If you're looking to replace a laptop or desktop that's several years old, you're in for a treat. The intervening years have seen great advances in laptop features. Here's what you should look for, whether you're in the market for a general-purpose laptop or you have more specific laptop uses in mind, such as gaming, entertainment or mobile work.

General features

The latest processors
The latest chips from Intel and AMD significantly boost system performance, improve graphics processing, and increase battery life. In tests of Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs, the new processors demonstrated their blazing performance and low power consumption. Meanwhile, AMD has showcased its new chips' ability to handle high-performance tasks smoothly. Look for a laptop with one of these latest CPUs.

An easy way to identify Sandy Bridge processors is by their model number: Previous-generation Intel Core processors have three-digit model numbers (for instance, Intel Core i3 350M) while Sandy Bridge chips have four-digit model numbers (such as Intel Core i3 2310M). AMD's Fusion chips will be dubbed AMD C-Series APU, AMD E-Series APU, and AMD A-Series APU.

SSD or hybrid SSD
Laptop hard-drive storage capacity has grown dramatically in recent years. At minimum, if you expect to be wrangling lots of content, you should look for a 320GB drive that runs at 7200 rpm. If you don't need acres of space for multimedia, huge databases, and massive files, however, consider opting for a solid-state drive; in Labs tests by our sister title PC World, SSDs have delivered significantly faster disk performance, in addition to having greater durability and lower power consumption. They also run cooler and more quietly.

You'll pay more per GB for an SSD, but the payoff - a blazing, fast-booting laptop - may be worth the couple of hundred bucks extra.

Hybrid SSD drives, such as the Seagate Momentus XT may offer the best of both worlds, combining brisk speed and roomy capacity at a lower price than a pure SSD commands.

High-definition screens
Most laptops today come with displays that have a maximum resolution of 1366x768 pixels - good enough for most users. For movie viewing or to see more on the screen, look for laptops with 1600x900-pixel or 1920x1080-pixel resolution.

Screen size is a matter of personal preference. Do you favour the netbook-like size and light weight of an 11.6in laptop like the MacBook Air, or is a massive 18.4in screen like the one Dell incorporated into the Alienware M18x more your style? For many users, the sweet spot seems to be the ultraportable 13.3in display size.

NEXT PAGE: Long battery life

  1. The features you should look for in a new device
  2. Long battery life
  3. Entertainment