and my job involves lifting heavy items and constantly moving. So don't insinuate in your comments that having a computer or playing computer games will lead to a sedentary life style or that it will some how harm the children who do this. if you are going to comment least do so in a constructive manner.

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From Father of 3
by JackPeterson / May 16, 2008 11:29 AM PDT

I have 3 kids so this is coming from someone who had to deal with video games and chatting. Yours are 9 and 11. That's an easy one. Forget the idea of laptops and buy them a soccer ball and cleats. Or a basketball, or skateboard. In other words get them outside! You want them to play games or check email they can use yours. Traveling? Buy a portable dvd player and iPods. Better yet, stop once in a while and visit some historical site or the like. Buying a kid their own computer (especially a laptop) is saying, "Go away kid, you bother me". Better yet it gives them the "freedom" to be alone in their room, and encourages them to NOT interact with you. Soon you have teenagers totally disengaged. For their sake wait until they really NEED a computer for school, and buy one you can monitor.

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not all children are equal
by maggiedev / May 16, 2008 12:01 PM PDT
In reply to: From Father of 3

i have raised 7. 2 girls and 5 boys. not all are interested in the same things and i found early not to force those who were academic onto the soccer field or baseball field. that breeds rebellion in its own form. we do things as a family and we compromise. there is alone time for the computer, games, etc, and there is family time. the secret is the children know who is the boss. you can have the best of both worlds and have happy, well adjusted children. we decide when the computer is used and if the grades fall, the computer goes up. we have network in our home so we can see what is going on. if respect is given, respect will be received. demands and force always meeet with rebellion. works in our home.

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Computer literacy
by dcsmith3 / May 23, 2008 10:41 PM PDT

I have three kids 1,4,8 and I want them to be very proficient with the computer because I did not get a computer until my sophmore year in College and my family did not have one growing up. What is the network you are talking about where you can moniter the household computers and how does it work and how do you get it?

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Technology when young =/= nerds!
by Hodgelett / May 16, 2008 9:07 PM PDT
In reply to: From Father of 3

There's nothing wrong with getting kids engaged with technology AND getting them outside. I had my first 'computer' when I was 4, admittedly it was a spelling/word game thing, but I had my own pc by about 7. I probably do spend too much time on my computer, but that's a habit acquired from being a student. That never stopped me from being on most of my school's sports teams, eating my way through books, gardening, spending at least two days a week at archery, photography, sketching, acting and making music. I blame my independence not on computers but the fact I'm an only child.

Sure you have to make sure that they do take an interest in lots of hobbies, and making sure they don't spend too long on computers - especially as RS is a highly addictive game and like most RPGs sucks away time, but that's what parenting's about surely Wink
Being tech savvy can only help them in the future. Just remember - everything in moderation.

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Excellent Advice
by jgurkovi / May 23, 2008 9:12 PM PDT
In reply to: From Father of 3

Excellent advice

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Building Community for Social Beings
by Jazznme / May 25, 2008 1:02 AM PDT
In reply to: From Father of 3

Wow! Your suggestion may not be well received, but I applaud you and will read no further, as I agree totally. All these marketed gadgets that have been marketed in the last 10 years have none done much for family values. Children, like their adult parents are learning to become less and less resourceful and phsyically unfit. Take a good look at groups or individuals at the mall or a middle or high school. Thanks for your thoughtful advise, but I doubt it will be considered. But it is the best advice he will get. The children can learn to take turns on the family computer and plenty are available in the schools. And, as I always told my kids, as we loaded the car with more kids, for a ride up to Lost Lake, "I don't care what 'those kids' have, they're not mine."

