If you're smart, you won't wait until you get the blue screen of death before starting your search for a new laptop. You'll know when your laptop is circling the drain because it'll take longer to load than it takes you to do two loads of laundry, it'll freeze up every couple of hours and re-arrange your desktop icons for no apparent reason, and if you start a backup before you go to bed, it'll still be transferring data when you wake up the next morning. This is your laptop telling you that it's lived a long and happy life but is now ready to go to the recycle center; or it's telling you that you sucked the lifeblood out of it before its time by downloading hundreds of photographs, re-configuring them in fifteen different ways and saving them all to its hard drive, which was never intended to do what you've been expecting it to do for months, without once emptying its recycle bin. You killed your computer. Own it and move on.
Understand that the type of processor you get is far more important than, say, the size of the screen or the color of the casing, and face the fact that you are probably not going to get an 11" rose-gold laptop with the fastest processor known to man unless you're willing to mortgage your house to have one custom-built.
Realize that RAM and Memory capacity have something to do with how your laptop is going to perform when you have ten different windows opened on the internet while WORD, EXCEL and SCRABBLE are simultaneously running in the background. Don't ask me how or why, just know that it does.
Recognize that the traditional hard drive is on its way out and that if you have a choice, you should get something called a Solid State Drive, even if it costs you a hundred extra bucks.
Which leads me to this: there is a reason why cheap laptops are cheap -- they're either obsolete, or on the brink of extinction. If you buy a cheap laptop hoping it'll last five years, you should have your head examined because the first time something goes wrong you won't be able to get it fixed because parts won't be available, or getting parts will be more expensive than buying another cheap laptop.
I don't know if this is true for laptops sold in every big box store, but I do know that when I talked to a manufacturer about a laptop I'd seen at COSTCO, they told me that it had been discontinued and what I'd seen at COSTCO was liquidated stock -- meaning it was either obsolete or on the brink of extinction.
Do not, do not, do not let anyone talk you into buying a laptop that has a fingerprint reader, facial recognition or a fancy pen called a stylus if you don't need or want a fingerprint reader, facial recognition or a fancy pen called a stylus. They'll tell you that you just don't have to use them, which is true, but, trust me, you're paying for them whether you use them or not.
I don't know about anybody else, but I say, if you want to work with a pen, get a piece of paper and save yourself fifteen hundred bucks. And if you think its cool to activate your laptop with your face, you'd better not grow a beard, shave off your mustache or plan on getting any plastic surgery.
Assuming you like the keyboard of your current laptop, take a photo of it before you even set foot in a store. The absolute worst thing you can do is buy a laptop with a keyboard that is not an exact replica of the one you're used to working on. If you ignore my advice on this, you will rip out every hair in your head trying to get used to the new keyboard, which you never will.
Don't get all excited about something called a thunderbolt drive thinking it will speed up your backup or save-as processes, because as far as I can tell it won't. The most it will do is let you charge your phone on your laptop, which who in the hell doesn't already have a charging station to do that exact same thing?
As much as you may want one, you don't really need a back-lit keyboard unless you're a vampire and turning on a light will sear the flesh off your bones.
If you don't know anything about processors, RAM, memory or hard drives, don't panic. Just make sure you talk to a competent sales person. A competent sales person is one who asks you what it is that you want your laptop to do or not do. If your salesperson doesn't ask you that question, head for the nearest exit as fast as your feet will carry you.
Even if you never unplug your laptop to use it away from your desk, ask about the battery life. When a raging thunderstorm or a hurricane knocks out the power grid for 12 hours, you'll be glad that you did.
Understand the kind of ports your laptop comes with and what they're used for. Don't be impressed just because a salesperson tells you that a laptop has eight different ports. That means jack-shit if you won't ever use six of them.
Know that you can now get a mouse that connects to your laptop via Bluetooth which is even better than a wireless mouse because you don't need a unifying receiver hogging up one of your ports to use it. Just don't expect there to be a huge selection to choose from, and resign yourself to the fact that the mouse you've been using for ten years and love like your first-born child probably doesn't come in a Bluetooth version.
If you want to buy an extended service contract make sure it includes site visits to fix your laptop if something goes haywire. The last thing you want to have to do is pack up your laptop and send it back to the manufacturer to be repaired. Being without a laptop for three weeks is worse than being without a cigarette for three weeks, and that's saying something.
Finally, don't keep plugging away on your old laptop just because you wrote your first published book on it or you may never write another one. You can keep it, sure. Hell, you can even frame it in a shadow box and send it to the Smithsonian for all your fans to see. But if you don't bite the bullet and embrace change, sooner or later you're going to yank the power cord out of your old laptop and throw it through a window, and you won't be whistling a happy tune when you do it.