Home Computer graphics Buying a computer for your child? Here are our top tips

Buying a computer for your child? Here are our top tips

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Buying computers is no fun. There, I said it. There are so many options, configurations, jargon, and a constant stream of promotions. The buying dynamic becomes even more confusing when looking for a computer for a child who may or may not have a specific task in mind.

My daughter, for example, wants a computer for her schoolwork. My two sons are gamers who also aspire to stream on Twitch of a lifetime. Two completely different use cases with two completely different needs.

Below, I’ve collected some of the most common requests kids have and why they would need a computer, for example for games, schoolwork, or to become the next big YouTuber. I have also included several different options for different budgets.

Get this computer if…

Your child wants to play video games

My anecdotal experience, courtesy of my own children, is that one of the most sought after types of computers 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.

What makes a gaming computer, well, a gaming computer? There’s a lot to do, but the bottom line is that you’ll ideally want some form of dedicated graphics card (GPU). A standalone GPU is what gives gaming computers better graphics and performance. The downside of adding a dedicated GPU to a computer also increases the price – graphics cards don’t come cheap.

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

What to look for: Besides the graphics, you’ll also want to make sure a gaming PC has enough storage space – 512GB is a good starting point – and at least 8GB of memory, but preferably 16GB. some recommendations for a gaming PC.

  • Processor: Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 3 5300G or newer.
  • Memory: Minimum of 8 GB, but preferably 16 GB.
  • GPUs: Nvidia GTX 1650/AMD Radeon RX 5500 for low resolution gaming. Nvidia RTX 30 series/AMD Radeon RX 6800 for high resolution gaming.
  • Storage: Minimum 512 GB SSD. A 1TB or larger SSD is preferred.

Our picks for children’s games

Budget option

The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop PC starts at $599 for a system that ships with an AMD Ryzen 3 5300G processor and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 GPU. Both are more than enough for 1080p gameplay on major titles. HP took a few shortcuts to bring the price down below $600, which is that the Pavilion comes with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. However, you can customize the version at checkout and double both components to 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage for a total of $739. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Mid-range option

Aegis RS 11TC-405US Gaming Desk: MSI’s Aegis line of gaming PCs are superb and offer plenty of performance for the price. This particular option gets you a full build that includes the 11th Gen Intel 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 so cool.

Top of the line option

BLD Pro Streaming Kit: The best part about a gaming PC is that you’re not stuck with what’s inside the day you bought it. At any time, assuming compatibility is not an issue, you can upgrade the 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 sourcing the parts on your own, getting something like the NZXT Streaming Pro BLD Kit is a convenient and fun way to proceed.

You get a slight discount from a pre-built gaming PC, a toolkit, and step-by-step instructions that guide you through the build. The Streaming Pro version is the most expensive and capable of the three gaming PCs featured here. It comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080Ti GPU, 32GB of memory, and 1TB of storage. (There are more affordable BLD kits if that’s the route you want to go but don’t want a high-end system. Check them out here.)

Your child only needs to do their homework

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

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 like 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 storage speed 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 a performance hit.

  • Processor: Intel Core i3/AMD Ryzen 3 or newer
  • Memory: 8 GB or more
  • GPUs: N / A
  • Storage: 256 GB or more

Our school choices for children

Budget option

Lenovo Chromebook Duo: A Chromebook is a reliable and easy way to start a child’s computing adventure. They’re relatively affordable, receive routine software updates, and have a strong security track record. And they’re commonly used in an educational setting, so any apps or websites kids use for class work on a Chromebook. In addition, you will have access to the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides suite. 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 under $300. And since everything on a Chromebook is stored in your Google Drive account, you don’t need something with a ton of storage.

Mid-range option

Surface Pro 8 Bundle with Keyboard: Microsoft is currently running a back-to-school sale for the Surface Pro 8 that gets you the base Pro 8 model with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD. That’s over $300 off on the typical price of this suit. All of Microsoft’s Surface options are a valid option, and a Surface Pro 8 at this price is no exception.

Premium option

Macbook Air: Apple recently announced and released a completely redesigned MacBook Air. It’s the first major redesign in many years, combining an impressively thin body with a larger 13.6-inch screen and Apple’s newest M2 processor. The base model MacBook Air M2 features an 8-core processor and an 8-core GPU with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. MacBook Air performance with an M2 processor is overkill for basic schoolwork, but it’s something your child can build on for years to come. It’s even a good choice for someone who does light photo and video editing.

Your child wants to be a YouTuber

I have yet to meet a kid over 5 who doesn’t want to be some kind of YouTube personality. Whether it’s someone who unboxes toys and plays with them, does tricks or plays video games, YouTube is the life of most children. However, to be a YouTuber, you must have a computer powerful enough to edit hours and hours of video.

What to look for: There’s a lot of overlap between a gaming PC and a computer designed to edit video effectively. 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 option to choose Windows or Mac. Apple’s Mac line is commonly used for editing video, 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 newer.
  • Memory: Minimum of 8 GB, but preferably 16 GB or even 32 GB for video editing.
  • GPUs: Nvidia GTX 1650/AMD Radeon RX 5500 or newer.
  • Storage: Minimum 512 GB SSD. A 1TB or larger SSD is preferred.

Our child YouTuber chooses

Budget option

The Acer Nitro 5 makes a respectable entry-level gaming laptop, meaning it’ll handle video and photo editing with equal gusto. This sub-$800 version gets you a 15.6-inch screen, an Intel Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GTX 1650, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage. It’s a basic build that’s good enough for someone to get started with video editing, while maybe playing a game or three in their spare time.

Mid-range option

The 13-inch MacBook Pro was recently updated with Apple’s M2 Apple Silicon processor. This new processor adds 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 includes an 8-core processor, a 10-core GPU, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage. I would suggest upgrading the memory of this version to 16GB, and possibly doubling the storage to 512GB so that there is enough space to store and edit images. However, you can always use an external SSD to make up for the storage space.

Premium option

Apples 14-inch MacBook Pro was the first Mac to feature the company’s refreshed design, featuring a larger screen, with a notch at the 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 in terms of 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.

Keep in mind that there is a lot of overlap between options

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

For example, all gaming PCs would be perfectly capable of editing videos. For parents with a child learning 3D or CAD design for video games or 3D printing, you really have several options – Windows or Mac. Any of MacBook will do the job, just like gaming computers.

Macs are getting more and more powerful and developers are starting to take notice, but these are still not real gaming options. This is really the only scenario where you are limited to a specific operating system.