How We Select the Best Computers for Online Teaching
There are many online ESL companies, each with their own minimum system requirements, but most companies actually have very similar computer requirements to teach ESL online with them. In recommending the best computers for online teaching, we need to first consider these basic requirements that are typical for the online ESL industry:
|Operating System||Processor (CPU)||Memory (RAM)|
|Windows 10 / macOS 10.x|
Intel i5 or higher
|8GB or higher|
Remember that these are the typical minimum requirements. Your decision should be based on more than meeting the minimum. Let’s look at the various aspects that should form your decision.
Laptop vs Desktop Computers for Online Teaching
Laptop computers are almost certainly the more popular device of the two, mainly because of their portability, but also because you can do just as much with a laptop computer as you could with a desktop. Yet, desktop computers continue to be a popular choice with online ESL teachers for several reasons. Let’s look at the best computers for online teaching – both laptops and desktops, and the pros and cons of each type:
Best Laptop Computers for Online Teaching
- Razer Blade 15 Base Gaming Laptop
- ASUS VivoBook
- HP Pavilion 15 Laptop
Buying a Laptop Computer: Pros and Cons
Best Desktop Computers for Online Teaching
- HP Envy Desktop Computer
- Lenovo ThinkCentre M720s
- Dell Inspiron 3880
Buying a Desktop Computer: Pros and Cons
Laptop computers are more popular among online ESL teachers, because they offer much more convenience. They can be easily packed into a backpack or computer bag, and are extremely suitable for travel. However, this convenience comes at a higher price, as laptop computers are more expensive, and difficult to upgrade.
Conversely, while desktop computers lack portability, they typically come with more powerful specs out of the box, and are easily upgradeable. When it’s time to upgrade the CPU or add more RAM, the cost of replacing the components will be significantly cheaper than buying a new computer. Consequently, the long-term cost of owning a desktop computer is much lower than a laptop, plus you can customize everything from the keyboard to the screen size to your heart’s desire.
We highly recommend buying a desktop computer over a laptop computer because of their higher affordability, both short and long-term, and because they usually provide for a better, more ergonomic user experience. That said, if you are a frequent traveler and need a portable device, then only a laptop computer will give you that as an online ESL teacher, as most online ESL companies are not currently able to deliver their teaching platforms over more portable devices such as tablets.
Windows vs Mac
Choosing between Windows and Mac is one that is largely down to personal preference and your budget (Macs typically cost more). Practically anything you can do on Windows, you can do on a Mac, and vice versa, and that includes teaching ESL online. Most online ESL companies have designed their platforms and courseware to function on either operating system.
Having said that, because of Apple’s more closed ecosystem, Windows based computers tend to offer more versatility. For example, there are more software choices available for functions such as green screening. As well, there are many more Windows users than Mac users, and that typically means any updates or functionality will likely come to Windows first.
Macs are Great, but Not the Best Computers for Online Teaching
First of all, we want to be fully transparent: We are Mac users through and through. This article was written on a Mac, and we have taught ESL online using Macs. So, we clearly love Macs. But are Macs the best computers for online teaching ? Some other ESL websites may say so, but we have to politely disagree.
As we have discussed earlier, choosing between Windows and Mac computers is a matter of personal preference, and if you really must own a Mac, then by all means, we aren’t here to stop you. Beyond personal preference, however, are some other considerations that disqualify Macs from being selected among our recommendations.
- Macs are typically (and significantly) more expensive than most Windows based computers with comparable specifications
- Macs are almost always not upgradeable. Once you buy a Mac, that’s pretty much what you have till your next computer purchase
- AppleCare+, which is Apple’s extended warranty program, is fairly expensive (as much as 10% of the price of the computer, or more). If you buy a Mac, you almost certainly need AppleCare+ to cover your computer for 3 years instead of the basic 1 year warranty included in the price of the Mac. $300 to repair or service a Mac is cheaper than buying a new one for around $2,000, but $300 is a good chunk of money to pay on top of an already high price tag for a Mac.
- When a Mac is out of warranty and needs repairs, you have to either take it to Apple or to a third party repair shop that can service Macs. Often a faulty Mac can’t be easily repaired because of the way Macs are made, so your only option might be to take it to Apple, and the cost of servicing an out-of-warranty Apple product often costs as much as buying a new one.
