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The Ultimate Parents Step-by-Step Guide to Buying a Laptop for Your Child

Author: Matt Donnelly Published: Mar 14, 2024

Gone are the days when a child’s back-to-school kit consisted merely of a few exercise books, textbooks and a well-filled pencil case. Today, a laptop is a back-to-school essential. The thing is, when it comes to buying a laptop it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re in that position, start by reading this comprehensive guide to buying a school laptop from Comet…


Step 1: choose your operating system

Whilst it might be tempting to dive straight into the more technical details such as graphics cards, processors and RAM, you should first decide what operating system is going to be best for your child. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, an operating system (which is typically shortened to ‘OS’), is the main program that manages all the other programs and applications on a laptop or computer. The operating system comes pre-installed on laptops and is what you see when you turn on a laptop for the first time (and every subsequent time thereafter).

When it comes to laptops for kids, you’ll have three main operating systems to choose from: 

  • Windows (Microsoft).
  • Chrome OS (Google). 
  • macOS (Apple).

As you can see, each of the main tech companies has their own operating system. Below, we’ve detailed the pros and cons of each operating system: 


Windows

Windows is the most widely used operating system on laptops (around 69% of all PCs and laptops use Windows as their OS). 

Windows is compatible with other popular Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint - which are all programs that your child is likely to use at school. 

At the time of writing (August 2023), Windows 11 is the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, however you’ll also find plenty of amazing laptops running Windows 10, too. 


Chrome OS

Chrome OS is Google’s own version of an operating system and is typically found on what are known as ‘Chromebooks’. These are laptops that are specifically designed to run Chrome OS. 

Chrome OS is what is known as a cloud-based operating system, meaning that it predominantly saves files within the ‘cloud’. As you’ll see later, the advantage of this is that the laptop doesn’t require a huge amount of storage, as files are saved mainly online. 

The disadvantage of this is that Chrome OS requires an internet connection to work at its best; although, having said this, given that the internet is pretty much available everywhere these days, this isn’t really a disadvantage.

Chrome OS typically features its own productivity apps such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides. These are basically Google’s version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively. 

Whilst it is possible to work on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on a Chrome OS laptop, the experience isn’t always the smoothest or easiest. 

Having said that, because of the minimal tech requirements of Chrome OS, Chromebooks tend to be amongst the cheapest laptops you can buy. For many people, that overcomes any concerns about cross-compatibility between programs such as Docs and Word. 


macOS

Finally, we come to macOS. This is Apple’s own operating system. So, if you’re thinking about buying a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, you’ll find that it comes pre-installed with the latest version of macOS. 

macOS operates in a similar way to Windows, in that it is installed and runs directly from the laptop - rather than relying on the internet and the cloud for much of its functionality. 

For many people, macOS is the ultimate operating system as it can run both Microsoft programs (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and Google programs (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) alike. 

A key point of consideration for many parents, however, is that Apple laptops (and by extension macOS) tend to be more expensive than Windows or Chrome-based laptops. 

Tip - the best way to decide which operating system is right for your child is to think about what they use at home and school. For example, if they tend to use Windows - and have to submit assignments in Word format - then it makes sense to buy them a Windows-based laptop.


Step 2: form factor

Once you’ve decided which operating system will be best, the next step is to choose the form factor of the laptop. 

What do we mean by form factor? Well, these days laptops come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, the main form factors you’ll find on the market are: 

  • Standard laptops.
  • 2-in-1 laptops. 
  • Notebooks.

Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about each of these form factors.


Standard laptops

You’re probably familiar with the standard laptop format. It is the classic ‘clamshell’ design where you lift the screen up from the keyboard to begin work. 

When closed, both the screen and the keyboard are protected, with the laptop being easy and convenient to carry and store.

Whilst slightly larger than other laptop form factors, your standard laptop is typically available with a broader range of parts and components. In other words, if you’re looking for a powerful laptop for your child, then it’s likely to be in this format (put simply, there’s more room for parts!). 

As we’ll see shortly, standard laptops are available in a wide range of sizes - with the size being ultimately determined by the screen. 


2-in-1 laptop

In recent years a new form factor has burst onto the scene and become immediately popular. 

As the name suggests, a 2-in-1 laptop is a laptop which has two distinct sections; the screen and the keyboard.

2-in-1 laptops are available in two main variants: 

  • Hinged - where the screen and keyboard remain connected, but can be rotated through 360 degrees so that the laptop stands upright (see image below for example). 
Acer Spin 5 Convertible Laptop
  • Detachable - detachable 2-in-1 laptops allow you to completely detach the keyboard and screen from one another. This allows you to use the screen independently as a tablet. 

The benefit of 2-in-1 laptops is that they are very versatile devices, allowing your child to use them for both schoolwork (as a traditional clamshell laptop), or for leisure (as a tablet). They typically also allow you to use a stylus on the touchscreen, providing further functionality (e.g. for drawing and art).

However, 2-in-1 laptops are typically less powerful than traditional standard laptops, so if you’re expecting your child to use some processing-heavy programs such as photo or video editing software, a 2-in-1 may not be the best choice.


