Weigh options with available starter computers

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My granddaughters, ages 8 and 6, visit for two weeks during the summer. They use the computer daily, but because they are two years apart they are very competitive in everything they do together.

I would like to purchase computers for them. I would hope that they could share one laptop together.

What would you suggest? Should each have her own laptop? -- Flen W.

A: I can only imagine how competitive your granddaughters must be. As the youngest by a solid three years, I was always out to prove myself among my siblings.

My brother did have a Commodore 64, which I was insanely jealous of, but like most 8-year-old girls, Santa was only bringing me Cabbage Patch kids. I didn't mind all that much, honestly.

But for your two girls, I'm not sure sharing a computer is the wisest choice. Of course, their parents could always actively monitor and time share a single computer, but my guess is that will not be fun for anyone.

About this time last year I wrote about the One Laptop Per Child program that was offering a two-for-one deal. I think they're running the same program, so Flen, you may have some choices to make.

Another option, and possibly better for the age of your granddaughters, is The Classmate PC.

The Classmate PC, developed by Intel in 2006, is selling on Amazon for around $450 each. The OLPC sells for about $200 and as an added bonus provides a child in an underdeveloped country with a laptop.

Both are solid investments. The only reason I might go with the Classmate PC is that it strikes me as being a bit more of a starter machine.

The Classmate PC and OLPC are both light and durable. They are clearly built for kids with their carrying handles, water-resistant keyboards and tough exteriors. This is the only time in my career I've come across "drop test" on the spec sheets. .

The OLPC is built with a very green, energy-saving game plan. It's built with a low-consumption battery that is capable of being charged by foot pump or pull cord.

This is a direct result of the device's original directive, which is to provide computing to third-world countries.

Both laptops contain wireless cards, but the Classmate PC allows for direct Ethernet networking.

If the children might someday be playing online games, they're going to want the faster connection.

The software is probably the biggest difference between the two portable solutions. The Classmate PC can run on either Linux or Windows XP; the OLPC only runs on Linux.

Linux is definitely cool and the kids growing up on it will learn all sorts of amazing things about programming and tweaking operating systems. That is, if they're into that sort of thing.

If they want to dress up Barbie's doll house, then you'll want a machine that runs Windows XP. I like that the Classmate PC has the option for Linux.

The Windows platform, however, is what the world runs on right now, and it's not a bad idea for kids to get comfortable with the operating system.

Processors, kids won't care one bit about. The Classmate is made by Intel and therefore contains an Intel processor, and the OLPC has an AMD processor. Suffice it to say, both are respectable chips though one (Intel) is much more widely used than the other. In the spirit of full disclosure I've owned AMD stock forever.

Just like every other stock market investment I've ever made, however, it has done nothing for me.

Both are good options, it's really going to be a matter of preference, budget and compatibility. What do the girls do on your computer when they're visiting?

Take that information, plus the other considerations, and find the best computer or computers for them.

Reach Heather Hamilton at primadata@morris.com.


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