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Haha, I didn't mean to squash your interest in macs. You could go ahead and check 'em out anyway--they also have an academic discount. In my opinion, they're fantastic as a laptop but it's a little expensive for what you want to do which is pretty basic (correct me if I'm wrong.)
Oh, if you have a Costco (Sam's Cub?) near you, they sell laptops that are pretty decent (big name brands, if you're into that) for a good price. Occasionally passwird.com spots good deals on laptops so you can periodically check that, too.
^^^I 2nd that. I would start school with the laptop you have now, with maybe a memory upgrade. Then, after going to school for a while and learning what your actual computing needs will be, go for a new one.
imo i wouldnt get a dell. when i was talking about paying for a name over features, i was primarily thinking about them. yeah, you can get a laptop from dell for $600, but you get next to nothing in features. my mother in law wanted to get my father in law a new laptop so i was put to the task.
for the same price as a cheap dell laptop ($600) got 512mb ram, a 60gb hdd, memory stick reader (read 3 kinds of memory sticks) built in web cam, intel mobile cpu, dual layer dvd burner, etc. made by asus.
try to get all that for a $600 dell. i wouldnt recommend this one because it used intel integrated graphics, and you wanted and good 3d video card. all im saying is, dell is not the way to go IMHO
considering your current laptop, i would also upgrade instead of getting a new one, unless you really feel that you need a better video card. are you going to be playing games on it a lot? ram and hdd are easy to upgrade, and if you want MS office, try your school store. lots of times colleges offer retail software for cheap on an educational license they get under the school name. i got office 2003 pro from my school store for $15. (but i still use open office instead )
That's the whole truth right there...Dell is a BUDGET manufacturer...all their parts come from whoever is selling them the cheapest that day and there's no standardization in their systems what-so-ever.
If you're gonna buy new, go with HP, IBM, Toshiba...and as much as it pains me to say it...even Apple.
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I didn't read through all the posts but I just thought I'd throw it out there that I have a Sony Vaio and I'd recommend it. Last semester my roommates had a mac, an hp, and a dell and they all crashed at least twice, but I've never had any problems (short of things that were my own fault).