How to put together a kid's PC. (personal computer)(includes related article) (Compute's Getting Started With: Kids & Computers)
A personal computer is hardly a stocking stuffer under the Christmas tree--even if your stocking is a pair of Spandex tights large enough to fit Dom DeLuise. The assortment of boxes in with computer components arrive are too big and cumbersome to wrap in any imaginative way. About all you can do is assemble the thing and put a how on top. But you can count on it to be a hit, especially if it arrives with a healthy assortment of software.
As long as you've selected the hardware needed to 3Dn a healthy library of kids' software and configured the computer to do just that on Christmas morning, the kids won't be disappointed. The key is to be certain you'll have the hardware you need to bring smiles to their faces. Music, voice, and animated video can tax a computer's resources, and so not just any old computer will do.
If you're buying a new system, you'll need to specify the configuration you're looking for. If you already have the computer power--but not the addons--investigate upgrading your system with one of the sound card and CD-ROM upgrade kits on the market. The days of simply handing down your old computer to the kids when you're ready to upgrade have come and gone. Children's software has moved into multimedia applications with sound, animation, and video. Consequently, the hardware needed to run them must be MPC compatible.
The Multimedia PC Marketing Council recommends that an MPC-compatible system possess at last a 16-MHz 386SX processor, 2MB of RAM, a 30MB hard disk, an 8-bit sound card, a CD-ROM drive with 150K-per-second throughout, and a mouse. The key thing to remeber if you're shopping for an MPC-certified computer is to find out exactly what that certification means. Are you getting just the minimum or something more? The minimum Level 1 specification really isn't satisfactory for many of today's CD-ROM programs. A Level 1 MPC, however, will allow you and your kids to enjoy the sound and animation you'll find on almost all disk-based progr+ms and most of the CD-ROm programs from before 1993.
Serious users will want to opt for a Level 2 MPC, which includes at least a 25-MHz 486SX processor, 4MB memory, a 160MB hard drive, a 16-bit sound card, a CD-ROM drive with 300K-per-second throughput, and a mouse. This will give you room to grow, and it will reduce the jerky quality of the video. This is expecially recommended if you plan to run program that support full motion video. And if, as an adult, you're running Windows applications alongside your kids' programs, you'll appreciate the extra speed and efficiency of a faster processor and more memory.
Computer vendors are making the chore of buying a good home computer easier than it was in the past. Prices are plummeting, and the systems often come with the internal assembly and configuration already done. So while home computers are still luxury buys, they've left the econbomic stratosphere and are becoming much like any other major purchase.
Pre-configured computers are popping up just about everywhere--in franchised ofice supply stores such as Staples, department store chains such as Wal-Mart, buyers' clubs, record stores, home entertainment shops, computer boutiques at the mall, and--for adventurous buyers--at flea markets, garge sales, and traveling electronics fairs.
IBM is marketing a 25-Mhz 80486 PS/1 with 4MB of RAM, a 129MB hard drive, Super VGA monitor, mouse, modem, Disney Sound Source external sound device, DOS, Windows, 11 Walt Disney Software programs, and other software. Estimated street price is $1,699.
Tandy's $1,999 Sensation is a fully integ3ated multimedia system that comes with an attractive software bundle. The 486SX Sensation, with its 4MB of RAM and a 107MB hard drive, will serve most families and their budgets quite well.
Users who already have purchased 386SX or 386DX systems will find it cheaper and easier to upgrade their current systems. A number of vendors offer upgrade kits. These kits ranging from $400 to $1,000 are available from Crative Labs, Media Vision, CompuAdd, and many other companies. They typically include a CD-ROM drive, sound card with built-in CD-ROM controller, and software utilities. Many come with a generous bundle of interactive games, reference books, and children's programs.
But while many programs--particularly interactive reference books--are being sold on compact disks, many high-quality children's programs remain available on floppy disks. And if your budget can't afford a full MPC upgrade, your child can still enjoy hours of entertaining play with the floppy-based programs and a simple sound card upgrade.
Creative Labs' SoundBlaster and SoundBlaster Pro are the most popular 8-bit sound cards on the market. They're found in most stores and often sell for less than $100. Likewise, Media Vision markets its top-selling 16-bit sound card, the Pro AudioSpectrum 16, separately.
A variety of other inexpensive sound solutions are available. Last your, Mouse Systems introduced a $199 SoundWave card with a microphone, speakers, and support for a CD-ROm drive. And Microsoft offers its Windows Sound System for a list price of $289. But no matter which sound card you pick, you'll want one that supports the SoundBlaster, Ad Lib, and Windows 3.1 standards.
Disk storage is a problem with just about any home computer. The 30MB hard drive recommended for a Level 1 MPC is much too small if you plan to install even a few children's games next to your own applications. Children's software, wit' its many graphics and sound files, is disk-hungry. Once you begin installing kids' software, it's easy to see your precious disk space disappear.
New systems usually come installed with DOS 6, which features DoubleSpace file compression to help maximize your disk space. Stacker 3.1 can perform the same function. Even with DoubleSpace or Stacker, you should buy the biggest hard disk you can afford, so you won't have to transfer your favorite programs and files when you outgrow the disk--and you will outgrow it.
How big a drive should you buy? You already know how disk-hungry your own programs are. Don't think that kids' programs are "small stuff." Paramount Interactive's new program, Richard Scarry's Busytown, consumes a whopping 12MB of hard disk space and Division's KidCAD requires 9M. Even software that runs from CD-ROMs must consume enough space on your hard drive to store the kernel of the program--and that can be 5MB or more. So don't skip on disk space when shopping for hardware. You'll quickly use what you've got.
These days many saystems ship with 250MB hard disks. That's a size you can live with for a good long time. But if your kids are conspicuous software consumers, it's a good idea to have an extra drive bay available so you can easily add a new disk if space runs out. This is easier than replacing the disk you have, a process that requires you to transfer all your files onto the new, larger disk.
A printer and a mouse also are necessary purchases. A dot matrix printer is a good purchase for your kids. It's inexpensive, and it's the printer standard that's universally supported in children's software, although more and more programs are adding laser printer support.
When it comes to mice, kids don't have to settle for the plain beige mice marketed to adults. They have choices all their own.
Logitech's KidzMouse is designed specifically for kids and decorated to look like a mouse. It comes to a point at the front to resemble a real mouse's pointy nose. From the rounded back, there's a long blue tail-like cord that connects it to a serial port. The two blue plastic input buttons are shaped like small oval ears set just about painted eyes.
And for the adults in the family, KidzMouse offers a connector for your serial port which supports a second mouse, so you can connect a full-sized adult connect a full-sized adult mouse alongside the KidzMouse.
Teens can have fun with MotorMouse Products' MotorMouse. This three-botton red mouse is shaped like either a Lambroghini or a Corvette. Press the middle button and a horn blast sounds through your PC speaker. A Widnows utility turns the onscreen mouse pointer into a image of a little car and randomly calls up images of dogs and human beings that cross its path. As with the KidzMouse, you'll probably want to equip your system with a standard adult mouse if you opt for the MotorMouse, not so much for size and comfort as for peace of mind while working in adult applications. It gets a bit noisy.
It's also a good idea to provide the kids with a mouse pad. The resistive surface makes it easier for kids to drag a mouse and control pointer movement.
All this equipment seems like--and is--an awfully high-end purchase for a child. On the other hand, the computer you purchase will serve the whole family, so you should buy one that's up to the task. With it, you'll be able to do work at home, keep family accounts, and maintain correspondence. This makes your home computer one of the most shared items in your home, a place where kids and adults come together to work and play.