Refurbished Dell and IBM laptops are just as good as new ones. Be *sure* you buy them straight from the manufacturer and nobody else, though. Otherwise they come with no guarentee of quality.
Alienware > Dell
Also I haven't heard a thing about Alienware being bought by Dell. is this true? I don't really believe it w/out some proof.
barebones kit and build your own is my vote. personally i would say dell is a better choice in laptops although clearly alienware would be better overall except it just isn't cheap.
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Acer laptops are crap for relibility and in North America they don't really have any customer service to back up their warranty. Heck they charge $2.99 a minute for phone support, how do you think they honor their warranty? I've had the unpleasant experience of dealing with Acer many times and I don't recommend them at all.