What’s Good Computer for a 14-Year Old?

I got an email this morning from Stacey (a frequent reader and commenter here) asking me if I had any recommendations for a laptop computer for her 14-year old son, who will be starting high school this fall. I told her I had no idea but that I would post this as a question of the day. She desires reliability with affordability.

I’m thinking a small Dell would suffice but as I said earlier, I really don’t know. Inexpensive computers (I’m thinking $400 – $600 price range) are out there. It’s the software that makes them expensive.

Any suggestions?

19 thoughts on “What’s Good Computer for a 14-Year Old?”

  1. If he’s a geek, then a Dell Inspiron. Get the Intel graphics and the Intel wireless and he can run Linux on it.

  2. I don’t have much suggestion in the direction of hardware, but here’s a thought on software:

    Many people suggest going with a Linux system instead of Windows because you can get open source programs free instead of having to buy MS Office.

    That’s a valid point.

    But I’d argue that in this case it’s important to go with Windows and MS Office, as they’re very important skills for kids to learn. (Granted, if your son has been using a family PC with Windows on it for the last decade, this is an entirely moot point.)

  3. If the kid want’s a desktop, a cheap dell should be fine. If he want’s a laptop, I’d look at a netbook. I think the ASUS Eee PCs are well liked, although I don’t own a netbook myself.

  4. If her 14 year old son is so inclined, I think it would be a good idea to try building his own computer. All the parts for a better than average can be purchased for around the price of a low-end Dell, and there will be a sense of accomplishment. Check sites like Lifehacker or the forums at Slickdeals for instructions and low cost parts.

  5. I’ve got two thoughts on this. One is to go with the cheapest Windows machine she can find, and then load it up with open-source software, which is all free. The kid won’t win any gaming competitions, but if he’s got a good browser and a copy of OpenOffice, he should be able to do his schoolwork without a problem.

    My other thought, depending on the tech-savvyness of either her or her friends/family, would be to scour CraigsList to see if you could find a cheap (or free) machine that is serviceable enough to run Linux, and then run Linux, again with open-source software filling in whatever needs the kid has for schoolwork.

  6. An Asus Eee would be perfect for this, and using free and open source software such as OpenOffice would eliminate the software costs completely.

  7. One thing I forgot to add…

    What do you guys recommend for security/parental control? I don’t think I would want my 14-year old having free-rein on the internet.

  8. I would think that a Toshiba or Acer would be a pretty good computer for the money. I know that the Toshiba can be had for around $400 and it is a very reliable computer that is often over looked.

  9. I’d start here to research – http://tr.im/k315 . I got the Asus Eee 1000, Linux version, before the price went way down. I obviously should have waited, but had pre-ordered it. It looks like the XP version is rated better than Linux. If the boy is unfamiliar with Linux, I’d say XP would be the better bet. Mine came with good software and Skype, and the version of Skype is different than what I have on my XP desktop. It also has a built-in webcam, which I think is nifty as I’ve never had that before. I like this netbook for its size. I got the largest screen available, which is still small, because my vision is not that great. I can’t really imagine having the smaller one.

  10. I wouldn’t get a new laptop- too much chance of it being broken or stolen. Get a used system that is a few years old. As long as the primary purpose ISN’T playing games they won’t see any real difference in performance with Office or browsing the web. Just be ready to buy a new battery- laptop batteries don’t tend to last very long.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t get a reasonable system for less than $200 but I haven’t priced once recently.

    -Rick Francis

  11. Programs
    Office is great because that is what the rest of the world uses and you can get a discount since it is for your son a student.

    Open office is a great free program compariable to microsoft office.

    Dell is a great company and with anycompany if you want and good warranty you’ll have to pay for it.

    acer and asus are both good laptops and you can find these at stores like amazon and newegg.com.

    EEE machines are smaller, a little slower, and have less memory than a regular laptop. In other words if he wants to put lots of music on his computer a regular laptop could be better. of course you could also just get an external hard drive for extra storage as well.

  12. Craigslist has provided some great deals (50% off retail price), if you are willing to buy a custom computer.

    Another good choice are Linux-based computers. Because most computers use Microsoft or Mac operating systems, there is a “proprietary tax” of about $1000 passed on to the consumer. This is not the case for Linux-based computers. Linux distros have come a long way, and new users are finding it more user-friendly than Vista. Check-out DistroWatch.com for one-stop comparison on Linux distros and latest reviews…

    If you decide to go this way, I strongly recommend installing the latest Linux Mint. It already comes with all the proprietary software and it has been frequently called “What Ubuntu should have been…” (UBUNTU is considered the best distro by far… serves as base to Linux Mint)

    The Asus Eee is a great computer, but it’s bare-bones hardware will make it necessary to upgrade within a few years. Recommend the Dell Mini 9, instead.

    Also, there’s Zombu that makes desktops a-la-MacMini and sells them for $99, without the monitor.

    Walmart is also selling Linux-based PC’s for $200 under the Everex brand.

  13. Check out TigerDirect.com and Frys.com for some deals on refurbished computers (you will get a 90-day warranty and they will slash 20-30% off the price) so you can get a very good computer for ~$200-300. These are good name brands too like hp, acer, gateway, and lenovo. laptop deals can be had as well…there are netbooks (ultra-small laptops with 8-10″ screens and tiny hard drives and processors) for $200-300 as well which are fine for internet and basic word processing (not games or graphics).

  14. Since this is being bought for her son going into high school, does the high school itself have any requirements? A lot of schools now are handing programs to their students to do assignments with.

    Really, I think that a lot of suggestions are starting backwards, you need to know what the computers job is first before you can buy it. Will he just be using it as a word processor and internet cruiser, or will he be using it for more intensive work? Is this computer something that he may start out college with in a few years?

    Saying he’s a 14 year old needing a computer for school just isn’t all that much to go on.

  15. im also 14 and i plan on getting a studio 14 from dell i think that getting windows is very important because most major businesses use it. i think he should get a reasonable computer not to fancy but it cant be crappy also it dosn’t need to be gameing he can jack up an old desktop for that.

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