Maybe you’re tired of the family computer being turned into a Facebook and book report machine. Maybe your child finally got that 4.0 cumulative GPA you talked about and now they want to collect on their bribe. Whatever the reason, you’ve suddenly found yourself on the market for a new laptop computer.  Welcome to the club.

Picking out the perfect laptop for your kid is all about finding a balance. You don’t want to invest in a top-end machine that your child is likely to underuse and even more likely to destroy. At the same time, you also don’t want to pump $400 into a “door breaker” deal that will break down on you in six months. In my experience, the best machines for kids are affordable models with enough features to keep them relevant and functional for at least four years. Here are a few specific things that I recommend looking for.

1)      A Tough Build. Children have a knack for turning nice things into rubble. As long as your child owns their laptop, the poor machine is going to be dropped and have things dropped on it more times than you’d care to think about. As such, you should make sure that any laptop you purchase can withstand a moderate beating every once in a while.

It’s not hard to check a display-model laptop for durability. First, type a paragraph and see if the keys feel sturdy. Then, open and close the laptop to test the hinges. If the laptop has a plastic body, give it a light squeeze to see if it is firm or flimsy. Any part that feels weak or washy now is going to fail sooner than you’d expect.

For a more in-depth review of a laptop’s durability, you can look up reviews and comparisons online.  In general, reputable brands like Toshiba and Lenovo are some of the best ultrabook manufacturers on the market when it comes to toughness. Newer brands and “test models” tend to have a flimsier construction that can lead to expensive repairs or replacements.

2)      An Adequate Amount of RAM. All laptops use pretty much the same tier of processors. So the biggest factor affecting performance between models is how much RAM the computer has. RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the memory in a computer that can be accessed at any given time to run any given process. It’s like the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Since software is continuously evolving to become more data-intensive, you should always pick up a little bit more RAM for your kid’s computer than you feel they need. At the moment, I would say four or six gigabytes is a good threshold. This will keep your child’s computer functional and relevant well into the future.

3)      Plenty of USB Ports. If your child is going to be using their laptop for schoolwork, an adequate number of USB ports are a must. Everything runs on USB these days, including flash drives, portable hard drives, wireless mice and cooling pads.

Consequently, your child’s laptop should possess enough USB ports to handle this kind of load. I recommend at least four.  If you can find a machine with additional outputs for VGA, SATA and HDMI, that’s even better.

A good laptop will serve your child reliably for years. So use these tips to pick up a great, functional machine without paying top-shelf prices. That way, your kids can scratch it, drop it, browse with it and game on it to their little hearts’ content and when the machine finally dies, you won’t be out a huge investment.