With a new school and university year looming, it’s that time when you might be thinking about buying a PC or laptop for your child.

It can seem quite confusing trying to decide which platform to choose – PC, Mac, Chromebook, etc. – let alone which make and model… here at Techgecko we aim to cut through the jargon and help you make an informed decision.

The first step to take is to find out what platform your child uses at school: is it PC, Mac, Chromebook? While sharing documents and compatibility across platforms is a lot better than it ever was before, it’ll make life simpler if you use the same platform at home as at school.

This has turned out to be a bit more in-depth than our regular blog posts – so we’ve decided to split it into two parts. This first part will cover Apple Mac and Chromebooks.

To read about PCs in part two – click here.

Apple Mac

Even an entry-level new Apple machine will be more than sufficient for all but the most demanding of tasks, so the first choice to make is do you want a laptop or desktop?

Apple makes a range of laptops – the Macbook (12in screen), Macbook Air (11in or 13in) and the Macbook Pro (13in or 15in) as well as two desktops: the all-in-one iMac (21.5in or 27in) and the Mac Mini, which is perfect if you’ve already got a spare PC/Mac monitor because all you get is a very neat little box, and no keyboard or mouse!

What’s the difference between the Macbook, Air and Pro?

The Macbook Pro is the flagship model, with a more powerful processor and graphics. It’s ideally suited to students who will be doing quite complex things, such as video editing, music production or complex 3D design work.

The Macbook Air is middle-of-the-range, especially in terms of performance, with a more powerful processor than the Macbook, and the best battery life out of the bunch – most independent tests show that it can last around 10-14 hours on a full charge, which is very impressive (we’re only aware of 3 other laptops that match this). The only drawback with the Macbook Air is that the display resolution is not quite as good as the other two models – in reality, though, it’s still very good and very usable.

The Macbook is the entry-level model, still plenty powerful enough for everyday use, and tests show it should have an 8 to 10-hour battery life. The only drawback with this machine is that it has just a single USB port, which means you can either charge it or connect a device such as a printer or memory stick – which may be limiting for some users.

What’s the difference between the iMac and the Mac Mini?

Physically, they’re very different machines – the iMac is an all-in-one device with everything built into the screen (either 21.5in or 27in) plus a wireless keyboard and mouse, whereas the Mac Mini is just a neat little box (roughly 20cm square and 3.5cm deep) and that’s all you get – no keyboard, mouse or screen. The iMac, generally speaking, has a faster processor and better graphics capabilities than the Mac Mini, although you’re paying quite a premium for what in day-to-day use is probably not really noticeable, but many will prefer the iMac for its sleek design. Like the Macbook Pro, the iMac is perfectly at home performing complex video or music editing tasks.

Whatever Mac you choose it’s best to aim for 8GB of RAM. RAM is the ‘thinking’ memory that your computer uses for calculations and storing information on-the-fly as opposed to permanent storage on its hard disk.

TgTip! Check out the Apple Refurbished Store – you can often get repaired or customer returned models at a substantial discount.

Mac pros:

  • Sleek, stylish and beautifully engineered
  • Portable models have great battery life
  • Fewer threats from malware than their PC counterparts

Mac cons:

  • You’re paying a premium for the clever design and engineering as equivalent spec’d PCs will be cheaper
  • No Macs come with an internal DVD (or Blu-ray) drive, so if this is something that you regularly require, using an external drive may become tiresome


Chromebook

Choices for Chromebooks are pretty straightforward as specifications for the devices are generally very similar, but there are different manufacturers and screen sizes (with 11in or 13.3in being the most common) to choose from. In our experience HP, Lenovo and Toshiba are generally better-built and would be the TechGecko choice of manufacturers to consider. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s got a minimum of 2GB of thinking memory (RAM).

It’s worth pointing out that a Chromebook won’t have quite the same level of flexibility a PC or Mac will have, due to the fact that its operating system, Chrome OS, is predominantly web-based. The best way to decide whether a Chromebook is the right choice for you is to think about what you want to us the machine for: if you can’t do it within a Chrome browser window, then you can’t do it on a Chromebook.

Having said that, it will do everything most laptop users need – create documents, check emails, browse the web, and watch YouTube/Netflix. You can also create documents, edit photos, compose emails, and load locally stored files in offline mode without an internet connection.

Chromebook pros:

  • They’re cheap – Chromebooks can be purchased for as little as £150
  • Battery life is generally good – expect 6 hours +
  • Very fast to boot up
  • There are currently no known viruses that affect Chrome OS

Chromebook cons:

  • Limited local storage for files (Chromebooks generally come with either 16 or 32GB of storage) – Google expects you to keep the majority of your files in the Cloud using Google Drive
  • You can’t plug a printer into a Chromebook – you will need a wireless printer (and to use Google Cloud Print)
  • Limited to software that’s available in the Chrome Web Store

If you want to read on about PCs – click here to go to part two.

We hope that this has been helpful. If you have any queries about this blog post, need advice with any purchases or have an IT support query please contact us.

01372 642 601  |  hello@techgecko.co.uk

TgTips – Back to school – buying a computer – Part 1
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