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wow!
by momof2awesomeboys / February 21, 2013 5:12 AM PST
In reply to: From Father of 3

I am a mother of two boys, 5 and 8. i came on here to get advice about a laptop for my 8year old. You have no idea what people do with their children to make comments like this. Both my boys go to a private school, get straight A's, are super athletic, and love their games too. My oldest plays baseball on travel and house leagues at least 4 times a week for 10 months out of the year,my youngest just on house at this time, they both play outside often (basketball, soccer, skateboarding, swimming, bike riding, sledding), they are healthy children. They are smart and due to great grades i promised a laptop. Does that mean i am a bad parent and I need to buy a soccer ball or cleats? you have nerve. We play board games as a family weekly, and visit museums, concerts, bowling, batting cages, ice skating, roller skating, just to name what we've done in the past couple winter months, on a regular basis. This forum i thought would help me find a laptop, instead it just frustrated me. I think it is a good balance and life lesson for kids sometimes do things on their own, and yes, every once in a while this mom, who is home with her children since they have been born may need a 5 min break. Oh, and by the way my third grader does already need a laptop for homework!

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What are the system requirements for Runescape?
by Doctor Entropy / May 16, 2008 11:32 AM PDT

Or the most resource-intensive game they play? That is your starting point. Find laptops that meet the gaming requirements, then choose the most rugged model. (Don't forget the speed of the wireless internet connection for the online gaming, if the laptops are used "on the road".)

I'm sure that laptop connoisseurs will have their favorite suggestions once the basic requirements are known.

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laptops for kids
by maggiedev / May 16, 2008 11:36 AM PDT

i am one of the minority that thinks laptops rock. i won't have a desktop again. my daughter has one specially built but she is a quadrriplegic and has some very large programs for her use. i like the mobility of the laptop and it does everything i need it to do plus some. my grandson, age 15, has his own laptop and he plays games on it. you can get gaming laptops, but they are very expensive for most people. i know a lot of people probably will not agree with me, but here is what we do. h.p and compaq have great laptops. you can get them with 250 gigs of hard drive that are quite adequate for what you want. wireless internet, built in webcam and the grandson has no problem playing games. you will have to teach the children respect for expensive equipment, but very nice ones can be had for under $1000.00. i take mine on all trips for use with my photography. i download every evening of a trip. i don't game, but i am the only one in the house that doesn't. personally i won't have anything but H.P. i also don't want to be tied to a desktop. check out different stores, but if you have a best buy anywhere near, you can usually find a nice, affordable choice. by the way, with children, if offered a service policy that covers accidental damage, buy it. a lot of people think service policies are not worth it. from personal experience, i won't buy without it. they have paid for themselves in our household. we run 4-6 computers all the time. good luck.

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The obvious answer is to buy MacBooks
by FrankWoolf / May 16, 2008 11:48 AM PDT

The obvious answer is to buy MacBooks. You then have the added bonus of not worrying about them downloading Windoze viruses and I think you could drive a truck over most Mac laptops. My kids have been using iBooks, MacBooks, PowerBooks, etc for years at home and at school.

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Yeah, if you want a bloody expensive laptop
by Sasuto Uchiha / May 16, 2008 9:05 PM PDT

Too expensive for him i think, and why would a kid need a iMac?

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Macs are no more expensive than any quality Windows box
by JohnDCCIU / May 23, 2008 6:33 PM PDT

MacBooks are $999 for students, which is certainly not "bloody expensive", and the poster never said anything about being constrained by price anyway...perhaps he values quality over lowest price (which would operate even in a Windows-only laptop comparison)

We maintain about 1,000 student laptops, mostly iBooks and MacBooks as a 1:1 laptop program and the Macs hold up extremely well and are a joy to maintain versus Windows laptops, especially for kids, as they tend to get into the Windows malware even more than adults.

Do yourself a favor and check out your local Apple Store before making a decision.

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ever drop a macbook? Tech support isn't good. . . . .

Apple makes a great desktop, but their laptops are complete junk. always have been and, as far as I can tell, always will.

They overheat and die. They are fragile (don't ever drop one.)

God help you if there is a problem and you need to send the "Book" in for repairs.

Yes, they have great incentive programs for students and educators, but the headaches associated with the machine is not worth it.

Apple makes up for those incentive programs by gouging people like me that decide to try them. the student special ($999) ran me $1700, and it was DOA. Its twin, that arrived 7 weeks later, would overheat and die after 30 minutes of use. Thank God for Visa. I had to get my credit card to threaten a lawsuit to get my money returned to me.

