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Ask Slashdot: Best Computer For a 7-Year Old?

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the better-than-an-easy-bake-oven dept.

Education 423

First time accepted submitter Boldizar writes "My son turns seven next month and I'd like to buy him a cheap computer. I'm looking for the Slashdot hivemind opinion on what would be the best computer for a child. I'm looking for a computer that will teach him basic computer literacy, and hopefully one wherein the guts are a bit exposed so that he can learn how a computer works rather than just treating it like a magic object (i.e., iPad) – but that would still keep him interested and without leaving him behind in school. For the same reason, I prefer a real keyboard so he can learn to type. I don't know enough about computers to frame the question intelligently. Perhaps something in the $300 range that would be the computer equivalent of an old mechanical car engine? Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come."

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423 comments

A Mac? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282073)

Lot's of trolls say it has a Fischer Price interface.

Best of all the youngster can learn some UNIX as well

Even better (5, Insightful)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282211)

Pick one: a PC or a circular slide rule...
Seriously, a 7-year-old has too much to learn about almost everything. He is better off with his own account on a shared PC (e.g. a family PC, where our kids started), where he can dabble and can sometimes look over an adult's shoulder. Give him his own PC, and he's likely to still want to use the same one as dad or mom.

Re:Even better (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282445)

Seriously, a 7-year-old has too much to learn about almost everything.

This. I predict 99% of the people who are going to reply below this line will have no idea what a 7-year-old is like.

Expose him to computers, sure, but don't try to make them a central focus in his life.

Give him his own PC, and he's likely to still want to use the same one as dad or mom.

This as well...

How about books? (5, Insightful)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282387)

Or a better idea..

For $300 you buy a shitload of books, especially if you go to the used book store.

Raspberry Pi (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282079)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282191)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it, clunky gaming via clunky emulators and slow response time for just about everything. it's not like he's going to be doing anything soon with gpio pins and such.

now, getting an used p4-era computer _and_ a raspberry might not be so bad.. but for a 7 year old, just get him some computer that's loaded with a real os and made of real parts. and some games, classic games.

I'd go with a desktop box and some modern monitor, real keyboard etc. that way it's easier to keep tabs on him without spyware - and there's the possibility to teach about the parts when some part fails and needs to be replaced.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282277)

He's 7, chances are he doesn't know any better than 'clunky emulators' and 'slow response time'. FWIW, I say get him an old ZX-81/Spectrum/Amstrad and some magazines.

Re:Raspberry Pi (3, Informative)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282341)

buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it,

For 300 bucks it doesn't even need to be that terrible. A used or on sale dual core AMD machine or the like would be 'good enough', I'd put linux and windows 7 on it probably. Find a semi tech savvy friend and offer a couple of hundred bucks for their old machine when they're getting rid of it.

Just be prepared to buy something better in a year or two, once he has some skills, or spends a lot of time on it, it becomes worth investing in a machine that can actually do a bit more (decent GPU, decent support for an SSD etc).

There's nothing wrong with Raspberry Pi, but it's a whole other market segment - it's so cheap you don't ever want to do anything to it, because it's cheaper to buy a new one than repair an old one. If you're poor (really really poor), then Raspberry pi is the way to go. If you can afford 300 bucks then you'd be better served with a proper, albeit older, PC and maybe a raspberry pi on the side. You never know what the kid will take to, but he the Rasp is really really cheap for a reason.

The best choices would be an old office computer from where the questioner works, or used machine from a friend, or a clearance sale/open box. Don't be afraid to spend 100 bucks on a 22 inch monitor, because that can last for 4 or 5 years if you treat it properly, and there aren't really user serviceable parts in a monitor (at least not for a 7 year old) anyway.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Informative)

pnot (96038) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282367)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him.

Saven-year-olds are already writing software using the Raspberry Pi. [raspberrypi.org]. It's say it would be absolutely ideal.

Re:Raspberry Pi (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282487)

fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it, clunky gaming via clunky emulators and slow response time for just about everything. it's not like he's going to be doing anything soon with gpio pins and such.

There's electronics toys for kids that let you build simple circuits, and with a very small amount of hardware (e.g. a breakout box) some of them could be interfaced to the computer and probably controlled with squeak or something, I haven't fiddled with my GPIO pins as I've spent all my time with my Raspberry Pi getting my eGalax-clone touchscreen working, which I finally managed once I found a nice article on how to cross-compile the kernel, which wasn't something I'd done using packages before, I've only built my own toolchain.

