Teenagers use their laptops a little bit differently than most adults. The vast majority of teens will use a laptop heavily for watching videos and building a huge collection of music. Those types of files take lots of space. To satisfy that kind of need for space I suggest you make sure the laptop you purchase has as large of a hard drive as possible.
You really want to get a sense of what the student is going to be using the laptop for primarily. They are obviously going to use it to compose papers and homework assignments. They will be using the internet heavily. They are also going to be watching a lot of videos and working with music a lot. But, are there any other things in particular that this teenager is going to be doing with it that might require something special? Chances are there is not, but you should think about it for a minute anyway.
Kids tend to abuse their computers a bit more than we adults do. That makes it even more important that you get a good brand that has decent construction. You want the power jack to be really solid in the laptop. I have repaired a ton of laptops over the years with broken power jacks. The repair is not as cheap as it sounds either. It is usually a pretty big job to replace one of those.
Another thing to consider is whether or not that student is going to be getting another new laptop when he or she graduates and heads off to college. If that is the case, then you only need the laptop to last for a few years. That being said, you don’t necessarily need to spring for the more powerful microprocessor. Instead, you can settle for a typical Intel Core i3 instead of the Core i5. If you are purchasing this so that the student can play some full motion video games on it, then you had better look into getting a gaming laptop. You will not be able to play the latest highly detailed video games well if you are playing them on a Core i3 based laptop.
Here are the basic things to look for in a laptop for a high school student:
1) Quality brand – I always insist that you stick with one of the major brands that have been building laptops for the longest time frame.
2) Look for an Intel Core i3. It is also okay to get an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 based laptop, but they will cost substantially more than the Core i3.
3) 4GB of ram or more – As I recommend on just about every type of laptop, make sure you have plenty of ram. This will affect the speed of the laptop a lot. There is not much cost difference between 2GB and 4GB.
4) Hard Drive – Get a larger hard drive for a high school student. I recommend at least 500GB. Most of the larger hard drives are only 5400RPM drives. As I have explained on the best laptop configuration page, I am not a big fan of 5400RPM drives. The speed of the hard drive is a very important component for determining the overall performance of the laptop. In this case though, you are better off sacrificing speed a little bit for the additional space. Trust me. Kids love huge hard drives.
5) Make sure that any laptop you pick out does not have bad ratings for the sound capabilities. Most laptops are fine, but some of them have weak speakers. Your teenager will blow them out or else complain about them constantly.
6) In general, your teenager is going to want a larger screen. They are not as practical as we are. To them bigger is almost always better. You might want to spring for a laptop with a 17 inch or larger LCD. If they plan on taking this laptop to college, then don’t get one with a 17 inch screen.