Suggested Minimums and Recommended Hardware for Computers in Christian Education
=Last Updated March 2013=
This article is particular to 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. Poor hardware can sap volunteer and student energy and opportunities. You can have too much hardware, or too little. And you can have good equipment undercut by a POOR CONCEPT OF USE. If you want to get up to speed quickly, read this webpage, then read my book, Teaching with Computers in Christian Education. It will save you money and mistakes.
I’ve been teaching with software in Christian education since 1990 and I’m in touch with thousands of churches doing the same. Learn from our experiences, mistakes, and successes.
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 and business.
See also: Sunday Software Tech Support Page
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 these OS’ are good to go, assuming the hardware isn’t too nasty old.
Almost every older program, and every single new program in our catalog runs on XP, Windows 7 AND Windows 8. 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.
MAC OS, pads, 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 older good titles that are Windows-only, and too many good newer titles that are and will continue to come out ”Windows-only” -to recommend a lab full of Macs. Macs are great computers, but you don’t teach with the OS, you teach with available software.
IPADS/TABLETS: 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?”
Processor Speed and Ram Memory
Minimum 1.4 ghz processor
Minimum 2 gb of Ram. Some older computers can have more added. Some cannot.
Minimum 64 mb videoRam
More details below!
Minimum to Get Started With?
As of March 2013 I am recommending getting started with nothing less than:
- Windows XP or Windows 7 or Windows 8.
- Minimum 1.6 ghz processor or higher.
- Minimum 2 gigabytes Ram memory.
- Minimum 64 megabytes of VideoRAM.
- DVD-capable CD Rom drive.
- 19″ LCD screen for students to share.
- Internet access*
This level of “used” 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.
The above modest configuration is the type of computer that a lot of businesses and church members have to donate. Don’t take them if they are more than 6 years old, and make sure they don’t come with problems. You should expect that you will need to do some operating system maintenance, clean them up and debug them, and you may need to add ram and an inexpensive videocard. Some older computer come with substandard or problematic video chips.
Internet Access: today’s operating systems need to be able to update themselves. However, your lab doesn’t 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.
You may also find it helpful to access teachable content on the web for an occasional lesson, such as, a youtube video.
If I was buying a NEW computer today for my Sunday School…
I wouldn’t hesitate to get a decent inexpensive DESKTOP running Windows 7 or Windows 8.
Which one? I tell folks to “go to Dell’s website, go into their Home desktop computer page, and look at the one that’s ONE LEVEL ABOVE BASIC.” That general approach works for other manufacturers as well. This is to say: don’t get the cheapest, get a basically decent PC.
I’m not a huge fan of Windows 8. It’s “tile” interface isn’t really designed for the way we use computers in Sunday School. But I can work with it.
All the software we designed in the XP and Vista era works fine on Windows 7 and 8. Backwards compatibility is an important issue for churches. You want your software to work for YEARS to come.
Desktop or Laptop?
I still recommend Desktops over Laptops. Here’s why:
- Cost, durability, upgradability, 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.
Stick with a good name brand. In my personal opinion, Acer, Gateway, Dell and Sony. HP tends to have support problems. I would not buy a Compaq, or eMachine. I would not buy an offbrand.
You do not need a touchscreen. Your students will be working cooperatively at the screen, not hogging it all to themselves.
Remember: The best model for teaching with software is students and teachers working COOPERATIVELY TOGETHER at the computer.
If you get laptops…
They are a reasonable choice if they are FREE! …and if you need portability. If you have a dedicated space, however, go with Desktops. Here’s why: Laptop screens are difficult to view when you’re sitting at the side or 3 feet away. Laptops aren’t as durable as desktops. Laptop keyboards and touchpads aren’t kid-friendly. You’ll still want external speakers because laptop speakers are usually awful.
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.
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.
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).