Apple makes sleek, sexy, trend-setting computers, and many Mac users continue to live by the mantra: Once you go Mac, you can’t go back. We just don’t think they’re a good fit for online ESL teachers in terms of their cost and your return on investment. After all, teaching ESL online is a freelance business, and we want to recommend you the best computers for online ESL teachers, from the perspective of performance, longevity, and cost-effectiveness. There’s no reason in our mind why you should be paying $2,000 or more for a computer to teach online ESL.
If you are already a Mac user, you can continue using your Mac to teach English online, so long as it meets the current system requirements. However, if you are just getting started, or if you are looking for a computer which you will use specifically for teaching ESL online, we recommend going with the more budget-friendly, better feature for dollar ratio, and broader range of options that Windows has to offer.
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Because technology evolves rapidly, it’s important to consider the lifespan of the computer you intend to buy. Online ESL companies will update their computer requirements and demand higher specs with time, so you want to think beyond the current requirements. Currently, most online ESL companies require an Intel i3 CPU or higher to teach on their platforms. While the latest Intel i3 processors will get you by, they don’t pack as much power as i5 / i7 / i9 CPUs. We recommend online ESL teachers buy a computer with at least an i5 CPU, and ideally an i7 CPU if you can afford it, to extend the lifespan of the computer for online ESL teaching.
While the CPU itself is an important factor, so is the number of cores that make up the CPU chipset. Modern computers are equipped with multicore CPU, enabling them to run multiple processes simultaneously without causing strain on the CPU. When buying a computer for teaching ESL online, we recommend choosing one with at least an Intel i5 quad core CPU.
Finally, confirm that the computer you buy has a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU). The GPU takes care of heavy graphics processing so the main CPU does not have to be strained running processes and applications alongside graphics processing. Modern computers are equipped with dedicated GPUs to render images faster, and you will notice a significant difference in image and video loading with a GPU in place.
When deciding on a computer for online teaching, it is also important to consider how the computer’s graphics are processed. Most computers come with an integrated graphics card. This means the CPU and graphics processing unit (GPU) are built onto the same die, and share the computer’s RAM. Many computer manufacturers will also offer an option to upgrade to a dedicated graphics card, which has its own GPU, RAM, and fan.
While most online teachers will be fine with an integrated graphics card, it’s worth considering the upgrade to a dedicated graphics card if you plan to use a green screen or virtual background, or use video effects software such as ManyCam.
Aside from minimum processor requirements, most online ESL companies also have a minimum RAM requirement. While many companies state a minimum of 8GB RAM, you don’t want to skimp on RAM with the memory load operating systems and applications place on the computer.
Why is RAM important? RAM is used as a temporary memory storage for running applications and processes. Whenever you run application or process, it loads resources for fast access into the computer’s RAM. All things being equal, the more RAM your computer has access to, the more resources it can retain in fast, temporary memory, and the faster it can run those processes.
Although a lot of emphasis is placed on the CPU speed, it has to be said that computers low on RAM will run significantly slower, as the RAM availability largely determines how many current applications and processes can be run. When a computer runs low on RAM, it leans more on the computer’s hard drive, which is a more persistent, but much slower memory than RAM.
With current computing demands what they are, we recommend going with at least 8GB (and ideally 16GB) of RAM when buying a computer for teaching ESL online. The difference in speed and usability is noticeable between computers with less RAM vs more RAM.
Webcam and Audio
As an online ESL teacher, your video and audio quality are both important aspects of your work, and something online ESL companies will test during your onboarding process.
Most laptop computers and all-in-one desktop computers have a built-in webcam and microphone, but what you want to make sure is that your webcam is at least 720p, which is a baseline for high-definition (HD) video. You don’t need a super high-end webcam, as your students will only be able to see video quality up to the resolution of their own displays, so we don’t recommend something like a 4K resolution webcam, which is overkill.
Desktop computers typically don’t have built-in webcams, but may come with an external one. Many online ESL teachers actually prefer an external webcam as it can be easily positioned and moved around to your heart’s content. Indeed, some online ESL teachers using laptops also connect an external webcam for this reason.
Other Factors to Consider when Buying a Computer for Teaching ESL Online
If you have decided to go with a laptop for teaching ESL online, then one crucial factor will be how many hours the computer can run on battery power. We don’t recommend you teach ESL online on a laptop battery for the obvious reason that your ability to teach will end when you run out of charge. In fact, most online ESL companies will expect you to have your computer plugged into an electrical outlet while teaching.
