When evaluating laptop computer models, before you even set foot in a store, decide what you'll be using this productive tech item for. Will you be doing a lot of word processing? Will you be uploading digital photos that you'll want to edit and share/print? Do you play a lot of computer games, or make your own home movies? Perhaps you have an iPod and like to make music mixes and CD's, or want the laptop for watching DVD's. These are all considerations that are important to note before you start shopping. Some people need a lot of features and programs built-in, while others can get away with fewer. The screen size can also play a part in which model you end up choosing. All of this will obviously impact the laptop's price too.
Your first consideration when shopping will probably be cost. These days laptops can be quite expensive, with some high-end models crossing the thousand dollar mark and going higher. MAC/Apple computers will always be higher priced than PC's with very little chance to ever be on sale. There's been some good deals on new models however. Take for instance Hewlett Packard's HP G60 458-DX which is full of great features, and has been scored for a little as $400. At the higher end you'll find a model like the Dell XPS M1530 laptop, which is well over $1,000 but also full of software and features. When you're pricing laptop computer models, whether it be online, make sure to find out whether it is brand new, out of box, display or refurbished/recertified. Often you'll think you found a great deal only to realize it may be a laptop that's been used before. I won't recommend against refurbs, but personally I stay away from these due to previous problems with refurbished items. When it comes down to it, new almost always trumps refurbished in terms of quality and lasting.
Now let's break down the bits and bytes so to speak. The hardware components that are most important for your laptop tend to be the CPU or computer processor, memory, hard drive storage, graphics and sound cards. The CPU may be the most important as it determines the speed at which your computer processes info and tasks. These days you're probably going to want a CPU with at least a speed of 2 gigahertz (2 ghz) or more. As for memory or RAM, this is the part of your laptop that will allow for use of multiple programs at once. The more memory a laptop has, the more capable it is of doing many tasks at once. You can get away with 1 GB of memory, but I'd recommend 2 GB or more, if possible. Hard drives in laptops tend to start at the 250 gigabyte level, which is adequate storage for many people. You can also upgrade this in many laptops, or simply purchase an external hard drive for more storage. The graphics and sound cards will be up to your personal preference, depending on whether you expect to use the laptop for viewing movies and listening to music often. You can possibly skimp on these features if you're going to be doing less media work, and more basics like word processing or checking email.
The other important factors in your laptop computer purchase decision will be the screen size, what extras are built-in and if it has CD and DVD capabilities. The extras can be things as simple as a webcam to record video for video chats or conferencing. Extras will also include the type of internet connection. These days it's a good idea to have a laptop with Wi-Fi technology in addition to an ethernet port. This will allow you to connect wirelessly or with wires to hi-speed internet. I'd recommend making sure the laptop includes at least a CD-R drive, so you can record large amounts of data and backup the computer. A DVD-R would be ideal as DVD's hold even more data on them. Many laptops will include USB ports on the sides, with 2 being the standard. These will allow for plugging in all those gadgets like iPods, digital cameras and external hard drives.
The above advice should be able to get you looking less like a tech newbie and more like someone who has a general understanding of technology. When you set foot in your local BestBuy or computer store, you'll be more than ready to talk shop with the salespeople and won't get talked into a model for a price you really didn't intend to pay.