Please Help Me Find Good Computers for My Two 7th Grade Boys
August 21, 2010 6:29 PM   Subscribe

My two boys, both starting 7th grade in a couple of weeks, need computers...laptop or smaller? Smaller relates to cost?

So the boys are going to be required to turn in homework via internet and produce it on a computer. I've seen some tiny machines at Toys R Us for around $300. They seem to meet all of our requirements as follow:

Some Office Suite: Word, Power Point?
MultiMedia: at least the ability to support downloaded video and music editing software. Onboard software is a huge PLUS.

I'm hoping to spend about $300 for each. Please, point me in the right direction. I'm feeling like Toys R Us probably isn't the right path to take, and FWIW, I haven't purchased a new computer in about 10 years, my last one being this HP Pavillion that really kicks ass but can't afford buying two similar items for the boys.

Please Hope Us!!!!! Many thanks in advance!!!
posted by snsranch to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
Get one desktop.

With laptops you wre paying for portability by either paying more money or sacrificing performance.

With kids their age, it would also be nice to keep an eye on them while they are on the internet.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:36 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would be looking for a used iMac computer, load open office on it... you should be able to find a couple for $300 or less.

Anything you purchase new for $300 won't last a month in the hands of a 7th grader connected to the internet, and will be so underpowered as to be useless.
posted by HuronBob at 6:37 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of netbooks nowadays fit your description quite well. This Acer seems to do what you want with it or will at least have the capabilities to do so.

Also, would it be possible for you to spend around $600 for a better desktop and have the boys share? With a better desktop, they'd also be able to use it to play games on it (unless that's something you do not want).
posted by astapasta24 at 6:40 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Huronbob has a excellent may even be able to find an eMac for less than that.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:41 PM on August 21, 2010

Does the school provide any guidance? Are they going to be submitting homework over email, or does the school require them to install some software (and therefore to have a particular operating system)?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:55 PM on August 21, 2010
posted by at 7:22 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the last two years, all my mefi comments and a good bit of my programming has been done on a tiny little Asus 901.

Yes, with a little work I can run a word processor, browser, email, and even write code using the eclipse IDE. Yeah, it's a little slow with flash, and it can't play modern games like WOW. And it doesn't have a CD/DVD.

What I like about it is that it's small and a new battery lasts over four hours. Though I wouldn't get an Asus again because the keyboard is chintzy and breaks easily.

You can get a decent laptop for $600; don't spend more. My next laptop will probably be an Acer 1830T, which will cost about $700. The Acer Aspire One 721 is less fast, but about half that price.

The site has very very thorough reviews, if you can handle some akward translations from German.

Finally, I'd strongly consider running Ubuntu on your kids' laptops; what you lose in compatibility you make up for in not having to worry about viruses. And on slower netbooks, ubuntu runs a bit better than ms-windows.
posted by orthogonality at 7:34 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Get one desktop. To reply I'll start there. Because of their closeness in age it's very important that they have separate machines. When they're not doing homework, one will be researching prog rock and the other will be researching science stuff. They are like night and day, and I totally promote whatever it is that they're doing. However, whatever they're doing, they want to do it separately.

No, the school doesn't provide any guidance, but they do require most writing assignments to be done in some computer format. The "Red Pen" of the past is computerized now, at least in this case.

I'm off to check out Acer right now. Thank you for that, astapasta24!
posted by snsranch at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2010

Seconding getting one $600 desktop for them to share (or even one $600 laptop to share). That way you can get some things that a $300 netbook type computer will be missing out on, such as a CD/DVD drive. A desktop will also last longer and be upgradeable, not to mention being less likely to be broken by young children and cheaper to repair if it does break.

In seventh grade it doesn't seem like they'd have enough homework to really need two computers, although I guess they'd enjoy having their own.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2010

Sorry, I see you rejected my seconding of that idea while I was typing it!

In that case I'll just say: make sure they don't need CD/DVD drives before you buy a tiny $300 machine that doesn't have one.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:49 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend and finding the best laptop you can for $300.

There are a few $300-350 machines here:
posted by k8t at 8:00 PM on August 21, 2010

With a $300 laptop, be prepared for it to die within a year or so.
posted by k8t at 8:02 PM on August 21, 2010

You can expect to see a splurge of back-to-school specials as the school year nears. If you only get one they will be battling all the time for use. There are now and will be lots of decent laptops under $ 500 that are well equipped. All you would need to add is Open Office (free). I would expect their will be back-to-school deals with Microsoft Office (student version) included. A month ago I bought a well equipped ASUS for $ 450.00

As you said, I wouldn't shop ToysRUs, online stores, Best Buy, Costco will have the best buys.
posted by nogero at 8:14 PM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: I'll just say: make sure they don't need CD/DVD drives before you buy a tiny $300 machine that doesn't have one. Absolutely and I totally agree. If they need that they can always use my machine as they have in the past. I really just need for my guys to be able to do independent study with serviceable machines that are relatively inexepnsive.
posted by snsranch at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2010

Used laptop or desktop with Ubuntu and You can get used Thinkpads from IBM in your price range.