My sister, who is a technology teacher in Oklahoma, loves the silly things. she has three in her lab at school and one at home. She was dissapointed by the way Apple treated me with the failed units.

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Agreed
by maciasd / May 29, 2008 8:34 PM PDT

Coming for a die hard mac user I would like to provide evidence to this claim found here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/reviews/4258725.html. Here they tested an iMac vs. a Gateway One and a MacBook vs. an Asus M51SR. I would like to point out the end of the article here:

"The Verdict: Apple
Mac: In both the laptop and desktop showdowns, Apple?s computers were the winners. Oddly, the big difference didn?t come in our user ratings, where we expected the famously friendly Mac interface to shine. Our respondents liked the look and feel of both operating systems but had a slight preference toward OS X. In our speed trials, however, Leopard OS trounced Vista in all-important tasks such as boot-up, shutdown and program-launch times. We even tested Vista on the Macs using Apple?s platform-switching Boot Camp software?and found that both Apple computers ran Vista faster than our PCs did.

PC: Simply put, Vista proved to be a more sluggish operating system than Leopard. Our PCs installed some software faster, but in general they were slower in our time trials. Plus, both PCs showed weaker performance on third-party benchmarks than the Macs. Our biggest surprise, however, was that PCs were not the relative bargains we expected them to be. The Asus M51sr costs the same as a MacBook, while the Gateway One actually costs $300 more than an iMac. That means for the price of the Gateway you could buy an iMac, boost its hard drive to match the Gateway?s, purchase a copy of Vista to boot?and still save $100."

Here is the proof. It is not more expensive to buy Mac, in fact it is cheaper. Moreover, you will allow your children more creative freedom outside of the constraints of Viruses, BSOD, and "Fatal Errors." As said before, take a trip to your local store and see the difference (hell, let your kids see the difference), and then make your decision.

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REPLY
by jcpt928 / June 20, 2008 1:51 PM PDT

as for the suggestion of a MacBook, iMac, or Mac anything as a solution to his question, a key word, is "gaming". He asked about gaming, and for future reference, the gaming capabilities of a Mac-based anything are nil compared to a same-spec Windows machine. If your going to game, your going to use Windows, that's just how it is. So it is absurd to suggest a Mac as a solution. Sure, you can say "Well, you can use Windows on Mac with "BootCamp" or w/e its called, or any of the numerous other "solutions" to run Windows on a Mac. POINTLESS Heck, you can even run Halo on a Macbook, I've seen it done before! However, despite the fact that it ran great, the Mac had no support for any advanced graphics. (e.g. anti-aliasing, decals, and proper texture rendering). As a result, it was like playing in a "washout" Halo world, with colored silhouettes as your players. BAGH!! A Windows laptop of the same price and specs would have blown the Macbook away anyday. I am not an active "hater" of Mac; however, they serve no practical purpose except for those who do advanced A/V, for those who rarely or never do gaming, for students who need no other distractions installed on their PC, or those who are just not confident enough to sit at a Windows PC, deal with the occasional error message, and learn how to deal with it in a mature and efficient manner. I have been working on PC since I was 8, starting on a 486 and eventually going back to an 8086, and presently run on one of the fastest P4's money can buy, with very impressive specs (custom built of course), and absolutely everything in between. I still run into occasional "Windows flaws" if you want to call them that, but if you take the time to read what it says, and you know what you were doing when it happened, you can very quickly learn how to fix-it-yourself, and it soon becomes minimally bothersome; it just takes a bit of patience and understanding. My software experience rivals that of even the most techie of techies, not to brag, but I have more than ample experience, and a very strong foundation to stand on in my suggestion. Thank You

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"bloody expensive"???
by RogerCVC / May 24, 2008 2:58 AM PDT

So you would rather raise kids on Vista? Would you subject them to a nutjob polygamous sect also?;-)

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Try the popular "lite" laptop
by tkjune / May 16, 2008 11:50 AM PDT

I think you have seen some information about these kinds of laptops. Including ASUS EEEPC, HP, MSI and so on. The price is under $500. They are small, fits the little fingers of your children. The performance is good enought for internet browsing, email, doc... even some small games. Hmm, the linux version is ok. My friends used ASUS EEEPC, felt good. They could meet your needs I suppose.