GPIO aside, the Raspberry Pi is considered to be roughly equivalent in performance to a P2-300Mhz, but with a much better GPU than such a system would have. That's fairly amazing considering how dinky it is and how cheap it is; you could easily pay more than twenty-five dollars for a P2-300 with a GPU. You'd probably get a 4 or 8 GB disk in there, possibly both sizes of floppy drive, and possibly some USB1, as well as some craptacular sound card whose only redeeming feature is a joystick port.

Barring all that get a laptop at a flea market or yard sale. It probably won't have much battery life but you can test it right there in many cases, and it doesn't take up much space or draw much power. When it fails you recycle it and get another. And you can get a much more powerful system with, more importantly, more memory. The big limitation of the Raspberry Pi is really the lack of RAM. 256MB used to be a lot, but it isn't so much any more. 512MB is pretty comfortable with LXDE if you only do one thing at a time, but 256MB is a cramped place to run a web browser, especially when you have to give some to the GUI. You have to cough up half of it to run XBMC...

Re:Raspberry Pi (3, Interesting)

Read Acted (2691917) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282539)

RaspberryPi *is* a cheap linux machine. And it is designed for children to program. It uses several different Linux distros compiled for the ARM processor from Broadcom. I have one. Kids love them. Check out Raspberrypi.org.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282309)

Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come.

It sounds like he just needs to drop off the little tyke in the middle of nowhere with a slide-ruler, a compass, and a map.

Re:Raspberry Pi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282503)

Ah yes, Raspberry Pi. Today's catch all solution from Slashdot.
 
The Raspberry Pi is a really nice piece of hardware for the cost and it's intended purpose but it's third rate when it comes to general computing. You can pick up a much better device on Craig's List or just about any yard sale for about 50 bucks.
 
Again, Raspberry Pi is great for what it is but it's not the end all and be all of low end computing. Stop passing it off as a solution to every problem that doesn't involve a super computer. It's a very flexible solution to many problems that would likely be solved by embedded devices.

Re:Raspberry Pi (4, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282557)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

Two weeks ago I'd have said "no", but last week I got one of my own and I'm not so sure. They have far more potential than I would have imagined from the raw specs.

Today I'm going to say "yes", for three reasons:
a) You get a very visual, direct contact with the machine, you can even see/touch the PCB! (after grounding yourself...) Very good for zombie apocalypse.
b) You're also not going to be treated as a pure consumer of apps. Hands-on is essential (be prepared to help with the apt-get side of things).
c) If it doesn't work out like you imagined you only lost $35, it's no big deal. The keyboard/monitor will be useful for other things or you can cobble together a PC from old parts and he'll have a Pi and a PC to play with.

Re:Raspberry Pi (1)

methano (519830) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282581)

That's a great idea. Life is confusing and frustrating and you never have enough of what you need to do what you want. Might as well learn that early.

x86 netbook (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282091)

Small and light, with small keyboard, cheap and still quite capable. Pick one that comes with Windows 7 but that also supports Linux. That way if one OS doesn't work, you're not stuck.

Small keyboard (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282105)

Since you probably want your child to learn touch typing (using all fingers, always the same finger for the same key) you should get one with a smaller keyboard (netbook?) since touch typing is not possible if your hands are too small for a regular keyboard. (OTOH this could be problematic if he has to use full sized keyboards at school)

Re:Small keyboard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282129)

I wouldn't have thought key board size was a real consideration tbh. Humans are quite adaptable. It was a good thought though and not one that i would have considered.

get him a pc (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282123)

get him the cheapest dell or hp box. you can install it like any pc, and with the pull of a single lever you expose the innards of the pc where you can point out interesting shiny objects on the motherboard to your son.

7 and no computer?!? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282131)

I sure hope your son had a family computer to play on, and this is you asking about buying him one for himself for the first time.

If not, I believe you need to turn in your geek badge, sir.

Re:7 and no computer?!? (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282369)

I don't think he has a geek badge, considering he doesn't know enough about computer to know what exactly he's asking about.

Even then, it depends what exactly he wants the kid to do, I wouldn't really want a 7 year old trying to administer the hardware or software on a family machine. A 7 year old should be free to wreck it, and just reinstall and move on. Having other people (i.e. the family) relying on the 7 year old not screwing it up is likely to cause a huge pile of grief.

For just using software on it then sure, family machine, but if you want the kid playing with hardware, or installing god knows what tools wise etc. I'd be a bit more skeptical.

dude you're getting an old dell (1, Interesting)

abroadst (541007) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282139)

I just cleaned up an old Dell Latitude D410 for my 7-year-old - reinstalled an old copy of XP and it works great. It was a leftover from my wife's work. Battery doesn't work but I figure that's a good thing since I don't really want him taking it around with him any old place - just at his desk and for very limited blocks of time. As for software we've been enjoying MIT's Scratch. It's a great programming environment for kids that he really loves to play with. He can actually manipulate graphical sprites with sounds, move them around on the screen, and encode logic using a graphical lego-brick-style metaphor.

