How to choose a computer for your child

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Computer shopping is not fun. Yep. I said it, and I totally mean it. There are so many options, configurations, jargon and a constant stream of promotions. The shopping dynamic gets even muddier when you’re looking for a computer for a child who may have a specific task in mind.

For example, my daughter needs a computer for schoolwork. My two sons are gamers who also want to stream on Twitch for a living. Two completely different use cases with two completely different needs.

Below I have collected some of the more common requests from children and why they need a computer, for example for gaming, schoolwork or even becoming the next big YouTuber. I’ve also included several different options for varying budgets.

Also: 25+ Black Friday Laptop Deals

Get this computer if…

Your child wants to play video games

My anecdotal experience, thanks to my own children, is that one of the most desirable types of computer has to be a gaming PC. That means a computer powerful enough to play everything from Fall Guys or Minecraft to Fortnite and Call of Duty. Roblox is also on that list, but it’s a game – much like Minecraft – that’s built to run on pretty much anything you can remotely call a computer, modern or not.

What makes a gaming computer a gaming computer? There’s a lot that goes into it, but the gist of it is that you ideally want some form of dedicated graphics card (GPU). A standalone GPU is what gives gaming computers better graphics and performance. The downside to adding a dedicated GPU to a computer is that it also increases the price – graphics cards aren’t cheap.

If your child wants a gaming PC, but they don’t play any resource-intensive games (like Call of Duty or Red Dead Redemption 2), you can get by with a computer that has integrated graphics (a graphics processor built into the PROCESSOR). Heck, I’ve had some success playing Fortnite on a PC I built that used the integrated graphics processor built into AMD’s very affordable Ryzen 3 3200G processor.

What to look for: In addition to the graphics, you’ll also want to make sure a gaming PC has plenty of storage—512GB is a good starting point—and at least 8GB of memory, but preferably 16GB. Below are some recommendations for a gaming PC.

  • Processor: Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 3 5300G or higher.
  • Memory: Minimum 8GB, but preferably 16GB.
  • GPU: Nvidia GTX 1650/AMD Radeon RX 5500 for low resolution gaming. Nvidia RTX 30 series/AMD Radeon RX 6800 for high definition gaming.
  • Storage: 512 GB SSD at minimum. 1TB SSD or more preferred.

Our children’s games

Budget option

The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop comes with an AMD Ryzen 3 5300G processor and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 GPU, both of which are more than enough for 1080p gaming across major titles. HP took a couple of shortcuts to bring the price down below $549, namely that the Pavilion comes with 8GB of memory and 512GB of storage space.

Also: The 5 best cheap gaming PCs

Midrange option

Aegis RS 11TC-405US gaming desktop: MSI’s Aegis line of gaming desktops looks great and offers plenty of performance for the price. This particular option gives you a well-rounded build that includes Intel’s 11th generation i5 11400F processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, 16GB of storage, and 1TB of SSD storage. Even better? It comes with all the RGB lighting that makes a gaming PC look so cool.

Also: The best lights for streaming on Twitch, YouTube and TikTok

High end option

Streaming Pro BLD Kit: The best thing about a gaming PC is that you’re not stuck with what’s inside the day you bought it. At any time, provided compatibility is not an issue, you can upgrade your CPU, GPU, memory or add more storage. To figure out which parts go where, it’s a good idea to build your first gaming PC. But instead of getting the parts yourself, there’s a convenient and fun way to get something like the NZXT Streaming Pro BLD Kit.

Also: I built an NZXT BLD Kit gaming PC with my kids and it was amazing

You get a small discount compared to a pre-built gaming PC, a tool kit and step-by-step instructions to guide you through the build. The Streaming Pro build is the most expensive and most capable of the three gaming PCs highlighted here. It comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU, 32 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage space. (There are cheaper BLD kits if this is the route you want to go but you don’t want a high end system. Check these out here.)

Your child only needs to do school work

For basic everyday computing tasks, like school work, you have a wider range of options and operating systems. A Chromebook, for example, is more than capable of giving a student the means to get class work done, whether it’s on a dedicated school website or printing a report in Google Docs. Of course, Windows PCs and Macs also offer a wide range of configurations and models (this is more true of Windows than Macs).

What to look for: For a Mac or Windows system, try to find something within your specific budget with at least 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. You can get by with 128GB and the combination of a cloud storage service such as iCloud Drive, Google Drive or One Drive. For a Chromebook, you can still have a good experience with 4GB of memory. The amount of storage doesn’t matter as much as the speed of storage on a Chromebook due to Google Drive integration. You should try to avoid anything with eMMC storage as it is slower than an SSD and you will see an impact on performance.

