Time for a New Computer?


Many teachers expect your kids to have access to a computer. Does yours meet their needs or is it time for a new one?

By FamilyTime

 

As your children march through elementary school on their way to middle school, high school, and college, they need more sophisticated equipment and supplies to help them excel. The days when a computer was considered an “extra” or a “luxury” are long gone. Chances are you’ve had a computer for years, but is it up to par with what your kids need?

It might be time for a new computer, but should you buy a new desktop or a laptop? What will best serve your kids?

First Things First

Talk to your kids to see if they think your existing system meets their educational needs. This has everything to do with software — and nothing to do with it. In other words, this is about the software that is most compatible with what the school uses and will allow your kids to complete their schoolwork successfully — and not about software that lets the kids run games.

Most basic systems are just fine for writing papers, but if your children need the computer for graphics, you might decide to buy a more elaborate system. Talk to the teacher or computer expert at the school before you buy. P>

Once you know the software requirements, you can decide on the kind of computer you should buy. This is not as complex as it sounds, since most systems are in sync with most software for home use.

Desktop or Notebook?

This is the big question most families face. Desktops are larger and have more components, although this is not as true as it once was. Many notebooks (laptops) can serve as a family's primary computer.

An advantage of a desktop computer is that they often are less expensive than notebooks, although that is changing, too.

Many people opt for a laptop that can be plugged into an external keyboard and large monitor. Many people find both these features make the notebook easier to use.

The choice can depend on the age of your kids. Many families opt for a desktop, but unless you buy more than one machine, this means the kids are tethered to one spot in your house. True, it's a good idea to keep computers in central locations so that parents can keep an eye on where the kids surf on the Internet, and so you may not view this as a problem.

The central location is not always quiet, of course, and when a laptop is the primary compute, students who need to, can unplug it from the keyboard and monitor and use it as a traditional notebook in a calmer location.

If you have several children who may need to work on the computer on any given evening, you may face another type of dilemma altogether.

A high school student may do better with a notebook, which he can take to class if necessary, carry to the library or to his room for some quiet work. This same notebook can travel to college with the student.

Computers and the Internet

Obviously, you can’t access the Internet without a computer. Faster access to it is possible now, thanks to cable and DSL technology. If you have more than one computer in your house you might want to set up a wireless network so that each computer can log on.

If you have a notebook with a wireless card, you can easily remove it when your child takes the notebook to her room to write a paper. This way, you can monitor Internet access by literally removing the temptation.

Conversely, the wireless system allows a student to research a topic from the privacy and quiet of a bedroom. P>

Look into the service contract when you buy a computer. The very inexpensive ones may not have as good a deal as those that cost a little more money.

Service and Support

The best service is when a technician comes to the house and fixes any problem. Other service contracts require that you bring the computer to the technician, and still others ask that you pack it up and ship it somewhere that could be far, far away. Most service contracts are a combination of these choices.

There are also any number of independent companies that offer computer service and maintenance. They may work by contract or on an as-need basis.

Support is quite different from service. It’s generally offered by the hardware manufacturer (Dell, Toshiba, Sony, or McIntosh, for example) or software company (such as Microsoft) and is an email or phone call away.

For support, someone will lead through a process you don’t understand. Support assistance may also identify a failure and help you fix it — or suggest you turn to the service supplier.

Buy It

If you can afford a computer for the kids, buy it. Don’t wait for the technology to improve or the prices to drop. Both will happen but neither will make a tremendous difference. Your kids need the computer now, with school in full swing.

If you can’t buy a computer or afford more than one, don’t forget about the public library. Most have very good computers that you and the kids can use – for free!