We’re not living in the “post-PC” era. Not by a long shot. As more of us work from home, or the plane, or the coffee shop, laptops might be more important than they’ve ever been. They’ve also become harder and harder to buy, as hardware specs have hit stratospheric heights while simultaneously somehow becoming even more difficult to explain or differentiate.

It’s hard to buy a truly terrible laptop these days; good components are inexpensive enough that as long as you avoid anything still called a “netbook,” you’ll probably get something that works. But you can do better than “works” as long as you know what you’re looking for. Picking the right laptop means finding exactly the things you want, and knowing what you’re willing (and unwilling) to sacrifice to get there. Laptops are all about trade-offs, and making the right ones is key.

That’s what we’re here for. This guide is not designed to steer you toward a particular laptop — things change too quickly for that anyway, and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. We’re here to help you make the right decision for you. Which specs matter, and which don’t? What can you do in 10 minutes inside a Best Buy to figure out whether the laptop you’re looking at is the right one for you? What the hell is a GeForce and when should you care? We’ll answer those questions, and help you decide which notebook is perfect for you.

Before you even walk into the store, though, you have to get just a little existential. Your whole decision starts with a single question: what kind of laptop user are you really?