Buying a laptop but not sure what to ask for? Here's our no frills guide to getting value for money, and sounding like an expert in the shop...

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If you're planning on mainly using your laptop at home plugged into the mains, get a desktop-replacement system. These models often use processors designed for desktop PCs and feature larger screens, but they can have poor battery life. If you want something to use on the move get an ultraportable device. They are smaller and lighter, and often offer better battery life. Bear in mind, however, that having fewer screen inches means they aren't as suitable for long work sessions.

• Processor Where once AMD was making significant inroads into the laptop market, the Intel chips appear to have regained their dominance. The Intel Core Duo chips combine sizzling performance with strong battery life – some manufacturers are claiming up to eight hours of usage. When combined with a specific chipset and wireless controller, these chips may be termed ‘Centrino' products. We're also starting to see Intel Core 2 Duo chips, previously known as Merom. These perform well. However, don't dismiss the AMD Mobile Turion, as it bears many of the same hallmarks of Intel's new mobile chips and offers good value for money.

• Memory The minimum offering these days should be 1GB, although many power laptops offer 2GB. The more memory you have, the smoother your laptop will run. You can never have too much - especially if you will be editing music or video.

• Hard drive It's difficult to upgrade a laptop's hard drive, so make sure the one you originally get is big enough for your needs. If you're buying a desktop-replacement system, go for at least 100GB. If you'll be using it on the road you may not need as much.

• Visuals What you intend to use your laptop for dictates the screen size you'll need. If you're after a desktop-replacement machine, go for at least 15in. For DVD-movie playback, 17in widescreen models are perfect. For ultraportables, look to get something no bigger than 14in. If you want to play games or watch DVDs, choose the 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 or one of the GeForce Go 7800 or 7900 cards.