I know I am brand new on this board so I have zero credibility, but I do computer support for my day job. I am here because my wife just bought a 1998 Winnebago 32Q which we will pick up the end of next week.
Anyway, from my experience (after reading this thread) I will comment and you guys feel free to shoot down my opinions (no hard feelings).
4G of ram, 500G drive, Win7, a USB powered "cooler", and a dual or quad core CPU (Intel or AMD). Consumer notebooks have bottom barrel components and horrible warranty service regardless of who makes them. Go for either open office or MS Office for horizontal productivity software, Avast is a good free product for anti-virus and the modules can be tweaked to not slow down the computer too much. Remove all the bloatware and install Chrome and/or firefox in addition to Internet Explorer.
The Windows backup and restore is fairly useless. I install Symantec System Recovery on all client machines. Why mess around with re-installing the operating system, updates and patches for hours, and then re-installing your programs only to pull the hundred or two hundred files out of a backup that you want when you could have the entire computer restored in about an hour by using a reliable image based backup system? There are other products out there that do the same thing, maybe even for less money, but I prefer to work with a product I know how to use because I am already frustrated when something breaks or fails.
Forget Windows 8 unless you are looking at a tablet or a smart phone. I have installed it in a virtual machine and without a touch keyboard it is simply not usable for most computer tasks.
Why do we have so much ram in computers today? The operating system pre-loads services as do many installed programs. Just run MSCONFIG from a command line and see how many programs are loading at startup, plus all the cached information that is utilized on a temporary basis and pulled up time and time again adds to the overhead. Blame it on Microsoft all you want, but this is what happens in a regular computer configured by the manufacturer and not maintained on an ongoing basis by someone who knows what they are doing (and I'm not sending anyone to the Geek Squad).
Consumer laptop hard drives have slow rotational speeds but the lower priced SSDs have a shorter shelf life and not as much space to store movies and pictures.
I have an ancient Dell laptop, duo core with 4G of ram for my service work. Windows 7 Ultimate for the operating system and VMWare work station for an XP machine for legacy support. It runs MS Office 2010 Professional Plus, Project 2010, Visio 2010, MS Expressionweb, and I can log in remotely with Team viewer while doing other things. That said, it is properly configured and well maintained and I have a full backup every night and receive email notification of its success when I wake up.
My advise is to simply buy the right product based upon the intnded purpose of use. You can easily get six to eight years out of a PC if is is properly purchased in regards to components. However the discount stuff at Walmart (for example) I would not touch because the prices are not that good, the specifications are old, and the equipment is often buggy and it almost always comes with terrible support.