Laptop Bleg

So a little over a month ago, my USMCR enlistment contract (finally!) expired (*).  By way of celebration, I’ve decided to replace my bare-bones, 2005-vintage laptop with something a bit more up-to-snuff.  Alas, having not followed tech stuff for many years now, I’m not entirely sure what I ought to be looking for in a laptop.  Here’s what I do know:

  • Functions/Usage:  I mainly use my current laptop for ‘Net surfing, word processing, Excel calculations, and occasionally CAD.  Historically, it’s also doubled as my audio (CD/MP3) & video (mainly DVD) player.  Generally, it’s also ended up being a desktop replacement, such that it sits at home for months at a time; however, occasionally I do take it with me for travel, etc.
  • Screen Size:  I’m thinking 15″-17″.  I’m not that picky about this, since I’ll probably be getting a flat-panel monitor along with this thing.
  • Manufacturer:  I’ll probably be sticking with Dell here, but I’m willing to be convinced to try someone else.  I’m most concerned with reliability & quality.

As for the other specs, however, I confess I’m rather clueless.  E.g.,

  • Operating System:  For better or worse, I’m inclined to stick with Windows, since it’s what I’ve used for years, and I’m a creature of habit in that regard.  Still, while I know to avoid Vista, I’m not sure if I should stick with XP, or go for Windows 7.  If the latter, should I choose 32 or 64 bit?
  • Processor:  Intel alone seems to have about a zillion varieties, and I’m not sure which to choose.  Or should I go with AMD?
  • Cache:  I’m assuming more is better, but how much is good enough?
  • Memory/RAM:  Ditto.
  • Hard drive:  Ditto.
  • Video Card & sound card:  For each of these, is there a particular brand I should be going for (or avoid), or will pretty much anything do?
  • Ports/interfaces:  Besides USB, are there any other types of interfaces I ought to have?  E.g., Firewire, Mini Card?
  • Service plan:  are these any good, or are they basically a waste of money?  If the former, how long should I get it for?
  • Wild card:  anything else that I missed, that I shouldn’t have?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

(*) No, I’m not reenlisting.  I went in pretty sure I wasn’t going to make a career of the Corps, and I saw nothing over the following 8 yrs to make me change my mind.  The patriot in my figures I’ve already served my time.  Plus, my girlfriend would be none too pleased.

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