Ahh, these questions. I get a lot of these questions.
I like car analogies because most people drive.
How much hard drive is like asking how big the gas tank. It depends on how far you want to go, and how fast you burn it. For the RAM is a little more like horsepower (mixed with air intake, and a few other parts, but lets keep it simple). In Honestely, people want enough so the car can move out of its own way, but most don’t know how much that should be, and the reason is because it varies with the user/driver and the conditions (there is a lot of traffic, is the car heavy, etc)
Another measurement is the CPU. Quad core, how many GHz? Core ix?
It all depends on the package. Don’t get stuck on a single number or part. mainly with laptops.
CPUs on laptops are pretty close to each other. Core i3/i5/i7 are all too close to each other (with some exceptions) and most of the time you are comparing devices close in price range so there aren’t big performance leaps. Even the generation doesn’t matter as much (although it might change with 8th gen in 2018).
And how much RAM? Well that depends on what you will use and how many. I am no help at all, AM I?
Ok, let me give you some real number using a Intel ComputeStick with an Intel Atom Z3735F quad core @ 1.33 Ghz and 2 GB of RAM. Internet Explorer running with a website and 3 embedded videos in a loop uses 180 MB (nothing). Windows 10 is running with less than 1 GB, and this system already has all the programs I use for digital signage deployment. However I don’t recommend to use it for the video because after a while it will start skipping that video (it gets too hot, and starts using more memory), but visiting TechCrunch spiked to 350 MB. YouTube video uses 250MB but CPU spiked to 50% and then down to 12%. More if the video is 720. Switching to 1080 took forever to start playing, but RAM usage was in 280MB. Edge was better on RAM, and loads video before loading anything else, but CPU usage was 50% at 1080 while loading the rest of the page, and then setting down to 17%, but spiking when loading something else, and it would have to buffer sometimes.
This CPU is usually found on $200 systems, so obviously, unless you know what you are doing, don’t get those systems.
Sure, this is anemic system test, but my Surface Pro 3 laptop with 8GB of RAM is using 6.7GB at the moment, and I use it for work. Sure, I have a lot of tabs open (none are video or audio, and no facebook either). All are work related, Outlook, a few programs I use. I am a heavier user than most, but I do use the system fully.
What about storage? Hard Drive space? Well, this is more complicated because people don’t understand what it is.
You have 2 technologies, traditional spinning drives with large capacity, cheaper price, but slower access, or SSD with lower capacity, much faster access and high price.
The price difference is tremendous. A WD Blue drive with 500GB storage costs $40 (usually cost a little more), while a 500GB Samsung Evo 850 costs $150, which is 3 times more.
Sure, $100 doesn’t seem much, except that it might be more the difference when looking to buy a laptop.
And SSD are considerably faster. So you will have to sacrifice capacity
In the end my recommendation is to start at a Core i3 (Similar AMD is also fine), 4 GB of RAM minimum, 8GB if you plan of using the laptop to work most of the day, and at least 128 GB of SSD storage. 250 GB are ideal
So, to put it in simple example, the Surface Pro Core i5 with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB hard drive costs usually $999 ($799 at the moment)
But the next model up is a better investment most of the time, and it is recommended.
(and you will still need a keyboard).
From there you can go up and down, replace surface with HP envy, or Lenovo IdeaPad, remove touchscreen. Price will vary from $700 to $1200 depending on what you end up selecting. I just like Surface because they have high quality screens and case, it looks sleek and the price is right for the package. Other usually the case looks cheaper, or the screen is not as nice.
Microsoft stores (the retail store) usually has several different products on display from Dell, Asus, HP and Lenovo, as well as MS own Surface line. Best Buy as well, and your local shop should too.
Although I do mention Microsoft and posted a link, I don’t get referrals, and there is no tracking. It just happens that I like the product, and the MS store is much more convenient for me (it is close, and not crowded, and the people seem to know more about what they sell)