Tips for buying your teen her first computer

Jun 14, 2010 at 11:34 a.m. ET

Tired of your teen taking over the family computer? Whether he's entering high school or getting ready for college, we help you navigate all the options (laptop or desktop? Mac or PC?) to help you find the best computer to fit his needs.

Teen boy on laptop

Anne Marie Schar, a high school director of technology, recommends that you first determine if the computer will be used only at home or also at school. "If at school, check the school's policy about bringing in computers. Ask what would work best with the school's system," says Schar.

Consider reconditioned computers

Instead of blowing your budget on a new computer, Myscha Theriault from The Lesson Machine recommends buying a reconditioned computer from a reputable source. "It'll give the teen a chance to work with more 'grownup' hardware without resulting in a huge upfront investment for the parents. "

Laptop, desktop or netbook?

Will your teen need something portable to take to class, or will she use this computer only in one location? Desktop computers are generally less expensive than laptops. Laptop computers are easy to take to different rooms and classes.

Jean Westcott, co-author of Digitally Daunted: The Consumer's Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life (Capital Books), offers another option. "A netbook might be just the thing. It's inexpensive, does almost everything a larger computer does and is incredibly portable," says Westcott. "Keep the heavy-duty computer (for video editing and online gaming) at home, but for on the go, a netbook will give your teen portability."

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Mac or PC?

If you are looking only at price, PC's are generally less expensive than Macs, but as far as function, opinions vary. "In general, there are few differences in how they work in the modern world," says Schar. "I generally recommend a Dell computer with the Gold/Pro coverage. "

Bill Dwight of prefers Macs. "We've gravitated towards the Macs [Macbook Pro] even though they're a bit pricey because they're easier to administer (no viruses!), faster to start/restart and just plain nicer to use. My buddy bought a used MacBook for his daughter -- that's a good way to keep costs down. One of my other teens uses a PC, but that's because he's a serious gamer. For two of our other teens, we went with the cheaper MacBooks."

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Covering the bases

Accidents do happen, which is why insurance is important. "Consider getting laptop insurance, not just the extended warranty. Laptop insurance is often less expensive and covers theft and accidental damage," says Westcott. She also reminds parents to buy anti-virus software. "Don't forget to teach your teen to use anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, and be sure they set up a backup routine."

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