So why then, is battery life important? In those moments, when the electricity goes out, your computer battery might save you. A computer with long battery life can literally get you through your online classes for the day, as long as you also have access to Internet while the electricity is out.
Many computer manufacturers claim battery life of 12 or more hours, but battery life will depend on your use, your workspace climate, and your overall laptop maintenance. As an online ESL teacher, you will be streaming video, audio, and courseware, all of which can be power intensive. Thus, the longer the computer can run on battery, the better. However, since most online ESL teachers will be plugged in during lessons, extremely long battery life isn’t essential.
If you have decided on a desktop computer, then you might want to think about purchasing a universal power supply (UPS) for emergency situations when the power goes out. This can provide temporary power as well as protect your computer from electrical surges.
Whether you decide to buy a laptop or desktop computer, one important factor in terms of your user experience is the screen size. The trend of lighter, slimmer, and smaller laptops is great for students and business people on the go, but for the online ESL teacher, screen real estate is important, because as you teach a lesson, you want to be able to see the courseware and your students easily and comfortably on the screen. A small screen size will have you squinting and moving around windows to fit everything in, and neither you, nor your eyes, will be too pleased with the experience.
If you decide to go with a laptop, we recommend going no less than a 13″ screen. A 13″ screen is still large enough to feel comfortable and fit everything in while teaching ESL online, and compact enough to make owning a laptop worthwhile. We would recommend spending a little more and going with a 15 inch or 16 inch screen laptop, which gives you more screen space and comfort, though it will be a bit larger and heavier to carry. Alternatively, you can buy a larger sized external display which you can connect to your laptop while teaching online ESL in your regular workspace. With an external display, you can go with any size screen within your budget and comfort zone, plus you get the added benefit of having two screens to work with. Anyone using two screens can attest how much more enjoyable working is, with your online ESL teaching platform on the larger display and your lesson plan and notes on the smaller display.
If you opt for a desktop computer, your main goal is not portability, so owning a larger screen is give you the ideal experience while teaching ESL online. There really is no point owning a desktop with a 13″ screen, so we recommend at least a 17″ screen to make working on the computer a pleasure.
Computer manufacturers like Apple are on a mission to reduce the number of ports included in laptop computers, and the debate rages on about whether this is a good or bad move. Most online ESL teachers using laptop computers will not need umpteen ports, since most of what you need is built-in. Still, there are some ports which are important to have, and with the exception of Apple computers, which now only include USB Type C and Bluetooth for connectivity and data transfer, most computer manufacturers still include ports such as USB A, HDMI, and SD Card slots.
If you have decided on a desktop computer, you will be in port heaven, and you can upgrade your device to include any additional ports you need. If, on the other hand, your heart is intent on using a laptop, you need to check which ports are included and which ones you need. Don’t worry too much though – it’s easy enough to get a port hub or dongle you can connect to your laptop, adding all the ports you need.
The market trend is moving in the direction Apple has already adopted, albeit with more ports.
You may need ports to connect the following:
- External keyboard
- External display (particularly if you intend to use a dual monitor setup for online teaching)
- External Hard Drive
As the combination of WiFi, Bluetooth, and USB-C enables you to practically connect any external device today, you really don’t need to spend too much time worrying about ports, unless you already own peripherals which need to be connected with cables.
Not to worry though – our selection of the best computers for online teaching are all equipped with plenty of ports to meet your connectivity needs.
Solid State Drive (SSD)
As people increasingly work and store data in the cloud, local storage size becomes less of a concern for the average user. Additionally, most manufacturers include hard disks which are adequate in storage capacity for most users. The main exceptions are users who create and edit videos, music or do intensive graphics editing, and gamers. If you fall into one of these categories, you probably need larger storage on your computer.
Most entry-level computers include at least 256GB of disk space, but many laptops nowadays even ship with 1TB built-in storage, which is more than adequate for the typical online ESL teacher. Of course, you can easily add external hard disks to the mix if you prefer to store data locally or have a local backup.
What is important to consider is the type of hard disk that comes with your laptop or desktop computer. Modern computers ship with various types of built-in storage, but you want to make sure you go with a Solid State Drive (SSD). SSD drives are read and write data much faster than other types of drives, and they have a typically longer lifespan.
