The three basic items you want to mull over when you're shopping for a laptop computer and trying to match its hardware to the software you need are

  • The microprocessor is the laptop's main chip. It's not "the brain"; your computer's software is the brain. It tells the microprocessor what to do. You want to ensure that you get a microprocessor that’s plenty fast enough to deal with the applications you need tomorrow. It’s worth the extra money to invest in a fast microprocessor now, which extends the useful life of your laptop by ensuring that you can run tomorrow's software before tomorrow comes. Find a laptop with the fastest microprocessor you can afford, and then buy the next-most-expensive microprocessor. You'll be thankful later.

  • Memory, or RAM, is where the action happens in a computer, where the work gets done. The more RAM your computer has, the happier it appears to be and the more your software will enjoy the computer. Pack your laptop with as much RAM as you can afford now. For example, if you can afford 1024MB of RAM, get it. If you can afford 2048MB of RAM, get it.

  • The hard drive is the electronic closet where the laptop stores your stuff. The hard drive must have room for the computer's operating system, all the software you get and later install, all the data files and junk you collect, plus room to grow (lotsa room). Again, the software you plan on using should tell you how much hard drive space it requires on the software box.