Re:dude you're getting an old dell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282289)

I was going to say latitude d620 with some flavor of linux, its capable of running osx86. Good machine for a dell laptop.

Nah. One Laptop Per Child "XO" (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282517)

It is specifically designed for children, it is very tough, has better wifi (internet connectivity) than most expensive laptops, and has wonderful bang for the buck.

Buy one in great condition on ebay for $200 or less.

Having said all that: it will eventually need to be replaced. Your child isn't going to get through college with it. Or probably even high school.

Used MacBook Pro (-1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282141)

I would suggest a used MacBook Pro. You can pick one up on eBay in excellent condition for a few hundred dollars. It's a lot of computer in a small package with a real keyboard and a great platform for learning to program. It is also great for watching educational DVDs and using kid's ed software.

If you need to, it will run Windows too.

Re:Used MacBook Pro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282213)

And it has a proper CLI with bash - simple stuff like cd for starters for example

Not only that, you could also install a flavour of Linux on a different partition as well for a well rounded introduction

Re:Used MacBook Pro (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282215)

Yeah, turn your kid into a mindless iConsumer, what a wonderful idea!

Well, at least you suggested second hand, which I agree with.

Re:Used MacBook Pro (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282263)

It could be worse. He turn into a mindless commentard like you

Re:Used MacBook Pro (2, Interesting)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282227)

You can't possibly have kids. No sane parent would/should give a 7 year old as something as breakable and valuable as a multi-hundred dollar laptop

Re:Used MacBook Pro (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282399)

You can't really open it up though. Try of most laptops. A used Mac Pro OTOH would work just fine. Very organized inside. Everything comes apart neatly and you can really get a good look at the internals. Also pretty cheap if you go do a 4 yr model quad core or the like. You can even upgrade parts for not too much though less options than a Non-Apple PC.

First...why? (5, Insightful)

MindPrison (864299) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282143)

Firstly, I'd ask you WHY you'd want him to learn anything in particular, than - everything?

A computer is just ONE part of his life, if you want him to be "computer smart", you know...understand todays technology, just give into his curiosity, it's very dangerous to "force" a kid into anything, it's better to just let them stumble upon anything in their way, and support them there any way you can.

I'm sure it will come naturally. If he's a gamer, let him play with consoles.
If he's curious how these things are made, introduce him to a computer with a simple Programming IDE set up for him...like Python and SDL. (Just like we grew up with C64 and basic, you know...)

etc..

Re:First...why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282565)

Poster: I don't have an answer to your question, but I'll give you some unsolicited parenting advice.
Mods: Tee-hee, that was great. +5 Insightful.
Me: Oh FFS.

Commodore 64 (5, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282145)

Get him started off programming BASIC, and then inlining bits of machine code. He'll be a natural in no time.

Re:Commodore 64 (4, Funny)

ottawanker (597020) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282233)

I completely agree. How many of us started out with a C64 and turned out fine?

Re:Commodore 64 (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282297)

I did and ended up as a nerd that hangs out on Slashdot. Does that count as "fine"?

Re:Commodore 64 (2, Funny)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282425)

I didn't have a C64, I started with TRS-80 and Apple ][. Does this explain why I am unemployed and all my posts get modded down?
C64 Bias. I knew it.

Re:Commodore 64 (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282429)

Commodore 64 has one thing going for it that modern day computers don't have: The ability to properly boot up each time no matter what was screwed around with the software. Still, that computer is too far out of date, like a previous posted suggested, an ol XP computer with some games is good.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282147)

Is you child a genius?
  (What will it gain from using a computer that investing in a better education won't facilitate?)

What do you expect him/her to do with it?
  (Think of it this way, you can't answer the question, "what computer meets my needs," unitl you define them for yourself.)

Have you considered what you where you're steering your kid by instructing him/her to believe that they 'need' a computer or the ability to use one at age 7?
  (I'm a fan of teaching people to think and understand the nature of their involvement and activity before picking up a hammer and whatcking away at anything, but if you want to give your kid a hammer at age 7, have him hit the 1st computer he encounters and ask his teachers if it was a bad idea afterward.)

iPad. Specifically the new retina iPad. (2)

mTor (18585) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282151)

My two kids (ages 3 and 5) have access to 6 computers in our household which are running various operating systems (Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, OS X) and yet they use iPads the most. I actually had to buy the second iPad for them because they were fighting over the first one all the time.

Why do they love iPads? Apps. iPad has more apps for kids than any other platform I know of. And it's easy to use too.