You wouldn’t think the keyboard is something you need to pay close attention to, but the constant push from manufacturers to go slimmer, smaller and more elegant has also impacted keyboards. Don’t get us wrong – we like lean and clean, too. But when it comes to the keyboard, you need to think about how slimmer and smaller affects your usability. The distance from the unpressed key to fully pressed key is commonly referred to as key travel. Longer key travel seems to be preferred by most users when typing on a keyboard. In 2019, Apple ditched its butterfly mechanism keyboard which had a low key travel due to unpopularity among its users, replacing it with a new mechanism allowing more durability and longer key travel.
My budget is $800.And then look for a computer that fits in that price range. However, we think it’s important to think about your computer budget from a longer term perspective. You may have $800 to spend now, and buy a computer you will need to upgrade in one or two years. That’s $400 – $800 per year. On the other hand, you could invest in a computer that costs $1,200 – $1,500, which can carry you for 3 – 5 years. That’s about $300 per year. From this perspective, you can see how spending more upfront can end up being cheaper in the long run. If you are limited to a specific budget, we really believe you should be considering a desktop computer and avoid the urge of forking out cash for a laptop. Laptops are great for many. reasons, but desktops really are cost-efficient, and you can literally upgrade a desktop for years to come, costing you only the price of upgrading the components you need. Laptops are ideal for frequent travelers, but they do come at a higher price, even if they are ‘affordable’, because you will get less for the money you spend, and then you’ll need to upgrade the laptop by replacing it with a new one. If you are considering a dollar amount to spend for a computer you will use to teach ESL online, there really is no answer to this question. You will need to think about what else you plan to use the computer for, and whether you really need a separate computer for teaching and one for your other computing needs. We think you only need one, but everyone has a point of view. What we can say is this: a decent desktop computer can be purchased for between $800 – $1,000, whereas a similar featured laptop might cost $1,200 – $2,000. So, the only recommendation we have here is to think about your budget, your purpose for buying a computer aside from teaching ESL online, and whether you really need a laptop computer, or if a desktop computer will do.
Recommended Laptop Computers for Teaching Online
- More power: The 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10750H processor provides the ultimate level of performance with up to 5.0 GHz max turbo and 6 cores.
- Ray-tracing: The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with Max-Q Design is powered by the NVIDIA Turing GPU architecture and brings cinematic-quality rendering to the most visually intense games.
- More frames: Incredible performance paired with the fast 144Hz 15. 6" full HD thin bezel display helps edge out the win.
- Thin and compact: The CNC aluminum unibody frame houses incredible performance in the most compact footprint possible, while remaining remarkably durable and just 0.78" thin.
- Ready to connect: Fully loaded with Wi-Fi 6, Gigabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt 3, USB type-A and type-C ports, and HDMI, for a desktop-class experience
- Make it yours: Customize the backlight color of the keyboard with Razer Chroma, and expand the memory and storage, making the Razer Blade 15 uniquely yours.
- ScreenPad 2.0 adds an interactive secondary 5.65” touchscreen to enhance productivity
- ScreenPad 2.0 fits a series of handy ASUS utility apps: Quick Key, Number Key, Handwriting, Slide Xpert, etc.
