Image: Student using laptop
John Bazemore  /  AP file
While laptops continue to dominate among high school and college students, a desktop PC remains a good choice for elementary and middle-school students.
updated 7/24/2012 7:25:09 AM ET 2012-07-24T11:25:09

With a new school year quickly approaching, you may be wondering which devices suit your kids' schooling needs. Options include desktop PCs and laptops, Macs and even tablets make the choice a difficult one. Do your kids really need a Mac in high school, or is a Windows computer good enough? We've broken it down to give you the best option for your student.

Elementary and middle school students
For younger children in the third grade and under, a tablet can be a wise choice. With colorful graphics and a multitude of learning apps available on the iPad, a tablet can keep young children entertained for hours, even while they are learning.

For the students in fourth grade and above, a desktop PC is the best way to go. Even though bigger systems may seem outdated, desktops are still an essential part of our society. With more than 1.25 billion Windows PCs worldwide, the desktop will be around for a while. Elementary students are assigned more writing assignments as they get into higher grades, and a tablet is not going to cut it. Desktop computers are a great tool for young students beginning to do real work.

Elementary-aged kids do not need a personal tablet or desktop, since the family computer can handle all of their school work, but middle school students may need their own computers. A standard desktop computer setup from a company like Dell or HP can cost between $300 and $600.

High school students
This may be the easiest decision on the list. While a desktop PC is great for an elementary and middle school student, a laptop is a highly valued device for the more mobile high school student.

Working on projects with classmates, studying away from home with friends, and the growing trend of online textbooks make laptops a great aid to this generation's high school student. A low-priced Windows laptop from a manufacturer like Acer, Asus, or Dell will suit their needs perfectly. A suitable laptop for a high school student can cost between $300 and $700.

College students
If you have tech-savvy teens, there will come a point in their high school years when they will beg you to buy them a Mac. Whether you give in or not, students truly don't need a Mac until they reach college. With an amazing seven-hour battery life and weighing in at just under 3 pounds, the MacBook Air is the perfect portable laptop for a college student.

With laptops and tablets now commonplace in college classes, the Macbook Air allows students to get through a full day of courses without a having to stop somewhere on campus to charge their laptop. And because it's an Apple product, it has an additional benefit for students — if it happens to malfunction or break, there is no need to search for a computer repair shop, as any Apple Store can fix most issues on these laptops.

MacBook Air prices start at $999 for the 11-inch version and $1,199 for the 13-inch variation. Both models can be configured to add faster processors, larger hard drives, and more RAM, which will of course increase the price. Apple is currently offering a $50 discount on MacBook Airs and a $100 App Store gift card for college students and parents buying for college students.

As computers continue to become increasingly involved in more and more professions, knowledge of both major operating systems — Windows and Mac OS X — can be a great asset. Technology is the backbone of our future, and getting your kids started on the right foot can go a long way.

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