  • Processor: Intel Core i3/AMD Ryzen 3 or newer
  • Memory: 8 GB or more
  • GPU: NOW
  • Storage: 256 GB or more

Our schoolwork chooses

Budget option

Lenovo Chromebook Duet: A Chromebook is a reliable and easy way to start a child’s computing journey. They are relatively inexpensive, receive routine software updates, and have a strong track record when it comes to security. And they’re often used in educational settings, so the apps or websites kids use for lessons will work on a Chromebook. In addition, you get access to Google’s suite of documents, spreadsheets and slides. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet has long been one of my favorite Chromebooks because it’s a 2-in-1 that comes with a detachable keyboard for just under $300. And since everything on a Chromebook is stored in your Google Drive account, you don’t need anything with tons of storage space.

Review: Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3: One of the best budget Chromebooks just got even better

Midrange option

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 cannot be latest Surface Pro model, but it’s still a fantastic option for a student. The base model is currently $400 off its regular price of $1,199, but it doesn’t come with the keyboard cover. Surface keyboard options start at $139, depending on model and whether you want a stylus. The basic model Surface Pro 8 comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of memory and a 256 GB SSD. Some of Microsoft’s Surface options are a worthy option, and a Surface Pro 8 at this price is no exception.

Also: The best Surface PCs

Exclusive option

MacBook Air: Apple recently announced and launched a completely redesigned MacBook Air. It’s the first major redesign in years, and combines an impressively thin body with a larger 13.6-inch screen and Apple’s latest M2 processor. The M2 in the base model MacBook Air has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of storage. MacBook Air with an M2 processor performance is overkill for basic school work, but it’s something your child can grow into in the years to come. It’s even a good choice for someone who does light photo and video editing.

Also: The 6 best Macs

Your child wants to be a YouTuber

I have yet to meet a child over the age of 5 who doesn’t want to be some sort of YouTube personality. Be it someone unwrapping toys and playing with them, doing tricks or playing video games – YouTube is life for most kids. However, to be a YouTuber you need a computer powerful enough to edit hours and hours of video.

What to look for: There is a lot of overlap between a gaming PC and a computer built for efficient video editing. In fact, if you’re using a Windows PC, you’ll want something with a dedicated GPU to speed up the editing process. But, unlike a gaming PC, editing videos gives you the flexibility to choose Windows or Mac. Apple’s Mac range is often used for video editing, with the latest Apple Silicon processors having enough processing and graphics power to get the job done.

  • Processor: Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 3 5300G or higher.
  • Memory: Minimum 8 GB, but preferably 16 GB or even 32 GB for video editing.
  • GPU: Nvidia GTX 1650/AMD Radeon RX 5500 or higher.
  • Storage: 512 GB SSD at minimum. 1TB SSD or more preferred.

Our YouTuber kid chooses

Budget option

The Acer Nitro 5 makes for a respectable entry-level gaming laptop, meaning it will handle video and image editing with equal gusto. This sub-$800 build gets you a 15.6-inch screen, an Intel Core i5 processor, an Nvidia RTX 3050, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage. It’s a basic build that’s good enough to get someone started with video editing, while maybe playing a game or three in their spare time.

Also: The 7 best computers

Midrange option

The 13-inch MacBook Pro was recently updated with Apple’s M2 Apple Silicon processor. The new processor brings faster performance to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, while the exterior of the laptop has remained unchanged. The stock configuration of the 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. I would suggest upgrading the memory on this build to 16GB, and possibly doubling the storage to 512GB so that there is enough room to store and edit footage. However, you can always use an external SSD to make up for the storage space.

Also: 10+ Black Friday Apple Deals

Exclusive option

Apple’s 14-inch MacBook Pro was the first Mac to feature the company’s refreshed design, with a larger screen, complete with a notch on top. The MacBook Pro also has an SD card reader, three Thunderbolt 4 ports and a MagSafe 3 port for charging. In addition to a new design, the 14-inch MacBook Pro comes with Apple’s M1 Pro Apple Silicon processor that lives up to its name for performance. For those who care about specs, the base model gets you an 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD.

Review: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro: Apple supercharges its flagship laptop

Remember that there is a lot of overlap between the options

Just because a computer is listed as a gaming or video editing option for your budding YouTube star doesn’t mean they can’t perform other tasks as well.

For example, all gaming PCs will be fully capable of editing video. For parents with a child learning 3D or CAD design for video games or 3D printing, you really have several options – both Windows and Mac. some of them MacBooks will get the job done, as will the gaming computers.

Macs are getting more powerful, and developers are starting to take notice, but they’re still not true gaming options. That’s really the only scenario where you’re limited to a specific operating system.

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