With so many options available, purchasing a laptop can seem a bit intimidating. There are lots of technical terms to figure out, and various pieces of hardware (the physical pieces of your laptop, for example the monitor and keyboard) and software (the brains of the computer that help you create documents and play music, for example) to sort through. Here's a list of some essential features you need to understand before making your purchase.

  • Portability: The size and weight of your laptop may be important if you plan to take it with you when you travel or work away from home. Remember, however, that a smaller, lighter weight laptop will typically have a smaller screen.

  • Memory: Your computer should have at least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for a 32-bit computer and 2 GB for a 64-bit computer.

    RAM stands for random-access memory, which is the memory needed to run and access programs on a laptop or computer.

  • Processor speed: Look for a minimum of 2.8 gigahertz (GHz) processor speed.

  • Battery life: If you'll use your laptop in settings without a power source, such as on a plane or in the doctor's waiting room, look for a model with longer battery life (some offer 10 hours or more).

  • Keyboard: Make sure the keyboard feels comfortable to you. Some laptop keyboards may be as big as a standard keyboard, but others can feel cramped, especially if you have dexterity challenges.

  • Screen: Laptops come with screens that range from 9 inches to 17 or more. A 15-inch monitor is comfortable for most people, but if you do work with higher-end images or watch videos, consider a larger screen as larger screens may be easier on your eyes. Consider getting a touchscreen laptop to take advantage of all of Windows 8 touchscreen features.

  • CD/DVD drive: Laptops may come with a CD or DVD drive or not. If a laptop is right for you in other ways but doesn't have a CD/DVD drive, consider opting for an external drive.

  • Wireless capability: To connect to some wireless devices and networks, you need wireless capability.

  • Included software: Some laptops come with utility programs such as antivirus software or productivity software such as Microsoft Works. Be aware that some of this software offers only short-term trial versions, and you have to pay to buy the full version upgrade.

  • Manufacturer support: Check the warranty and technical support available. Also check for helpful documentation on the manufacturer's website.

  • Graphics and sound cards: If you want to use multimedia or game software, ask for more sophisticated sound and video features.

  • A webcam: If you'll be calling your friends or grandchildren over a service such as Skype, it's useful to have a built-in webcam to transmit video images while talking. Most laptops today include a webcam located just above the laptop screen.