Notebook

Imagine taking a standard laptop and shrinking it; that’s a notebook. 

Notebooks have been around for decades now and have traditionally been the go-to choice for children. That’s thanks largely to their light weight, smaller dimensions, and long battery life.

However, like 2-in-1 laptops, notebooks tend to be less powerful than standard laptops due to the lack of space for high-performance components. 

In most cases, this is fine for school-use as pupils (especially those in younger years), tend to use undemanding programs such as Word and PowerPoint. 

Tip - to choose the correct form factor for your child, think about how they’ll be using the laptop, how often they’ll be carrying it, and the type of work they’ll be using it for. 


Step 3: weight

In addition to thinking about a laptop’s form factor, you should also check how heavy it is. 

Whilst this isn’t a particular concern for the majority of adults, it could adversely impact your child. 

If their laptop is too heavy, they’ll likely find it burdensome to carry to and from school. Bear in mind that they’re probably already carrying numerous books in their backpack as it is. 

The best laptops for school are purposefully designed to be lightweight For example, the latest ASUS laptops can weigh as little as 1 kg. That’s about the same as a bag of sugar.


Step 4: performance

Now we come to the more technical side of things; choosing the level of performance you want from your child’s laptop. 

In order to select a laptop of the appropriate level of performance, you’ll need to pay attention to the laptop’s processor, memory and graphics.

Let’s begin with the processor…


Processor

The processor is arguably the most important part of a laptop. Think of it as being like the laptop’s ‘brain’. 

It’s the job of the processor to coordinate the various processes that are required to run programs, essential computer functions and more. The processor (which is also known as the CPU), is like the ‘boss’, telling all the other components within the laptop what to do. 

When it comes to buying a laptop for your child, you’ll find that nearly every available laptop has either an AMD or Intel processor. These are the two biggest processor manufacturers in the world and between them supply about 90% of CPUs for PCs and laptops. 

Intel offers a wide range of processors spanning from their entry-level Celeron and Atom processors (which you’ll typically find in budget school laptops), through to their high performance Core processors. 

AMD has a similar line-up spanning from their entry-level Athlon processors, up to their high-performance Ryzen processors.

Having said that, Apple has launched its own range of processors. At the time of writing, Apple processors include the M1 and M2 series. If you buy your child a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, then they’re likely to have one of these Apple processors. 

Another emerging player within the processor market is Qualcomm. Their Snapdragon processor is increasingly being used in budget laptops.

Regardless of what brand a processor is, there are some key characteristics you should look for. 

So, what are these characteristics? 

The key thing to look for is the number of cores the processor has. At the risk of oversimplifying, the more cores a processor has the more quickly it will be able to carry out tasks (such as running programs). 

For a school laptop, you’re going to want a processor with at least two cores (also known as a dual-core processor). 

However, if you’re willing to spend more, then it’s possible to buy laptops with processors that have four, six, eight or even more cores. But, you’ll only really want four cores or more in a processor if you’re going to be running really intensive, processor-heavy programs such as video editing software. 

It can also be helpful to look at how many threads a processor has. Again, without going into too much detail, threads allow your processor to deal more effectively with multitasking such as running two or more programs at the same time. 

For a school laptop, a processor with two threads will generally be sufficient. 

School laptop processor checklist: 

  • Look for a reputable processor brand like Intel, AMD, Apple or Qualcomm.
  • Ensure your chosen laptop has a processor with at least two cores. 
  • Look for processors that have two threads as a minimum. 

Tip - if in doubt, err on the side of caution and buy a laptop with a processor that is more powerful than you think you’ll need. This is because it’s virtually impossible to upgrade processors in laptops. 


Memory (RAM)

The next performance related point to consider is the laptop’s memory. 

Also known as RAM (standing for ‘random access memory’), it’s the job of the laptop’s memory to provide somewhere for your computer’s apps and programs with somewhere to temporarily store and access data. 

With the correct amount of RAM, your child’s laptop will be able to run programs quicker. 

For the sorts of basic tasks that your child will be undertaking for school work (such as using a word processing program, browsing the internet etc), look for at least 4 GB of RAM in a laptop.

If you want to future-proof the laptop to an extent - and/or if you expect your child will be using more intensive programs - then buy a laptop with at least 8 GB of RAM. This will have a higher upfront cost, but will save you time and hassle further down the road attempting to upgrade the memory. 


Graphics

The third main thing to take into consideration when looking at the performance aspects of a laptop, is its graphics capability. 

Most modern laptops will have either an integrated graphics capability - where the processor (CPU) takes care of the graphics processing - or a dedicated graphics card. In the latter case, the laptop will have a separate graphics chip in addition to the CPU. This provides the laptop with far more capabilities and power for processing graphics. 

Should your child be using their laptop for mostly school-based activities like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, then a laptop with integrated graphics will suffice. 

If your child is going to be using the laptop for gaming or advanced programs like graphic design, animation or video editing, then you’ll want a laptop with a dedicated graphics card. When choosing a laptop with a dedicated graphics card, look for graphics cards from either NVIDIA or AMD. 