And for a budget: any other tablet (2)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282281)

My neighbor's kids (ages 4,8,12) all have the same issue with their mom's Kindle Fire ... as well as their mom's iPod Touch. And all but the 4 year old have their own dedicated PCs. And they have a Wii and other gaming systems, as well ... but it's the Kindle Fire the older two argue about, and they've all been known to try to walk off with it when no one's looking.

(the one down side -- after various children have managed to buy new apps on it, passwords were set up on it ... yet, it seems that there's some key combination that a 4 year old can do when trying to unlock it on her own that will blank the device)

So there's no real reason to shell out $400 (cheapest iPad pricing), when you'll also have to consider the case (to shock proof it from tiny hands dropping it) any apps, etc.

Even with getting things into the $300 budget (the retina starts at $500), I still wouldn't do it, as it fails the other goal of not treating it as a magic box.

Re:And for a budget: any other tablet (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282385)

pathetic consumers

Re:iPad. Specifically the new retina iPad. (0)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282375)

iPad ... has more apps for kids than any other platform I know of.

Um, the App store will be one of the first things to fail when the Zombie Apocalypse comes...

DIY is the way. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282153)

Someone for sure have an unused pentium III or IV. Take it, get a copy of some linux flavour and start playing with spare hardware, CPUs and so on. And save 300$ for some special device or peripheral :-)

Home Build (5, Interesting)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282157)

Why not build it together, with your child. The experience of putting something together and making it work will far exceed any other expectations you may have.

Re:Home Build (2)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282231)

Probably because of the part where OP said "I don't know enough about computers to frame the question intelligently."

Re:Home Build (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282379)

He can get a computers for jackasses book and build a computer. It's frankly pretty damned easy to build a PC these days, because while there are many standards, there are many parts which comply with each standard, and for the most part things can only be plugged in one way and work no matter where you plug them in so long as you aren't forcing them. ATA was one of the last holdouts and it's all but over now.

Re:Home Build (2)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282553)

So, building a computer is a good way to learn how to build a computer.

That said, I don't think building a computer would teach the kid the kind of skills this guy cares about. All you really learn is where the parts go. Modern computers modularize huge chunks of technology. So, you plug in a bunch of DIMMs, what have you learned?

Which is not to say it's a bad idea, provided both parent and child have fun. People forget that fun's main purpose is developing skills. So anything you do with your kids that's fun is not a total waste of time.

Re:Home Build (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282241)

^^THIS!!

Re:Home Build (1)

dinfinity (2300094) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282315)

This. Save for forcing your kid to live in the past by handing him a 486 or older, this is probably the best way to foster understanding of the basic components of a computer.

Bonus points for buying the components one at a time.

Re:Home Build (1)

toygeek (473120) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282497)

I did this with my son. He was 10 at the time, and a lot of it was lost on him but it introduced him to how computers work. He built the computer himself with my guidance, so really we worked together on it. When the computer had trouble, we worked on it together to fix it. Now, he fixes his grandpa's computer when its broken, he helps his friends with theirs and is overall a decent young tech at 16 years old.

If your son has the natural curiosity for it, just answer his questions, and guide him. He'll learn what he wants to WHEN he wants to. Its your job to introduce him to all the different possibilities. Let HIM pick what he wants to learn- then you won't be just teaching him, he'll be *learning* it.

Re:Home Build (1)

WillyWanker (1502057) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282589)

Pretty much what I was going to say. If the OP isn't literate enough to help his son build the machine surely he knows someone that is. Make it a father/son learning experience, something you can both do together.

times have changed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282167)

the magic box, you are refering to, iPad or a galaxy tablet, is unfortunatly, i my opinion, the right step for your kid.

what used to be hardrives and procesors is now solidstate, flashdrives and ARM procesors. It is very noble that you still want to teach him about the hardware, but if we use cars as an analogy, you want to teach him on a steam engine how a combustion engine works...

our kids will grow up a lot faster with technology than we did, give them the most up to date examples, because in 10 years a StarTrek like science fiction will be common practice

see >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Star_Trek_PADD.jpg

The Internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282169)

I think any particular computer hardware is less relevant than becoming an internet native. Learning how to find things on the internet is the most useful computer skill you could teach him.

A lot of secondary skills will be picked up along the way, such as typing if he finds something that draws his interest.

Not a tech problem (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282195)

Okay, a lot of people are going to get on here and talk about their favorite computer, or how to get your kid involved in programming and hacking, etc. But let's be honest: Most kids at that age play games with a computer. Until they're a teenager, there's no strong need for privacy, so I'd say just get something like a mac mini or an HTPC, set it up in the livingroom, and then give the kid a wireless keyboard and mouse and hook it up to the TV. Kids will spill juice, food, and generally destroy anything you give them.

