SO ... remember these commercials?
Processor ... Think of it like the cook in the kitchen. Some cooks are slow and some are fast at processing information. The other piece is something called the "bus speed". Think of it like the servers at a restaurant. If the servers are slow and the cook is fast; well, we know how that meal usually ends. A fast processor and a fast bus are important.
Memory ... Bytes. kilo, mega, giga. RAM (Random Access Memory). If process and servers are as to cooks and servers then memory is as to ?? Kitchen space. Although it's called Random Access Memory, it's purpose is far from random. If you don't have enough kitchen space, you can only take so much out at a time to prepare a meal. The meal takes longer to prepare. If you have the chef's kitchen with 4 islands, then meal prep is a little faster.
Hard Drive ... ok folks, stay with me. We've got cooks, servers, kitchen space, and now ... Refrigerators. Yes for long term storage of information you have hard drives. Just like a fridge, the bigger the better. You also want to be concerned about how fast information can be pulled from the hard drive. you have RPM (like your car) speeds, but some hard drives don't have any moving parts (solid state). Best thing to do is ask about the data transfer rates. If the person attempting to sell you a computer gives you a blank gaze. Walk away immediately.
Graphics / Audio ... you don't hear much about this piece, but it's like the restaurant ambiance. This can easily go under the radar as the differentiator in price for most computer buyers. On a daily basis you are interacting with one of 4 forms of media (1) text, (2) images, (3) video, (4) audio. And we all know if the place isn't friendly or too messy or down right boring, then you probably won't come back.
Most folks are writing papers, emails, or novels and for this, all of the above can be purchased mid-range and you will never have buyers remorse.
Audiophiles will know that it's either Dolby 5.xx or it's poor. Yes computers can output Dolby. Just ask if yours will.
For images and video, you can't shirk your duties on buying a computer that can handle it. This is usually the price differentiator on laptops. If you plan on airbrushing your favorite photo of yourself before you post it to Facebook, creating a movie from all those clips you took over the summer, playing World of Warcraft, or watching Netflix Streaming you don't want to have a cheap graphics card. If the person in the store can't explain to you why a graphics card is important, speak to their manager before they cause another person to have buyers remorse.
So that is the meat and potatoes .... but you have to have some other sides, right
Wireless ... if it's not included, you are living back in 1995. Make sure it's N ... it's that speed thing again.
Bluetooth ... again ... 1995
Webcam ... ok ... living in 2001 if it's not integrated
Operating System. We won't cover this here. Such a touchy touchy subject and people have their preferences, just like with their food.
If you are like me and are skeptical of the hype when you see the above commercials, you should do a side by side comparison of machines. What you will find is that the lie of price is a good one. If you were to go on HPs, Apples, or Dells website and customize a laptop you will find that creating comparable configurations that price becomes pretty much the same. So now that you are armed with this information and are probably starving from my food references, head to the mall. Grab some mall food and be a smart shopper about your laptop.