What is "best" depends on what you want. Some people want basic office capabilities which require minimal CPU power, but want longer battery life.
Some people want HDMI, "N" wi-fi, eSATA, BluRay etc.
Some people want at least some gaming potential requiring dedicated graphics.
A good HP non-gaming laptop can be found for about $600 with specs like these:
- 4GB RAM
- Intel i3 with integrated 4500HD graphics
- Windows 7 Pro
- HDMI output
If getting a 17" for $700-$800, non-gaming setup I'd get one with the same specs but a 1600x900 screen.
*I'm not a fan of dedicated graphics versus good integrated graphics. The heat tends to come up through the keys and the "better" (at gaming) it is the worse this gets. It really is best to avoid using a laptop for games as even the $2000 ones aren't that great compared to a desktop.
I'd have to disagree photonboy, I used a top performance £2200 gaming laptop for quite a while, my only complaint was the noise. The keys were never hot, although the components would get quite warm, and the performance was excellent. Having tweaked and overclocked a friend (who has just completed a build with an 8800GTX) and I compared performance in benchmarks. Although the laptop was a bit behind, it wasn't by a large margin. The only thing is that they take a lot more looking after, all the components run a lot hotter, so you do need to keep an eye on statistics all of the time. The value is significantly lower, but if you have the cash you can get a great gaming laptop.