A laptop or tablet is straight out unless they're waterproof and can survive being run over by a car. or worse. Get one of those fold-up keyboards... don't spend much money on it either way, it'll die. And you might want to buy a spare. (-_-) For kids "survivability" is far more important of an attribute than tech specs or even operating system.

Not quite what you want, but ... (1)

wytcld (179112) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282199)

I've got my 7-year-old on a Nexus 7 ($250) paired with a Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android ($50 - with a case that doubles as a stand for the tablet). So the total is the $300 you want to spend. No exposure to parts, but a complex interface to master - and with the keyboard he feels it's "like a real computer."

Depends on exactly what you're getting it for. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282203)

If it's something that your child should be able to carry around, have a few hours of battery life, and do basic computer/web browsing on, I'd recommend one of the cheapo Android Laptops off dealextreme (They're all inferior specs, even compared to a tablet, but they'd got a compact keyboard, removable battery, and with some finagling multiple internal usb device upgrades. If you mostly want it as something to learn with/on and not have to worry if they break it, this would be my recommendation.

Now going off the second bit: You want your child to LEARN how a computer works (I assume you mean in the 'take it apart/put it back together' manner, otherwise you probably want some kind of devkit setup), then my recommendation is an old ISA/PCI system, preferably with a pile of various I/O cards (Videocards, Sound Cards, maybe a modem or two, hard disk cards, etc.) If you pick a system with PCI support, definitely find and purchase a SIL3114 based SATA card. They may have drivers for win9x and DOS, but regardless they're bootable on some pretty flaky older BIOs, unlike say VIA based cards.) The benefit with the latter approach, especially with a bunch of ISA cards is that your child can learn both the newer 'plug and play' style of upgrading, as well as the old 'manually set' interrupt switches, which while unnecessary for the majority (all?) of modern computers, will still have benefits if they decide to dabble in embedded systems or other 'legacy style' devices that may expect physical configuration to operate appropriately.

I'm sure there are many other possibilities but those are probably the top two. If you go for the android laptop option, you might also want to consider removing the wifi card on the off chance you're worried about them being able to access questionable content independently of you. (It still has a ethernet port however, so you'd want router-level filtering on your end, and hope little timmy's parents down the street have done the same... Pretty unlikely however.)

You're way off base. (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282219)

hopefully one wherein the guts are a bit exposed so that he can learn how a computer works rather than just treating it like a magic object (i.e., iPad)

Seriously, you think an iPad is a "magic object" and a CPU chip isn't?
 

Perhaps something in the $300 range that would be the computer equivalent of an old mechanical car engine?

There's no such thing, and never has been. Unless you're talking a behemoth like a difference engine, or a toy like one of the Lego/Tinkertoy computers... how an electronic computer works isn't visible without at *least* some form of multimeter or oscilloscope... or for a computer of any complexity (read: any consumer computer past the mid/late 80's) a fairly sophisticated analyzer.
 

Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come.

This is about as muddled and confusing a statement as I've ever read in an Ask Slashdot - which is an achievement worthy of note. You don't even know what you want to teach him, beyond conforming to some dogma ("no magic box") and ideals ("survive the zombie apocalypse") you've picked up along the line and now repeat as though they were sensible and logical observations of reality. You're the Slashdot version of a cargo cultist.

Re:You're way off base. (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282563)

Ah gee, lighten up. All of what you say makes sense, but there's nothing to be gained by making the guy feel like an idiot. Save your flames for the vim/emacs wars.

What I would do (5, Interesting)

kiriath (2670145) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282235)

Is buy parts for a PC off of some website, get a case with a clear side. Build it with him, teach him the importance of discharging static etc. Let him put the pieces together, tell him what each piece does.

You should be able to get parts for a standard PC relatively inexpensively.

Load the operating system with him, and explain what it does.

This is essentially how I got my start, I was about 9 years old I believe, it was an awesome experience! My Dad bought the parts from a magazine, we waiting the grueling week for it to come in. He watched over my shoulder as I assembled it, making sure I didn't do anything wrong. My Dad is awesome for many reasons and this is one of them.

I applaud your effort to get your son involved at an early age, and with the right mindset!

Netbook? Duh and or hello? (2)

B33RM17 (1243330) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282255)

I'd say a netbook would be perfect for him. Inexpensive, small keyboard, some are still powerful enough to run IDEs.

I had an Asus 1000HA for a couple years, the whole bottom opened up to upgrade components. However, I believe most current designs aren't as tinkerer friendly as older ones.