These are some of the most durable and easiest to service laptops. Seriously. If your kids can read instructions and keep track of small parts, they can fix problems themselves, and you can teach them the importance of proper backups.
posted by wierdo at 9:50 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear, those machines are used by IBMers, then cleaned up by their service center and offered for sale.
posted by wierdo at 9:53 PM on August 21, 2010

I would recommend checking dealsites filtered for pc systems, e.g. slickdeals, and finding reviews for any systems before you pull the trigger. I assume the kids won't take their laptops into school so a desktop-replacement laptop, i.e. heavier with a bigger screen, would be ok. A lot of the bargain laptops have bigger screens, slightly lower speed parts, but they'll be more than sufficient to watch youtube and do most homework assignments. As nogero points out, lots of back-to-school specials are already running so capitalize on that by getting slightly older hardware. I'd recommend a dual-core processor with at least 2 GB of ram (3gb preferable), and Win7. The smaller netbooks may have a keyboard size suitable for seventh graders, but the smaller screen size and lackluster performance will limit their utility if your kids want to do more with them. In terms of Intel's cpu generations, (newest) Core i3 > Core 2 duo > Core Duo.
posted by palionex at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2010

Is there any reason they need to be cutting edge? Dillyeo has desktops that are maybe 8 or 10 years old starting at $50, which should be able to handle homework and the Internet just fine.
posted by foursentences at 10:22 PM on August 21, 2010

Sorry, missed "Wi-Fi" -- though you could probably hire someone to add and install cheap wireless cards if you wanted to go that route.
posted by foursentences at 10:24 PM on August 21, 2010

A desktop is your best bet. Laptops in the $300 price range are usually pretty weak, with processors clocking in at less than 2 Ghz. That's fine for basic tasks, writing papers, surfing the net, email, etc, but will suck if one the boys gets into something more hardware intensive, like Photoshop (I have friends who started using programs like that in middle school) or latches on to a fun computer game with even semi-decent graphics. It's very difficult, often times impossible, to upgrade the processor, even the RAM, on a budget laptop.

A desktop will usually already be more powerful than a laptop and is more durable in the long run. For the majority of my life, I've used laptops, mostly due to space constraints and a need to be mobile, but I've been dissatisfied with them due to their lack of power. I design and I game and lately, my current processor just isn't cutting it. I'm saving up to buy a better model of laptop, but to be honest, if I had the space, I'd get a desktop.

We were able to get an recent model of an HP slimline (a desktop), brand new in box, off of ebay for less than your price range. When shopping off of ebay, just make sure the seller has good feedback (we usually try to buy from people with an ebay store and a feedback count in the high hundreds or thousands). If they don't have 100% positive feedback, scroll through the feedback comments and see why they lost points. Are they really bad with service or are some customers just stupid? I'd also stick to buying listings that contain brand new in box items, simply because I dislike used/restored computers.

Good luck~
posted by joyeuxamelie at 10:26 PM on August 21, 2010

One more tip: if you do find something on ebay, you can often find reviews for that model on or by simply typing the model name into google.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 10:28 PM on August 21, 2010

External USB DVD-ROM drives are cheap and would solve any lack-of-CD-drive problem that a smaller laptop may have. The Thinkpad idea is really good because they are very durable, unlike the cheaper new netbooks. Used/refurb Mac laptops would also be cool, but if they use PCs at school, it might just be easier to get them PCs for home as well. Music editing software will probably not come standard on these (well, maybe Garage Band on the Macs). Word is a must, PowerPoint maybe if the school uses it (I can't imagine subjecting 7th graders to the lameness of PowerPoint, but who knows nowadays).
posted by elpea at 10:28 PM on August 21, 2010

And if the boys are just going to use these for school, for the most part, can't whichever one who wants to play a game or make music use the family desktop for that purpose?
posted by elpea at 10:29 PM on August 21, 2010

With laptops you wre paying for portability by either paying more money or sacrificing performance.

This hasn't been true for several years. Netbooks offer fantastic portability and build quality, and have good enough performance for day-to-day web browsing/word processing.

I use a desktop, and disagree with all the "Buy a Desktop" advice in this thread.

If you belong to Costco, they usually have a good selection of Netbooks, and an extremely generous 90-day no-questions-asked return policy.
posted by schmod at 11:21 PM on August 21, 2010

I suggest if possible, have the kids play with a Netbook in a store first.

I work with 7th graders and many of them didn't like Netbooks because of how small the keyboard and the screen size were.
posted by dzaz at 6:06 AM on August 22, 2010

Spend about $100 and get an off lease Dell or HP Pentium IV above 2.4 GHz (for that price you can probably get 3GHz). PIVs under 2.4GHz aren't worth owning for lots of complicated reasons. In fact, even at 2.4GHz you can run into lemon designs, but your odds aren't too bad.

Of course you'll need monitors for these machines, but you should be able to get 17/19" LCDs for about $80 each.

vfxweb is a good place, but in California you should be able to do much better--try craigslist, there is probably some small time dealer who'd be very happy for the business and do a good job setting you up. This guy, for example, though he isn't being as straight forward and thorough as he should be.

Then, you can give the kids some budget for upgrading how they see fit over time (get the new hard drive now, or save up for a new system, etc. etc.).
posted by Chuckles at 12:59 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Hey folks thanks for giving me so many options and things to consider. Last night when I was following up on some of your suggestions, my wife told me not to forget cell phones.

Ha! I guess they're going to be sharing some things after all!

Thanks again!
posted by snsranch at 3:35 PM on August 23, 2010

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