Suggested Minimums and Recommended Hardware for Computers in Christian Education
=This article is regularly updated to reflect our latest opinion and experience with hardware.=
This article is for our church customers, the types of new and used computers they can get, existing software requirements, and projected near-future software requirements.
Hardware can be a blessing or a curse. The RIGHT computer allows you to focus on teaching. The wrong hardware and setup causes frustration and waste teaching opportunities. Read this page as “best advice” not only from me, but from our customers. For more “how to teach” and settting up a lab info, read my book, Teaching with Computers in Christian Education.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my name is Neil MacQueen. You are not “bugging me” when you ask for help. This is my ministry since 1990, and business since 1996.
See also: Sunday Software Tech Support Page
For those who already have our software: About upgrading to Windows 7 or 8
Read the book: Teaching with Computers in Christian Education
View Customer submitted Computer Lab Photos
THE BIG QUESTION: What version of Windows? or Mac?
Depending on the software you want to use, and the system you have, you may need to make some adjustments, but I wouldn’t turn down a “good” piece of hardware with any of these systems on it. Read my definition of “good” below!
Every program in our catalog today runs in Windows 7, 8 and 10. Knowing it will work on a wide-range of PCs, especially donated ones, …and that the software you purchase WILL CONTINUE TO WORK in the years ahead, is important to churches.
Read my article: Installing and Running Our Software on Windows 8 and 10
Tablets, MAC OS, ipads, etc, are NOT reasonable choices right now.
IF you want to make use of existing Christian software, and most new CE software likely to come out within the next 2 to 3 years, you would be extremely wise to stick with Windows. Extremely wise. I know iPads are all the rage, but most of us are not surfing the web in our classes and showing Youtube videos. We’re working in the Bible.
Read my article: “What about iPads and Tablets?”
MAC vs PC:
There are simply too many good titles that are Windows-only, and very few Mac-compatible programs to recommend anyone build their lab with Macs. Macs are great computers, but you don’t teach with the OS, you teach with available software. Is what it is.
In short, not yet. Too few apps, and very little in the way of web-based Christian content for kids. Read my article: “What about iPads and Tablets?”
LAPTOP OR DESKTOP ?? Read on!
Minimums for Older Used Computers
I would accept nothing less than a Windows PC with a inimum 1.4 ghz processor. Windows XP runs most of our software just fine. Vista perhaps. Windows 7 just fine. Minimum 2 gb of Ram (4mb of Ram is highly recommended for Windows 7, 8, 10.). Minimum 64 mb videoRam. Again, this is for older used computers that people may offer you out of their closets.
New or Nearly New Computer Minimum to Get Started
I recommend getting started with nothing less than:
- Windows Windows 7, 8 or 10.
- Minimum 1.6 ghz processor or higher.
- Minimum 4 gigabytes Ram memory.
- Minimum 64 megabytes of VideoRAM (most have quite more)
- DVD-capable CD Rom drive.
- 19″ LCD screen for students to share.
- Internet access*
This level of new or nearly new machine described above will allow you to run everything currently on the market, and likely to come out within the next three to five years in Christian software. Historically, Christian software has not pushed the outer edge of system requirements. A good “one step above basic” computer is usually sufficient, and if ii is a few years old, it may just need more RAM.
If you already have some of our OLDER software and are thinking about upgrading to newer hardware, read: About Upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. Please also see our continuing recommendation on this page to stick with Desktops. They are more “cooperative group of kids” –friendly.
Today’s operating systems need to be able to update themselves. However, your lab doesn’t necessarily need dedicated or constant internet access. You just need to be able to get your computers updated every so often, and especially at the outset. Windows 8 or 10 may require you to register it online, but also includes a phone number you can call.
You may also find it helpful to access teachable content on the web for an occasional lesson, such as, a youtube video. Or to print one of our teaching guides that you left at home!
I’m often asked about brands and ‘deals’ being offered, and to compare laptops, versus all-in-one PC, vs desktops. Occasionally Office Depot or Dell has an offer that’s incredible. Stick to the major brands and watch for the deals.
Which one? I tell folks to do this: Go to Dell’s website, and look up their home computers. Then look closely at the PC their are offering that is ONE STEP ABOVE their low-priced base model. This “one level above” rule of thumb always seems to produce a very nice computer at a very good price, with all you will need. Dell is a good brand, so you can use this rule of thumb at their website to compare other brands.
Always get more RAM than the least amount they offer. If they offer 2, get 4. If they offer 4, get 6.
Upgrading from XP or 7 to Windows 8 or 10?
I’d suggest skipping Windows 8 and going right to 10. They have similar minimum specs, and Windows 10 is a great improvement over 8. Read my article: Installing and Running Our Software on Windows 8 and 10
Desktop or Laptop?
I still recommend Desktops over Laptops. Here’s why:
- Cost, durability, upgradeability, and screen viewing area.
- Laptop screens are okay for one person, but not so great for two students and a teacher.
- Tablets are cool, but there simply aren’t enough Christian apps to justify their cost, and they tend to be “single user” devices, whereas 2 or 3 kids can share a desktop screen.
- You do not need a touchscreen. Your students will be working cooperatively at the screen, not hogging it all to themselves.
Why I do not like laptops for Sunday School:
1. Laptop screens are difficult to view when you’re sitting at the side or 3 feet away. You will likely have 2 kids and a teacher trying to see the screen.