Raspberry Pi for sure (1)

craftycoder (1851452) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282275)

Get him a Raspberry Pi and don't even show him how to turn it on. Just tell him that awesome secrets lie within and even you don't know how to pull them out. Let his imagination run and he will figure it all out, hopefully. I gave one to my nephew and he hasn't left it for a month.

Re:Raspberry Pi for sure (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282397)

If you buy them one of the "kits" and give them all the parts and it comes with a preloaded SD card, that's cool. And it's still pretty darned cheap. Or you could replicate a kit for a little less money, but unless you have the parts lying around it hardly seems worth the effort.

Re:Raspberry Pi for sure (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282595)

Well, some kids will go to town with that. Most kids will just see a piece of junk that looks like it fell out of an old TV set and wonder, "what's the big deal"? The Raspberry Pi is a great product, but you have to have some technical savvy to see how great it is.

Just buy parts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282287)

Just buy parts and build a PC together. With $300 you should manage to get new core components and used non-essentials (screen, box, mouse, keyboard, etc). I'm not sure about the shipping, though... ;-)
It is quite important while instilling computer literacy is that there is no magic involved, that a PC contsists of parts which can be replaced. Error fixing comes down to narrowing down to the right parts. Same with software, it's just that the APIs are way less intutitive.

I hope you're not trying to live through him (2)

Powercntrl (458442) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282303)

Some "Jock" fathers do exactly the same thing, by insisting their kids participate in the same sports they did in their youth. If the kid actually shows genuine interest, then fine, go right ahead - but don't force your kid into some interest just because it was what you were into. As a parent, you have a chance to encourage your child to find out what he's interested in. And guess what, if it turns out he'd rather be outside playing with friends, in the kitchen cooking or building model airplanes, rather than futzing around with an old pile of comp-u-junk, you'd be a great parent to encourage him!

I'm old enough to have fond memories of building my own PCs in my teenage years, but I personally see nothing wrong with giving your kid a modern iOS or Android tablet and letting them just enjoy it without it having to be a learning experience. You only get to be a kid once.

Get a computer that isn't a PC (or MAC) (5, Interesting)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282311)

Get him a programmable robot. The act of learning how a computer "thinks" is the best takeaway from an early computer experience, and even involves some programming, even if not in a language he'd ever use again. Plus, you get the reward of seeing it actually do something. Otherwise, get him a WoW account and treat the PC as a gaming console for all he'll learn from a computer.

So many here have the nostalgia of their first PC. Mine required that I program just about anything I wanted to do with them. I'd buy the magazines with fold-out programs in them, and spend hours typing and saving it to an audio tape. Then load it up later and play. Choplifter was the only game that I had to play that wasn't programmed by me.

Playing with the computer should require learning about the computer. The closest I've seen are the programmmable assembly-required robot kits where you can build what you want, then program it how you want. For the home PC, they made it so easy now, it's like learning about microwave communications by heating coffee in a microwave oven.

Portable or not? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282319)

If you want portable, I'd say get a netbook. Even though they get fewer and fewer, there are still some around. You'll have to find one on sale if you want to break $300 though. I'd also recommend installing Linux if you don't want it infested with all sorts of nasty stuff within weeks.

If it doesn't have to be portable, build one. Easily done for <$300 and your kid will learn a lot. And if he built it he'll treat it with more respect.
It's trivial (there are many instruction videos on YouTube) and for parts lists you can start at http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/04/ars-bargain-box/ [arstechnica.com].

One word (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282323)

Arduino

linux (1)

joseph90 (193138) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282327)

Linux (mint?) on a cheap PC.
Easy to use but if he gets into computing he can do everything on it (it is all open and on *nix it's text files all the way down).

J.

Build your own (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282329)

Buy a $300 computer. Seperate out the parts before giving it to your son and after documenting their proper placement. Take pictures of the graphics card, keyboard, mouse, memory, hard drive, sound card, optical disc drive and monitor. Any and all parts plugs etc.Now you can give your son the experience of building his own computer. I did this with my grandchildren and they loved it. I knew what I was doing (mostly) and practiced before the actual task of puting pieces together in front of an audience. Load a simple game when done and play. They loved every minute.

Instead (5, Interesting)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282337)

At 7, get him a set of throw away clothes and tell him to go out side and explore and don't get angry when he comes home filthy.

Wash, rinse and repeat...

Plenty of time for computers later.

Hand-me-down. (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282361)

It's quite simple:

1. Buy new parts to build yourself a new machine.
2. Have your child help you assemble said machine
3. Repurpose the old machine for the child.

A gaming machine (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282389)

7 year old? Face it, no matter what computer you buy him, what he'll use it for is to play games. So you may as well buy him one that doesn't make him look like a freak to his peers. Let's be honest here: 600 bucks will not buy you a great gaming rig, but it would buy a PS3, and amongst his peers that's way cooler than the computer you got him that makes games look like a slideshow. Which in turn ensures that your kid will view the computer with contempt.

