The 3 Best Coding Laptops to Buy Your Child in 2019
At Coder Kids, a lot of parents ask us which laptop they should buy their child. This is a difficult question because it revolves around your goals and budget. In this article, I will break down the different categories of laptops that we recommend based on use and budget. I am writing this article based on our experience at Coder Kids specifically with coding laptops, having bought around 150 devices as of the writing of this article.
1. Coding with a Chromebook
The most basic laptop that a parent can buy, from both a price and use standpoint, is the Chromebook. The Chromebook was released in 2011 by Acer and Samsung and have been popular especially in the education market. According to Wikipedia, Chromebooks make up about 60% of computers sold in schools. The reason for this is that students can visit learning websites, store files, create presentations, and even check email using a Chromebook. Chromebooks are usually very lightweight and the boot times are super fast. And even though they are inexpensive, models like the one recommended below are incredibly durable. Chromebooks come with screens as small as 11.6”, but we typically recommend a 13-14” screen for doing any kind of serious work.
For computer programming, a Chromebook is a great beginner’s tool. For very young kids, ScratchJr is a tool that can run on the Chromebook as an app, and provides a great introduction to Scratch. Once they are prepared for Scratch, Scratch runs great on the Chromebook and is totally web-based. The Scratch team will even be likely releasing a standalone app that can run on Chromebooks in the near future. So if your child is into Scratch, a Chromebook would be a great investment. Once they are ready to move from Scratch, there are other great web-based programming tools that your child can use. We highly recommend websites like repl.it and codepen.io for doing coding and building websites.
The downside to a chromebook is that you can’t download any more traditional apps, like Microsoft Office, most games, and coding programs. For example, something like Unity would not run on a Chromebook, and neither would Python. Repl.it can run Python and even the Python graphics library Pygame, but you cannot actually download the IDLE and run Python as you would on a traditional PC with Windows or MacOS. Chromebooks also do not run Minecraft or Roblox, so if your child is into those games at all on other devices and wants to explore the games on a computer, we would not recommend a Chromebook.
Here is my top pick for a chromebook as of March 2019. Note that there are other great Chromebooks out there but this is the one that we own and love.
2. Light Gaming and Coding
The next laptop I will recommend is Windows-based, and still a budget computer. Honestly we own over 100 of this computer and it is a great all-purpose machine. In the early days, we bought exclusively Chromebooks, but eventually we starting transitioning over to Windows strictly to accomodate for popular demand in Minecraft and Roblox. The computer below runs Minecraft and Roblox great, and has most of the functionality of the Chromebook as well.
There are two main downsides to a Windows-based computer from the kid / coding perspective. First, Windows-based laptops are more resource intensive than Chromebooks. This means boot up times are generally slower, and also Windows updates are constantly pushing themselves into your plans. There will be times when you are jumping on the Windows PC to do some coding, and you have to wait 45 minutes for a Windows update. A Chromebook’s updates, on the other hand, are more optional and are lightning quick. The other more minor difference from a Chromebook is that you cannot install ScratchJr on a Windows-based laptop.
As I mentioned, the main reason we own so many of these laptops is because of the functionality of running Minecraft and Roblox. Another benefit to owning these laptops is that you can run lightweight apps on them, like Scratch offline, Microsoft Office, the Python IDLE, and Game Maker Studio. So if you see your child getting really into coding in the future, or if they really like Minecraft / Roblox, I’d recommend the budget computer below as a great tool.
3. Heavy Gaming and All-Around Use
If your child wants to start playing resource intensive games like Overwatch, Fortnite, APEX Legends, and so on, you are going to need something more powerful than the ones I have mentioned above. Inventory for these computers tends to change quickly, but I will go over the main specs you should look for so that you can pick something up that will work well for you.
The great thing about a gaming laptop is that it will last for a very long time, and you can do literally anything on it, from editing video to hardcore gaming to heavy coding and game creation. When you are looking for a gaming laptop, the most important factor is going to be the graphics card. There are a lot of great graphics cards, but the simplest way to explain this is that I recommend you look for something that says NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 or higher. So your options are: 1050, 1050Ti, 1060, 1060Ti, 1070, 1070Ti, 1080, 1080Ti, and then the newest generation of cards, the 2060, 2070, and 2080/Ti. My personal gaming laptop is a 1060, but we have a few gaming laptops for our classes that are 1050 and 1050Ti and they run well. Personally, I probably wouldn’t go below the 1050 because you won’t get very high quality frame rates in the games, and you might have to accept reduced graphics in the games. Graphics cards can get a little confusing and what I’ve written here are general rules, so for more options and AMD cards, I’d check this table out for more recommendations.
Other factors to consider when you are buying a gaming laptop are whether or not the computer has an SSD hard drive, the processor, and RAM. Running the operating system on an SSD is non negotiable these days. For a processor, I would aim for an i5 or higher. For RAM, shoot for 8gb or higher. 16gb is pretty much the new standard in 2019, but 8 works okay depending on your level of multi-tasking.
We love our gaming laptops. We have a few of them for our gaming and Unity camps. If your child is into gaming, or if you’re trying to buy something that might last for a very long time, I’d recommend a gaming laptop like the one below, which is one that we own and like.
Should I buy a Mac?
Well, as someone who owned Apple computers for a very long time, I understand the appeal of a Mac. They are beautiful, sleek, and lightweight computers. I love Macs. They are simple to use, even for grandmas. You can count on a faster boot time because the OS is way less clunky than Windows.
Unfortunately, for the computing power of an Apple laptop, they are way overpriced and we don’t recommend them as a general tool for your child. If you look at a Mac, you are getting similar computer as the gaming laptop I recommended, without any gaming capabilities because the graphics card is integrated and not good enough. If your child doesn’t care about gaming and you want something that will last 6-7 years, a Mac may be a good investment. Also if you are really serious about coding in Swift and creating apps for the App Store, you pretty much have to have a Mac. In that case, consider this one!
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