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Dude your wrong!
by cruzer555 / May 23, 2008 11:46 AM PDT

I am a kid and I totally disagree. I am typing this right now on my HP Windows Vista laptop. I also like to ride my bike a lot and play outdoors, and I almost never play video games. You are stereotyping to say that kids with technology are nerds. I am not a nerd and yet I have more technology than you can shake a stick at!

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Calm down Kiddo...
by alfonso_rd_26 / June 21, 2008 2:12 AM PDT
In reply to: Dude your wrong!

First of All, calm down Kid, It may be a stereotype, but just ignore it...

In respect at the question I must agree a Laptop might not be quite adequate for the kids to use, yet if you do desire to give them one make sure you attend the recomendations...

1. Disk space and Memory - The most you can get, 80-120 GB of disk space 1-2 GB of Ram Memory.

2. Brand - Well I'd go for a Dell or Compaq (I have used both Compaq and Dell PCs and have served me well..)

3. Graphics and sound - Here's the tricky part... good Graphic cards are quite expensive, as sound cards are, try to find not generic cards and You'll be OK

4. OS - Avoid VISTA, LINUX, and MAC OS at all cost... Vista is too young to be used at gaming, the others.... are just (in my opinion) crappy.

5. Other Gaming devices - They could not be useful... a good MAME can bring hours of old school fun and, despite that Xbox (both classic and 360), PS3, Wii and Game Cube are not well emulated yet there are alternative solutions like GB(A), NES, SNES, NDS, PS1, PS2 etc. quite well emulated, and I would recomend, besides WoW purchasing games like Fifa, city of (Heroes, Villians) and, for help in fitness Andamiro's Pump It Up!

I also will advice, like so many others to tryto get your kids active, and do family recreational stuff a lot, after all, a healthy Kid will be a Haelthy Gamer, and member of society...

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An excellent idea!
by forkboy1965 / May 16, 2008 11:52 AM PDT

First let me say that I strongly endorse your desire to acquire a computer for the children. We purchased a laptop for our then 14 year old daughter solely for the purpose of protecting our home computer from 'accidents' that could have left us without precious photos, financial information and all sorts of other important files. If she does something bad to her laptop we can try to fix it or reload the recovery discs and the loss is HER problem.

However, I agree with your assessment that you may be deluding yourself. A notebook tough enough to survive two younger children that is also powerful enough for gaming (and this depends upon the sorts of games they are playing) will not be cheap. Actually, in my opinion, tough enough for their age group probably doesn't exist unless you look at the Toughbooks line from Panasonic. To be frank, I believe that modern laptops are more fragile than their predecessors from just five or six years ago and I base this upon the differences between my current laptop and my six year old one.

While it's not the advice you want I would recommend a desktop. First, it removes the issue of toughness. Second, it places the children in one location, which makes it easier for you to monitor their computing activities, which is very important these days. Third, if their games require 3D graphics capability you will be hard-pressed to find that sort of power in anything resembling a reasonably priced laptop. Fourth, lots of screen real estate will be very much enjoyed by the children while playing games and at 17-inches for the larger available screens with laptops they will be disappointed. These days a good quality 20 or 22 inch monitor is reasonably priced and usually even more so when bundled with a PC.

Perhaps the better solution is the PC route today and possibly moving to a laptop in three, four or five years, when the children are old enough to be more careful with the more delicate laptop product.

Sorry it's not necessarily the answer for which you are looking, but it is my advice. Best of luck coming to a decision.

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Laptops
by Grungysquash / May 16, 2008 12:01 PM PDT

Hi Bob - As a parent I have also been down this track, and have recently purchased a laptop for one of my kids.

Firstly you need to ask yourself - what will the kids be doing on it - and secondly how much do I want to spend.

Both questions are important as you can buy cheap laptops but in many respects you get what you pay for. For kids this age I assume they are into games - if so then this is an expensive route to go down particularly when it comes to laptops. While some have graphics cards these tend to be in the higher $$$ value range and also in a larger form factor ie 15 inch or 17 inch (there are some exceptions like dells XPS 1330 - which is 13 inch).