I'm dead serious here. If you want your kid to get interested in computers, building them, programming them, find out what makes them tick, wait for him to come to you. Dumping something on him that is way off his hopes and expectations will probably just give him a very expensive dust collector.

Re:A gaming machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282465)

600 dollars is not enough for a good PC?
Where the hell are you shopping?
mine cost around 500, not counting the monitor, hard drives and case.
That was 5 years ago and I still play games on it.
So I'm sure you can get something around the same price now that will play games for the foreseeable future.

Re:A gaming machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282541)

I don't think so, I think that a programmable robot toy, especially one like the Lego Mindstorms which can be assembled in many different physical configurations is the way to go. I know I would have loved a programmable robot with sensors, ect... when I was 7, especially one which could be reconfigured mechanically as well as in software.

Silicon Valley School Has No Technology (1)

enbody (472304) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282411)

Here is an alternative idea: a Silicon Valley school without technology [nytimes.com]

Re:Silicon Valley School Has No Technology (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282459)

Something to be said for that approach. But clearly one this techie father is not open to.

Re:Silicon Valley School Has No Technology (1)

x0d (2506794) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282561)

It's a Waldorf school..that pretty much says it all.

used netbook, install sugar (one laptop per child) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282415)

Step 2: profit!

I'd still recommend an iPad but.. (1)

x0d (2506794) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282417)

if you really want to give him a 'real' computer, how about an old eeepc 701? It's cheap, won't break easily, the size and the weight are right for a 7-year old and you can simply install some educational Linux distro to get him started.

Lego Mindstorms (1)

ICantFindADecentNick (768907) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282427)

Look back over some previous slashdot submissions on Lego. While most computerized toys are rubbish, Lego have done a great job in putting a programmable element to something that's already great (and you should already know if your kid is into that kind of thing).

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282431)

I'm sure someone else already said this, but I didn't the comments.
Why would you get a 7 year old a computer?
When he turns 16 are you going to buy him a car so he can learn to drive it?
Just have him use your desktop to play games or whatever.
Either way you're the one who is going to have to administer the thing.

Not Hardware (3, Interesting)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282437)

Cheap, mass-produced products tend to be little sealed boxes that don't tell you much about guts. Once upon a time you could have a lot of fun fiddling with electronic logic [oldcomputermuseum.com], but now products are all based on little prepackaged ICs containing millions of circuits that are light years ahead of anything you can do by hand. So forget about a system that "exposes the guts".

I think the specific computer you want matters a lot less than the software you put on it. Nowadays, software represents the "guts" you want your kid to learn about. That suggests that maybe you should just get him a cheap Linux laptop, show him how to open a terminal window, give him a book on shell programming, and stand back. Kids are really good at making the most of that scenario.

OK, maybe shell programming is not something that will get the attention of a 7-year-old. There are a ton [slashdot.org] of child-specific programming platforms that might be the ticket. Your judgement as to which one would best suit your son is certainly better than anybody else's.

The Thomas Friedman column you link talks about an Estonian program for grade-schoolers [ubuntulife.net] that sounds kind of cool. But you seem to come away from it with the notion that you owe it to your kid to fill his head with technical skills so he'll be a competitive when he enters the job market. IMHO, that's a pretty good way to destroy a child's love of a topic. (I'm thinking of the unpleasant music lessons I had with my own father; my love of music will never be what it might have been.) You should focus instead on something Friedman says further down.

There is a quote attributed to the futurist Alvin Toffler that captures this new reality: In the future “illiteracy will not be defined by those who cannot read and write, but by those who cannot learn and relearn.” Any form of standing still is deadly.

That suggests that the imperative is not to learn a specific set of skills, but to learn to learn.

anything thats BACKED UP (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282441)

whatever you do however you do it make sure that you have an IMAGE backup of the computer (and keep it updated)

you can even make this edutainment by using a Red Blue Yellow and Green set of backup drives.

Also whatever browser you use INSTALL AD-BLOCK (and think hard about parental control software).

Netbook (1)

CyberSnyder (8122) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282471)

I was in a similar situation and I bought my kid a netbook at Target for something like $230. He takes it to school and if he loses it, I won't kill him. Added NetNanny and that keeps him away from most of the nasty stuff on the 'Net. It's not fast, it's not open source, but it works reasonably well. He can surf, email, and make documents for homework and it fits in his little back pack. It's held up for two years so far. No complaints here.

