I've had many people over the years ask me what to look for when purchasing a good laptop.  That has changed over the years as we have seen a shift into multi-core computation and reliance on SSD technology.  So, here is a current run-down of buying tips (in order):

  1. Buy just inside your budget, but do spend as much as you can for it, since that will probably make it last as long as it can for you.  Buying the cheapest means you'll likely need to replace it earlier.
  2. Memory:  If you are comparing multiple computers, at this point go with the one with the most RAM.  4GB is standard now for mid-level laptops, 8GB is even better.  2GB is doable for chromebooks and it works for a netbook, but it's not good for doing anything "big" on the computer.  (For any real work I use my desktop or laptop with 8GB of RAM each).
  3. Cores: The next thing to look at is the number of cores in the processor.  It goes hand in hand with the RAM, in that you want as many as possible.  In the worst case I'd trade off more RAM for fewer cores.  This information would likely be in the fine-print of the computer details, but it will say "x-core processor." I'm not too worried about the brand (Intel or AMD) at this point.  Typical low-end laptops have 2 cores.  For longevity, I'd go for at least a 4-core if possible.
  4. Type and speed of processor:  This is secondary to the number of cores, mostly.  Intel has the reputation of being the best, followed by AMD.  However, AMD's processors are cheaper to buy, giving you more options in the lower-cost machines that could potentially be "faster" than their Intel counterparts.  (For desktops, I buy AMD to get more cores and speed for the price).  That is to say, after RAM and number of cores, I'd pick an Intel i7 or i5 line over the AMD chips (A-series processors), but I'd pick AMD's A10,A8 over the Intel i3, Pentium, Celeron, or Atom models.  At this point, don't buy a laptop with an ARM processor (that day will come soon).  Secondly, get the fastest processor of the best line you can (higher GHz).  Since the multi-core revolution, I'd say number of cores wins over speed of the core, since it allows the machine to do more at once, even slowly.
  5. Hard drive: SSDs are faster. Period.  However, they're expensive and therefore smaller in size.  My netbook has a 32GB SSD hard drive, and it's been full for months.  So, I can't do much with it.  If you want to store music, documents, and a lot more, get one with a rotational HDD.  It may be a little slower, but it can store a lot more.  Plus, for a cheaper cost down the road, you can replace the HD with an SSD (about a $100 upgrade).
  6. Brand: Last but not least, get a brand you know.  Dell and Lenovo seem to be the go-to PC brands, and they've been around and solid for a while.  Asus and Acer are also great brands.  I'd personally stay away from HP for now and very off-brands.