I'm trying to compile a list of things to check for when reviewing a system's functionality/performance...I'm wondering if you all could help me comprise the list. Thanks!
Umm extremely vague question there, but heck, as someone who works in computer sales, I'll give it a shot. Typical trend right now, assuming your not building your own rig:
Processor: Especially important in a laptop. i3 or i5 processing is the way to go, and you typically get higher battery life as opposed to getting an AMD processing laptop. Easily the primary determinant of performance. Give you a shortcut answer, i5's the way to go, but again, depends on what your using it for, you can easily work on an i3 too if you don't plan on doing intensive stuff. http://www.cpubenchmark.net . They rate all the processors, gives you an idea of what ranks better. It gets a little hairy though when your looking from a gamers perspective because number of cores isn't as important as clockspeed and cache. You can still get Pentium processing laptops also if your a basic user with multitasking, no gaming, or no intense video or photo editing. See my recommendation in Hard Drive section to see why.
RAM: Your looking for at least 3 GB or higher right now. DDR3 is the new standard, wouldn't even go near a DDR2 if you see one in retail, which I doubt you will.
Hard Drive: Typically, laptops have 5400 RPM drives. Some have 7200, which helps in performance. VERY RARELY do you see the 7200 RPM solid state hybrid drives, but those are a really nice catch to have. Example: www.bestbuy.com, k52f-bin6 for $479.99 has one. This actually can do better than a computer with a 5400 RPM drive with an i3 processor in the same price range.
Graphics Card: Only really necessary to look at it if your gaming. This would be a primary determinant, alongside the processor, if your gaming. In general though, unless your willing to spend around $1300-$1500, I never recommend a laptop for gaming. Most intel based computers have the Intel HD integrated cards, which is fine for most people, and have come a LONG way compared to even 2 years ago. Again, depends what your using it for.
HDMI port: Just boils down to if you need one? Typically standard on most laptops.
Built in Bluetooth: Its the one thing a lot of people overlook. Otherwise, USB dongles are fairly cheap anyway. But I hate taking up USB ports for something I can get built in personally.
Built in Wifi: Will have B/G/N on all laptops now, not all desktops though have wifi.
DVD/CD Burning: Standard now on all computers. Do want Blu-Ray playback capability? In desktops, it really doesn't matter much since you can buy one later if needed.
Built in Webcam: Also standard, typically I recommend external ones though if you want HD resolutions.
Screen Size and Portability: In general, as you look as price trends in terms of power for money, a 15.6" laptop will end up being cheaper than its exact 14" or 17.3" counterpart. Thus, 15.6 for the money is the way to go. If you want that big screen though, then seek it or you may regret it later. Same goes with portability, get a lightweight laptop now before you regret it later. Example: Toshiba portege's are most lightweight with i3 processors.
Casing: People have different opinions about this. Mine goes on the side of who cares? Aluminum vs. plastic, they both more or less can be broken as easily as the other. If something "feels" cheap, that doesn't mean the hardware inside is cheap.
Mac or PC: Well, this turns into a very emotional topic for some as well. I personally prefer PC. Most, if not all, gamers prefer PC's. Hardware for cost, its the way to go. If your somebody who relies on accidential plans, service plans, and tech support from retails stores, more the reason to go PC. But people make the whole buying an "experience" argument, which, if your going for that, the Mac OS can either be really awesome for you or the way I see it, a whole set of headaches on its own that I'd rather deal with the PC headaches.
The question "Whats this computer being used for?" is extremely important to answer. I NEVER recommend laptops where I work by brand, its the hardware for the price that matters most. Shopping by brand is one of the biggest mistakes to make in my eyes, because the reality is, all the parts underneath more or less come from the same people (aka, motherboards from Asus, MSI, or Gigabyte. Processors from AMD or Intel, Hard drives from Samsung, WD, Seagate. Etc.) Not only are there no conclusive STUDIES on which brand is the most reliable, but one person's experience can NEVER encompass the overall experience of reliability within a brand. As the saying goes, s*** happens. I had one guy buy a $1300 gaming laptop where the hard drive went bad in two months. Another guy who bought that same laptop 6 months ago hasn't come back since. I think its just a matter of luck really.