NVIDIA’s range of graphics cards include their GTX and RTX series. AMD’s range of graphics cards include their RX series. 

As you would expect, school laptops with dedicated graphics cards sit at higher price points than laptops with integrated graphics. 


Step 5: storage

Does your child like to save hundreds of photos and videos on their laptop? Then you’re going to want a laptop that offers plenty of storage. 

These days, the majority of laptops use what is known as SSD (Solid State Drive) storage. This type of storage uses a form of solid-state flash storage to store the laptop’s operating system, programs and files. 

When it comes to how much storage you should look for in a laptop, there isn’t really a definitive answer. Our recommendation is that you’ll want a laptop with an SSD drive of at least 64 GB capacity. 

But, if you think your child is going to be saving a lot of games and other large files to their laptop, we’d advise you to buy a laptop with the largest amount of storage you can afford. 

Tip - buy a laptop with as much storage as you can afford. Alternatively, you can always expand the laptop’s storage in the future with an external storage drive.


Step 6: display

A major part of buying the perfect laptop for your child is to check that the display meets their needs. 

Remember, your child could be spending hours at a time staring at their laptop’s display, so you want to ensure it is of the correct size and resolution and has features such as anti-glare. 

Here are the key things to look for in a school laptop display: 

  • Screen size: 11 to 12 inches is perfect for portability and is the ideal size for younger children. For teenagers, you may want to buy a laptop with a display of 13 to 14 inches. This provides more screen ‘real estate’ without sacrificing portability.

  • Resolution: ideally you’ll want your child’s laptop to have a display with a resolution of at least 720p. However, if you have a slightly larger budget, then a laptop with a 1080p display will offer a great ‘full HD’ viewing experience for your child.

  • Anti-glare: a laptop with anti-glare will help your child better see the display in various light conditions, especially when there is a bright light source in a room.

  • Minimal bezel display: the bezel is the border between the edge of the display and the frame of the laptop. In other words, it’s the black band of plastic you see around the outside edge of a display. On a laptop with a micro-edge display, this bezel is reduced as much as possible, allowing the user to see much more of the screen.

Step 7: battery life

An often overlooked, but especially important part of buying a laptop, is checking its battery life. 

This is particularly important if your child is regularly going to be taking their laptop to school or their friends’ houses. It’s also important if they’re going to be using their laptops continuously for extended periods of time. 

In terms of battery life, you’ll find that the more basic laptops - such as Chromebooks - have battery durations as long as 12 hours! Laptops like this have the not inconsiderable benefit of allowing the charger to be left home; reducing the likelihood of having to replace a lost charger…

As you’d probably expect, higher performance laptops have shorter battery durations - which is a natural consequence of having more energy-hungry components such as graphics cards. 

Tip - conversely, cheaper more basic laptops tend to have longer battery durations than higher performance laptops. 


Step 8: ports and connectivity


In today’s world of wireless keyboards and mice, ports on laptops aren’t as important as they used to be.

But, having said that, you still want to ensure that the laptop you buy for your child has at least a few essential ports. These include at least one or two USB-C ports, which will allow your child to connect a broad range of peripherals, including their smartphone, keyboard etc. 

Aside from a few USB-C ports, there are a few other ‘nice to have ports’. These include an HDMI port, that’ll allow the laptop to be connected to a monitor or television, and a headphone port.

Tip - check what items/peripherals your child is going to want to plug into their laptop, then check that their chosen laptop has the relevant ports. 


Step 9: other features and accessories

There are a number of other features and accessories that can come in handy for your child. For example, if your child ever has to engage in remote or online learning, you may want to consider buying a laptop with a webcam and microphone. 

Accessories that can be useful for school laptops include: 


Step 10: warranty

It’s always a good idea to choose a laptop which comes with a comprehensive warranty. After all, if something goes wrong with the laptop, you want to be able to get it fixed or replaced.

The exact warranty you get with a laptop will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, however you can generally expect a laptop from a quality brand to come with at least a 12-month warranty.


Step 11: brand

Like so many other products, when it comes to laptops, brand matters

If you want to ensure that you end up with a high-quality, long-lasting laptop choose one from a reputable brand such as Acer, Apple, Asus, HP, Lenovo, or MSI. 

These brands have all developed excellent reputations for providing well-made, thoughtfully-designed and ultimately effective laptops that deliver on what they promise. 

That’s why you’ll find all these brands and more here at Comet. 


    Get tech ready for the new school year with Comet

    Give your child the best chance of success this school year with a great value, high-quality laptop from Comet. 

    We’ve got amazing deals and discounts on laptops from leading brands including Acer, Apple, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, MSI and more. Plus, we make it easy to spread the cost with flexible payment options including Klarna Pay in 3 and PayPal Credit

    We also offer express delivery, so you and your children can enjoy your new laptop sooner rather than later!


    Explore our complete laptop range now.


    For more buying guides, information and advice, explore the Comet blog…

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