2. Laptops aren’t as durable as desktops. The drive trays are flimsy and keys/touchpad less durable.
3. Touchpads aren’t younger kid-friendly.
4. Laptop speakers are usually poor, and their volume controls not the easiest to access (which you often need to control several times during class.)
5. The ARROW KEYS on laptop keyboards are often too small and difficult to use. In MANY games and interactive programs, you use those arrow keys to navigate.
If you must use laptops…
a. Make sure they have volume controls above the keyboard for easy access, or attach speakers.
b. Add a mouse.
c. Go with something that has a full-er size keyboard. A lot of our programs are navigated by the ARROW keys, and some laptops have small arrow keys.
d. You’ll still want external speakers because laptop speakers are usually awful.
These look like a screen and a keyboard with no tower. Many have touch screens. The computer is built into the back of the screen. Generally these are more expensive than standalone towers with separate screens. I recommend big tables for groups to use the computer, so having room for a tower isn’t usually a problem. I don’t recommend touchscreens for group use. All that said, from time to time a customer says they were able to get a really good deal on them, so why not.
Flat Panel or CRT ? (the old big box monitors)
Either or is fine, but I lean towards LCD monitors these days. They occupy less space, are easier to move, and reasonably priced.
19″ is a minimum. 20-24″ is good, especially if you’re going to have 3 kids in front of it, and from time to time, have the entire class looking at something on it.
Don’t waste time, opportunity or treasure…
Order and Read:
Teaching with Computers
in Christian Education
Among other important topics, it answers:
- Why we teach with software.
- How software enhanced learning.
- What software to start out with.
- How to teach with various types of software.
- How to design and decorate your lab.
- How to adjust software to different age groups.
- How to save money when buying software.
- How to schedule lessons and kids into your lab.
- How to train your lab teachers.
- Top software picks for a long-term library.
- and quite a bit more.
Answers to Other Frequently Asked Hardware Questions
How Many Computers do you Need?
I recommend “2.5 kids per computer” because we teach and learn cooperatively in Sunday School, and cooperative use is not only part of our approach to learning, it’s good stewardship. The # of computers you put in your “lab” will dramatically impact your software budget, the ability of the teachers to sit with kids AT the computers, and the amount of SOUND cacophony you have to deal with in the lab.
Beware of over-sizing your lab with too many computers. Even if you have a lot of money or donation of computers, and a big room and lots of kids, I strongly caution churches against creating computer labs which are beyond their long-term capacity to resource and manage. Read my book for more set up details.
How Many Copies of Each CD will you Need?
In most cases, you must buy one copy of a program for each computer you want to run it on. Only some CDs come with “site licenses” which allow you to put them on many computer. Most Christian programs must be purchased in quantity.
It is illegal to copy a CD from one computer to another without a site license. It is illegal to “network” a CD to various stations.
In general, you will need one CD of a program per computer you want it to run on. There are only a few exceptions. If someone suggests that you illegally use software so you can teach the Bible, set them straight. Article: Site Licensing & Software Quantity Issues
How Many Students Per Computer?
In most cases you will be putting 2 or 3 students in front of each computer. We believe in cooperative learning.
More computers = a bigger software budget and the need for more teacher-helpers.
What about Linux or Apple/Mac?
No. The vast majority of available Christian software is designed for Windows.
Do I need a printer?
Yes, many programs have print features. We recommend buying inexpensive inkjet printers. Top notch office quality is unnecessary. We recommend a 2:1 ratio or computers to printers if you’ll be networking them. Why? Because kids don’t have all day to wait for their color printing projects to print out.
Can I network my computers?
The only reason to network computers is to share printers, conduct operating system maintenance, or share Internet access. Networking computers to share software is illegal if you don’t have a network or site license for that software. Read my DETAILED ANSWER TO THE NETWORKING QUESTION.
Can I copy or network software from one computer to others?
Almost all Christian software is licensed to you for use on one computer only. It is VERY illegal to copy programs/CDs as a way to get around purchasing the proper number of copies. Most Christian software isn’t designed to run from a server.
Can I buy site licenses or network copies of this software?
Sunday Software (us) offers “site licenses” on a limited number of our own programs. Most software however, must be purchased individually for each computer.
There are different types of “networks.” We recommend networking to share printers. The concept of networking stations to a central “server” to run one copy of a program out to several stations is technically expensive, rather non-feasible for most churches, and in most cases it is highly illegal to distribute the software not licenses for such network use.
Should I use headphones?
Please don’t. What’s the point of trying to teach a Bible lesson if the kids can’t hear the teacher? Set up your lab so that the computers aren’t drowning each other out! For more on this subject, and how to successfully deal with sound in your lab, go read “Get Thee Behind Me Headphones” in the book Teaching with Computers.
You can also read my brief version of Get Thee Behind Me Headphones online.
Do I need Optical Drives (i.e. CD or DVD drives) on each computer?
Yes. Most CDs in our catalog run or install off the CD. In many cases, a program that runs off the CD can also be run from the harddrive if it is copied into a folder on the harddrive. (We do this to give you options, however, this is not a license to illegal copy the program!) However, some good programs require the presence of the CD in the drive and cannot be worked around.
What’s the best way to set up my computers in a teaching situation?
Start small, keep your computers separated from each other with plenty of room and sound buffering between them. Make sure there is a spot for the teacher to sit down and go through the software with the kids (and not just watching them).