The correct answer (1)

Jiro (131519) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282509)

A normal computer, but he always uses it with you being there with him to use it. You're a parent; that's a parent's job. Don't leave him alone with the computer.

And that assumes there's something meaningful he could do with a computer, which I doubt. His reading level probably isn't enough for the Internet or even Facebook and most sites don't want anyone under 13 anyway), and he's probably not going to have to do his homework on a word processor. Once he knows how to use a mouse and put a disk in a drive, all he's really going to need it for are games. Get him a Wii.

Non-magic Computing? SparkFun Inventor's Kit! (1)

Roxton (73137) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282523)

Rather than relying on the 80's BASIC experience, you can actually do better for your kid by buying the SparkFun Inventor's Kit, and helping him through every step of the tutorial. $100.

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11022 [sparkfun.com]

To program the microcontroller, you can use a cheap, standard netbook, which will also help the kid in school.

Why does a computer matter at this age? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282537)

I am in the same boat as my oldest is also 7. Now I am considered quitely technically savvy and I didn't actually start doing anything significant with computers until I was 13. As parent I draw on my experience to see what would be appropriate when. Right now I am teaching my kid to be independent and to find her own solutions to problems.

In case you haven't guessed yet, my kid does not have her own computer. She (and rightfully so) sees a computer, a tablet, etc as a source of entertainment at this stage. At this age she speaks two languages, makes rational arguments, rides multiple blocks on her bike, can do math in her head, plays piano, and dances. Giving her a computer at this stage would just limit her horizons.

Having gone through this myself... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282545)

...something of a subnote (not so small as a netbook, 10-12" panel is fine, 14 at a push). My kids loved K12LTSP/Fedora [fedorahosted.org] as a platform, it's cram packed with educational software, games and your usual desktop environment stuff; what it'll run on these days is pretty much what other people are binning because they can't get Vista running on it!

Tablet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282547)

You can pick up PlayBook tablets now for $130. It's really easy to develop for with the WebWorks SDK and will be upgraded to BlackBerry 10 next year.

Give him a "wait a couple of years" coupon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282559)

Why don't you expose him to some programs like 4H, or boy scouts, or something that can give him experience in computers and other areas? A child doesn't have a developed enough creative mind to be "curious" about computers until around say ... 4th grade.
They need to have the patience and mental fortitude to be able to handle disappointment and procedural thinking.

Can your son already bake a cake? Or rather, does he have the patience to walk through the entire process of baking a cake with you?
Reading the recipe, measuring, setitng the over, getting out the pans, crackign the egs... the whole bit.

If he can't make it through that, there's no way in hell he'll have the emotional maturity to make it through a hobby computer.

Standard ATX (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282567)

Go for a used desktop computer with a used a dual core CPU that is fast enough for HD content.
At least 2 GB memory - 4 GB wont hurt. Kids lack patience so put some speed where it is needed.
Try to avoid name brand refurbished computers - They got plenty of those at Wal-Mart.
They might have considerable mileage running day and night in a company
and the power supply might be expensive to replace.
Win XP wont do in the hands of a child - Prepare for reinstalling often.
If it cant run Linux - Shun it even if you will never run Linux - It usually has cheap hardware that is best avoided.
A standard (m)ATX desktop computer can be repaired at low cost.
You can find spare parts on Ebay anytime.
A used 19" flat screen or better if you can afford it. Heck I've seen them new for way less than USD 100.
A few dead pixel off center wont hurt if you need to skimp.
Children might enjoy watching films. Put in a DVD drive
A laptop might prove to be costly in the hands of a child.
They lug it around and make damages - repairs are expensive if possible at all.
Standard keyboard (used Key-Tronic) and cheap optical mouse.
No AAA battery needed on late Saturday night.(sister stole them)
Kids grow up fast.

If the computer can run Linux you might as well just save time and put in
Edubuntu or Skolelinux - They are made for children.
And kids use Linux with ease - They just use it - They don't know better :-)

Greetings
Jim Oksvold

Its important.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41282569)

You should start with building a desktop together..that way he will learn what each of the componets are used for and provide a fundamental base that he can build upon. Once he grasps the hardware then the sky is the limit and he can go to the software side which is a whole lot more complicated. Without the understanding of the hardware side he will end up a databasemonkey or worse... a MCSE

Pretty Sure 7 Years Old is Too Young (1)

Angrywhiteshoes (2440876) | about a year and a half ago | (#41282603)

The most brilliant computer scientists lived in an era without computers and the majority of us grew up without them in our homes but we still were drawn to it in some way. I'm sure your kid is going to get enough exposure to this technology without you cramming it down his throat just because you have a fascination with them. Maybe he won't like computers and want to be an artist or an athlete where he'll have no use for them.
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