- 15.6” Full HD NanoEdge bezel display with stunning 88% screen-to-body ratio and 5.65” Full HD ScreenPad 2.0
- Powerful Intel Core i7-10510U Processor (8M Cache, up to 4.9 GHz)
- NVIDIA GeForce MX250 discrete graphics with Windows 10 Home
- INSTANT GRATIFICATION – Experience a laptop with premium performance, so you can spend less time getting more done; it’s like a small PC that’s compact enough to go where you go with a long-lasting battery to power you through your day
- EPIC ENTERTAINMENT – With audio by B&O, a larger screen-to-body ratio, and a 15.6-inch Full HD micro-edged screen to maximize your view, entertainment on your laptop feels like bringing the theater home (1)
- IMPRESSIVE GRAPHICS – The Intel Iris Xe Graphics gives you a new level of graphics performance with crisp, stunning visuals, plus the convenience of a thin and light laptop (2)
- UNSTOPPABLE PERFORMANCE – Get things done fast with the 11th Generation Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, which delivers instant responsiveness and best-in-class connectivity (3)
- MEMORY AND STORAGE – Enjoy up to 15x faster performance than a traditional hard drive with 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD storage (4) and experience improved multitasking with higher bandwidth thanks to 16 GB of RAM
- WORK ON THE GO – Get work done on the go with a long battery life of up to 8 hours (5) while HP Fast Charge lets you go from 0 to 50% charge in approximately 45 minutes (6)
- OS AND WARRANTY – Do more with better peace of mind thanks to the HP 1-year limited hardware warranty and the seamlessly integrated Windows 10 Pro operating system (7)
- EFFORTLESSLY CONNECTED – Enjoy a smoother wireless experience with Wi-Fi 6 (2x2) (8) and Bluetooth 5.0 combo (9), all your connections are solid and up to 3x faster file transfer speeds than Wi-Fi 5 (10)
- FULL-SIZE KEYBOARD – Work comfortably with a full-sized keyboard, integrated numeric pad, and a Precision Touchpad
- ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY – Stay energy-efficient and sustainable with a laptop that is Energy Star certified (11), EPEAT Silver registered (12), and built with a low halogen display (13)
Recommended Desktop Computers for Teaching Online
Because desktop computers are upgradeable and customizable, it’s a little more difficult to give straightforward recommendations on desktops for online ESL teachers. On the flip side, you can in fact build your own desktop from scratch if you know how (it isn’t very difficult). But, we understand that you’re not here to learn how to build or upgrade your own computer. Rather, you’re probably looking for the right computer to buy so you can get started with teaching online ESL immediately.
So, our recommended desktop computers are based on all of the factors we have covered in this article, and these desktop computers will be ready to go with the specifications you need. All of these are priced under $1,000 and are upgradeable.
Keep in mind that you will need to purchase a computer display separately, at an additional cost.
- YOUR CREATIVE SIDEKICK: Render, edit, game and stream better than ever before
- FAST PROCESSOR: 10th Generation Intel Core i7-10700 Processor, 8-Core, 2.90 GHz base frequency, up to 4.8 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology
- MEMORY: 16 GB DDR4-2933 SDRAM memory (2 x 8 GB) (upgradable to 32 GB)
- INTERNAL STORAGE: 1 TB 7200RPM SATA hard drive & 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 Solid State Drive (HDD 3.5" expansion bay available)
- CONNECTIVITY: Realtek Wi-Fi 5 (1x1) and Bluetooth 4.2 Combo, MU-MIMO supported, 0/100/1000 Base-T Network, 3.5mm Headphone/Microphone combo, 4 SuperSpeed USB Type-A (front), 1 SuperSpeed USB Type-C(R) (front), 4 USB 2.0 Type-A (rear), HDMI Out (rear), VGA (rear)
- MOUSE AND KEYBOARD: USB black wired keyboard and mouse combo
- DUAL DISPLAY SUPPORT: Add a second display for a more immersive and productive computing experience
- 5.1 SURROUND SOUND OUTPUT: All the necessary ports for truly immersive sound quality with 5.1 surround sound
- ENERGY STAR CERTIFIED: HP ENVY Desktop Computer that meets strict energy- efficiency and helps reduce your carbon footprint
- Processor: Intel i7-8700 Hexa Core [6 Cores] (3.2GHz - 4.6GHz, 12MB Cache)
- Hard Drive: 1TB SSD; RAM: 16GB DDR4-2666MHz; Optical Drive: DVD±RW
- OS: Windows 10 Professional 64 Bit; Graphics: Intel UHD 630
- Warranty: 3 Year Lenovo Onsite Warranty / 3 Year Oemgenuine Limited Warranty
- Memory & Hard Drive Upgrade | * - View Product Description for complete details and notes
We know you want to know what’s the best computer for teacher ESL online. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer, and that’s a good thing, because with all of the options you have available, you can make a decision that’s right for you. What we recommend is to base your decision on a set of criteria that must be met, and that’s why we have provided a detailed overview of what we believe are important factors to choosing a computer for teaching ESL online. The laptop and desktop computers we recommend are based on these factors, so choosing one of these options should be a safe route if you’re struggling to decide on your own.
Remember that technology evolves rapidly, and you’re going to struggle to keep up with the latest and greatest. But we want to assure you that owning the latest and greatest isn’t necessary, and it’s often wiser to choose a computer that will provide both stability and longevity rather than merely offering the newest features and specifications.
Ultimately, you’re investing in a computer for teaching ESL online because you want to earn money, and that should be your first priority. We’re confident our choice of the best computers for online teaching will help you accomplish that with relative peace of mind.