Seeing as you have decided to go down a gaming route you will need a graphics card, currently the best card on the market for laptops is the 8800GTX card - this is DX10 compatible but expect to pay around $3,500 - $4000 per laptop - a good example of this is alienwares 15xx. This is possibly the best 15 inch laptop around when it comes to performance.

As far as damage control is concerned check out extended warranties from someone like dell who run complete card and accident cover - this costs money but they will fix/replace parts if they get damaged.

The next step down is the 7950GTX card which is not DX10 compatible but can be found in older gaming laptops possibly second hand but these will be 17inch in size and are called desk top replacements so portability might be a tad hard for kids.

One other good option is Dells XPS 1330 - this is a 13 inch laptop so is portable and comes with 8400GS which is rather slow but would play older games and some modern ones on low resolution. Costs around $2,500AU

The other option is dump the graphics card and simply go for integrated graphics this will play only older games but might be OK for short term - you don't really need massage graphics capability for programs outside of games and say 3D rendering.

Another good option to keep the $$$ in your pocket is to find one from graysonline then sell HP's Dells, Acers etc and you can score a cheap deal - I just recently purchased an 14inch Acer for $354 - so bargains do exist if you know where to look.

And lastly decide on the operating system - seeing as you going down the gaming route MS is really the only option - While Vista is installed on almost all PC's these days you can downgrade to XP pro if you have Vista Business or Vista Ultimate, now this removes DX10 abilities in games but few games currently are based on DX10 anyway.

As far as CPU's ram HDD etc are concerned just make sure its either Centrino, or Centrino Duo with 2 gig ram and you should be fine - while the latest chipset out is santa rosa the older chipset called Centrino Duo is fine - try and get a dual core CPU if $$$ permit and aim for 2GHz or above - avoid celeron processes like the plague they are slow and gobble battery life.

In closing if I was in your shoes and had say $1500 per child I would find an XPS1330 from Graysonline - if I had the extra $$$ I would go for a 15 inch display if you thought the weight would not be excessive and buy an Alienware 15xx with an 8800GTX.

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laptops for kids
by squirtlewa / May 16, 2008 12:19 PM PDT

I think it's a fine idea to get laptops for the boys. More and more, I see people getting laptops as their main computers for around the house. The nice thing is you can take them on the road, of course, but also have flexibility around the house. A great plus for multiple-computer households, is when they're not in use, they don't take much space.

For the boys, it sounds like their needs would be pretty easy to meet. For gaming, get one with a graphics card. Runescape isn't particularly demanding, but to future proof for their next games you might want to look for something with a geforce 8400 or higher.

Choose screen size and stuff like that based on personal preference. I'd suggest 2 GB of RAM and 160 GB for hard drive (more is better, naturally).

With youngsters, if your boys are anything like mine, I'd for sure get a warranty/service plan that covers accidents.

Be sure to get antivirus installed before anything else - also note that you can also take steps to monitor and/or limit what they do on the interwebs.

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The first thing I'd say
by tekchallenged / May 16, 2008 12:23 PM PDT

is that this is not an investment - all you'll get for your money is the use of the equipment for the time it remains unbroken/functioning/able to run whatever it is you want to run before it is obsolete.

From my experience, I think laptops will have an extremely hard time withstanding the treatment of a child. I am a very careful person and I have to handle my new laptop with extreme care - the screen, latches and case all seem to be extremely fragile to me (unlike my previous IBM Thinkpad with the 8Mb ram, which was a solid little machine). In my experience, even when they are trying really hard, little kids don't have the physical coordination to hang onto things and not drop them, or not to knock drinks over, nor the sense not to leave their stuff lying around to be trodden on, sat on, etc etc. In other words, I would expect even the most careful kid to break it.

There is a brand called Panasonic Toughbook which are marketed as suitable for use at minesites and the like (not sure if they are childproof :D), but when I looked them up on the web they cost about 5 times what a "garden variety" laptop did.

My advice is to go down to the shop and buy yourself the cheapest laptop you can find that has the specs for that game you want and buy that. When it breaks, get another. Or get a secondhand machine. Treat the cost as a rental expense.

