i agree with everyone about dell and acer. i have a packard bell which is getting on for 6 years old, and its not had any problems so far apart from with the screen- which miraculously repaired itself. from what i've heard, packard bells' aren't available outside europe, but the US equivelent is hp (add a hewlett, minus a bell!).
if i was buying a new laptop now, i'd get a mac. from experience i've found microsoft is generally a big pain in the backside (stupid windows updates, stupid bluescreen of death, stupid error codes, and now the immensely stupid vista) and with the dual boot system, and microsoft office for mac, there are loads of pro-mac incentives.