1. Opt for an Intel Pentium 4 or an Intel Centrino processor. The processor forms the computing core of your laptop and is one area where you must not compromise.
Invest wisely here. The processor is the first component likely to get outdated and it is not possible to upgrade it.
2. Opt for a 256 MB DDR SDRAM. A RAM of lower memory capacity will make it difficult to run certain applications and software.
Upgrading from 256 to 512 MB DDR SDRAM could cost you between $100 and $150.
3. Choose an Active-matrix (TFT) display, preferably an LCD. The display is an active matrix if you can see the arrow while it traverses the screen. Most displays nowadays are TFTs as the Passive-matrix (dual scan) is now outdated.
TFTs are highly preferred because of their sharper images, better resolution and smoother images of motion on the screen.
Wide screen laptops are a visual treat and recommended for those interested in the movie experience. But they cost 8% to 10% more than the conventional laptops, are obviously bulkier to carry and slightly low on battery life.
4. If you travel extensively, take care that your laptop weighs under 5 pounds. If your laptop will be confined to your room, you could go in for a slightly heavier one. It will be cheaper. It will also have a few more features.
5. Check the battery life on the laptop. Insist that it is a Lithium-ion (Li+) battery (nearly all laptops will have this one). Choose batteries with a high voltage and a high mAh. Do not go for NiMH batteries, as you will have to keep charging them frequently.
6. If you have no intention of using a CD frequently, an external DVD and CDRW drives may be preferred to inbuilt ones. The main convenience being that they reduce the weight of the base piece and provide lesser complications later on.
If they are an integral part of your work, you might as well opt for an inbuilt version.
Incidentally, the prices of DVD drives are expected to fall considerably over the next one year.
Don't stress on your laptop having a floppy drive. Floppies are getting obsolete by the minute and will soon be terminated.
7. If you are on the move, buy a laptop with a spill-resistant keyboard and shock-resistant hard drives. This will ensure your hard disk does not crash and you don't lose data in the event of a minor crash or fall.
8. Ensure the laptop has two or more USB ports, as you will need them to attach your peripheral devices like printers and scanners.
You could even consider buying a pen drive to act as a reliable data transfer mode.
Choose a laptop with wireless connectivity in the form of Bluetooth and Infrared. These make data transfer very convenient and reliable and you can send data to multiple recipients at one go.
These facilities on your laptop would cost you around $30 more and are independent of any service providers.
9. Windows XP Professional is an ideal system for a laptop meant for office use. In laptops, it is very inconvenient to upgrade your operating system, so choose the latest one.
Windows is the most popular operating system, with XP Professional being the latest that supports all the software available today.
10. Some people prefer a touchpad mouse as the navigating option while others prefer the rubberised button situated between the keys G, H and B. Try working with both and pick the one you are most comfortable with.
Some laptops come equipped with both. You could also consider a cordless mouse, which is half the size of the regular one.
11. Insist on an inbuilt LAN card and modem.
There are basically two types of modems on offer -- internal modems and PC card-based modems. Make sure the internal modem is fast enough for your needs. Else, opt for the PC card-based one that sticks out of your computer, but is slightly better performance wise.
12. While budgeting for your laptop, bear in mind that a cheaper machine might prove expensive if you plan to upgrade it.
Do not compromise on the processor, the RAM and the operating system.
The memory capacity (GB) can be upgraded later on, so can the CD/DVD drives.
When you are buying your laptop check on upgradation. You can upgrade your machine with or without discarding it. If you plan to change your machine within two years, don't invest too heavily on it.
Where brands are concerned, do note that the IBM laptop division has been taken over by the Chinese company, Lenova.
HP and Compaq are the same brand when it comes to laptops. The good thing about this brand is that it is in a position to provide good service simply because of an established network of service centres.
Despite all the advice you get, make it a point to test your laptop before purchasing it. Don't just take someone's word for it.
Check if you are comfortable with the interface, the keyboard, the touch pad and the display. After all, it is you who are going to be using it and paying for it.