If that game is "doable" on a playstation or game "thingy", I'd get that instead (I think they are more "kid-proof") and get yourself the cheapest secondhand machine you can find for internet/word processing (any "antiquated" machine will do this - it's the games that require the latest greatest ram and video cards).

In relation to the games, my new laptop gets really really hot when playing games (not the latest ones, either) and shuts itself off sometimes (I'm assuming due to heat). I don't think they are designed for running under load for long periods.

(I haven't lectured you about doing it at all because you've said you've had that already, but I can't resist completely - there are lots of good games that don't need a computer, and the internet is full of garbage - present company excepted, of course :D).

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Thinkpad T-series is kid-proof; get a hi-spec used model
by ralphclark / May 16, 2008 12:52 PM PDT

There's not been all that much change in terms of performance and specification over the last five years or so, and a 2004 "Pentium M" model (lower power version of Pentium III) would easily cope with the workload you described plus much more too. So there's very little point in paying the premium for a brand new laptop unless you are desperate for a manufacturer warranty.

It's possible to get a brand new notebook for under $400 but not only do such machines tend to be quite low-spec in terms of screen and peripherals, the build quality won't be all that great. Another thing Ive found is that the built in speakers in some of these "craptops" are so quiet and tinny that multimedia is a non-starter.

By contrast, the IBM (now Lenovo) Thinkpad T-series is designed to withstand the rigours of travel, with a titanium-reinforced lid to protect the screen. The keyboard has a more positive action than most and they are equipped with both a touchpad *and* a very accurate trackpoint device (the red nipple thing) which many find much easier to use.

You can pick up a used Thinkpad T42p in good condition for under $400 if you look around. Don't be shy of ebay. The exact specification varies greatly depending on the exact model number, which is found on the bottom of the machine and is always something like 2343-XXX or 2348-XXX. Be sure to obtain that number from the seller: if you punch it into this form on the joint Lenovo/IBM website [ http://tinyurl.com/yau8vk ] it will tell you the exact specification of that model.

So let's backtrack and have a look at the sort of spec you will need. Having grown up before the age of the internet you may be surprised at the level of sophistication in the school IT syllabus these days. By the time my son finished his first year of high school he was already competent with Word, Excel, MS Publisher, Adobe Photoshop and movie editing software. By half way through the following year I was asking *him* for technical help. So you need to make sure you provide a computer with a spec generally comparable to recent desktops or they will struggle to finish their complex homework.

CPU speed isn't all that important, the 1.7GHz or 1.8GHz models will be fine for just about any app you are likely to encounter and battery life will be quite a bit better than on the 2.0GHz variant.

With respect to memory, even with WinXP you really need at least 1GB of RAM. Browsers and office apps are fairly memory hungry these days and the standard desktop configuration these days is 2GB.

Consider looking for a 15" model with UXGA+ (1600x1200) resolution as it's much easier to run multiple apps when you don't have to keep Alt-tabbing.

It's also worth looking out for a model equipped with ATI "FireGL T2" graphics if it's likely to be used with graphics-heavy apps like Google Earth or 3D games. Especially the 128MB variant as this will support the highest available screen resolutions on an external monitor as well.

With regard to connectivity, I believe all models have a modem and ethernet port. Most have a miniPCI Wi-Fi card (if not, it's quite easy to add one later). Some also have Bluetooth.

The minimum hard disk size on these machines is 40GB but this includes a hidden reserved partition where the OS installation files are stored and you may be surprised by how quickly it can fill up once you start installing apps. 60GB is better for a single user, or 80GB if it's shared. Otherwise you just have to do disk cleanups more regularly.

Optical drive: you just can't get by without a DVD-ROM. A DVD writer is nice to have but a combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW will be sufficient.

Finally, if something does go wrong, Thinkpads are very easy to repair, parts are easy to obtain there is more than enough information on the manufacturer website and numerous thinkpad-specific forums.

I wouldn't buy anything else for my kids, or indeed for myself. I got one for my 11 year old daughter 2 years ago, in the end the whole family ended up bashing on it every single day and (though I had to replace the CPU fan unit recently) it's still as good as new.

