I have already had these questions several times in just the last month. I found this Wiki How to: and there actually is quite a bit of good advice in there:
I also normally recommend that folks check out consumer reports ratings:
I have an on-line account, and can go on-line and help you decipher the most highly recommended models.
Here is a list of the top rated laptops by consumer reports:
If you don't have an account, I can log-in with you and go over them :)