Hope that helps.

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The Digital Age
by XSYLUS / May 16, 2008 12:57 PM PDT

Personally I am not a Macintosh user, however, working in many technical support positions I would say that less than 3% of my support issues are with MACs and of those 3% most are just simple user mistakes rather than actual technical problems caused by the computer. To save yourself the headache of having to get the laptops serviced for virus removal or other problems I would recommend a Mac Laptop computer.

If you prefer a Windows based laptop I would recommend VAIO or LENOVO/IBM however they are both expensive because they are durable. Lenovo is currently offering 35% off of their ThinkPad laptops and free shipping and you can customize the hardware. I think some of there standard R series models start at just over $500.00 with the discount. ThinkPads are extremely durable and you get all the drivers and support directly from Lenovo.com. They come with a built in factory reset function in case the computer has major problems and they also offer a "revitalize" feature which is meant to keep the computer running at peak potential.

As far as specifications go, I would look at either AMD or Intel for a processor, they're both good although some may argue that Intel Mobile CPU's are more efficient when it comes to battery life. Here's a list of recommended specs:

? CPU: 1.5Mhz or higher (dual core or single core; either would work)
? RAM (memory): 2GB
? LCD size: 11" or higher (makes for easier portability)
(* Some offer 7" screens but that might be a bit small. In the end it's a matter of preference. You also probably do not need widescreen laptops.)
? Hard Disk: Probably wouldn't need more than 100GB at most, and for gaming purposes I'd recommend 7200RPM speed over 5400RPM.
? Optical Drive: I don't expect that you'd need a DVD burner so you could go with a CD burner / DVD reader that way your sons could still watch DVD movies and it should save you some money.

I think that about covers it. If you're looking to get mobile internet as in Verizon's EVDO rather than just standard WIFI Lenovo is offering a special on that as well. All in all I would say it's still going to be a tough decision. Before I bought my ThinkPad T61p I shopped around for weeks because I knew what features I wanted but at the time I was more partial to Sony VAIOs, and part of me wanted to get an Alienware but my budget wouldn't allow it. In the end I am glad I chose the ThinkPad.

On a personal note: I do not see anything wrong with introduction your sons to they're own laptops. It will teach them responsibility, and get them used to using computers which they will no doubt encounter in the future. Many people might think you're spoiling them but it's a generation gap. In my generation having a TV in the bedroom was pushing the envelope, this new generation is all about the portability. I take my hat off to you though because you're adding a lot to your plate by allowing your sons this privilege. You'll have to continually monitor they're usage, especially when online, and you'll have to occasionally deal with the servicing because computers are like cars eventually something breaks. At least with computers it's typically software rather than hardware. Best of luck in your endeavors.

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Laptop suitable for children
by scottghall / May 16, 2008 1:06 PM PDT

There is a project for the world called "One Laptop per Child", designed to bring an inexpensive PC to every child possible. You can read the main page of features at: "http://wiki.laptop.org/go/The_Children's_Machine"

You can also see a review of this from an 8-year old's perspective: "http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/my-8-year-old-reviews-the-olpcxo.aspx"

Mainly this is a full laptop ruggedized and designed for children. It runs all free open-source software (using a skinny version of Fedora Core Linux -- a form of Red Hat Linux), and will not only connect to the Internet via wifi, but to other OLPC computers as well, creating a local network of the children's computers that are near each other, designed for multiuser interactive play. The computers include productivity software (word processor, calculator, etc) and much educational software. You can add software to it with downloads of from the Internet and from some major retailers. Though you can run some MS-Windows software via MIME, most MS-Windows-only games and multimedia software is out; but not to worry, as their Linux counterparts are available free for the download.

Check this out and I think you'll find that this will make a perfect travel companion for your kids while on the road. And when you download MAME and load on the original versions of famous arcade games, they'll never ask for a GameBoy ever again.

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Laptop
by skmshaffer / May 16, 2008 1:19 PM PDT

What I recommend is that you get a Compaq Presario C700T series starting at $479.99 it is running windows Vista so you can set parental controls it should work fine

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