i am looking for some of the same features you are, but you have a better price range. wish i had it
the 17' custom builds will give you the best for photoshop and your house layouts. most have the expansion to 4 gig, which is what i want but in 15.4 screen in my poor price range. you will need that to run the top vista. i want core duo 2, T7200. you will want at least that. you will also want a graphics card added in. nvidia, is what i want, as my kids will want to play their games on it, if i let them.
i have looked at hp, toshiba and dell. dell was well out of my price range, but you should look at them. if you want to look at these first: hp's dv9000t and toshiba's satellite P100/P105. (these were rated pretty good)
start with at least the T7200 or better.
2 gig is a must for vista's top&expandable to 4 gig ram
geforce 7400 or better with at least 256
get the better battery if thats important.
get the better screen.
oh, hard drive, you want the faster speed 7200 rpms especially on lrg drives
that should start you off. thats as far as i have gotten.
but dell has options you may want: 4 gig 17 or larger screens, skins , faster processors. but it gets very expensive.
This is the third time today I am bragging about my KillerNotebooks Executioner... But I'm going to do it anyways since I got exactly the deal you're looking for. I believe my Executioner came out to a little under your budget with the following specs.
Geforce Go 7950GTX
2GB low latency DDR2-667
Dual Layer DVD Burner
100GB 7200rpm HD
Custom Gaming Skin
It runs all the latest games (Oblivion, CoH, Medieval 2, etc...) at full settings. I even ran WoW in the background whil playing GRAW (at full settings) online and didn't experience any lag. It's a seriously sweet machine.
Ya, the executioner is a good choice, Built off the Clevo m570U. Many resellers carry Clevo. You could also afford the 17" macbook Pro which would be awesome for dual booting, but about half as good at modeling. I'm not sure if you can swap the gpu out for dx10 gpus in either as none have arrived yet, but chances are atleast fair to good with the Clevo m570u. Surely, that won't be a cheap upgrade. There is also the Lg S1 for style factor
KN is highly recommended. Dell has some good choices but may be over priced for all the software they load onto it and the support you may or may not get. Mark at KN gives top notch service and his laptops are unbeatable. I also believe that Mark stated that he can swap graphics cards out of his notebooks, so KN would be good also for future upgrades. I also heard some good things about Falcon Northwest, though they may be out of your price range.
Oh, I just broke the 100 post mark!!!! W00t!! (sorry)
K|N has a lot of customization options, and the Clevo 575U (which the executioner is based off) is a very sleek looking design as well. I chose to get a custom gaming skin with mine and I am very happy with it.
i like the killernotebooks too, especially if its in your budget.
if you haven't looked at another post where there was a pic of the graphics you could put on the cover, you best look. its cool!
i would love to get a purple cover with a classy design on it!
not sure if you can, but i would if i could.
i like them well over those alienware ones.
also, from what i have read here, they are good to work with and they let you update.
Everyone has already said it but I recommend Killernotebooks as well.
I've had my Executioner for about a month and the performance is spectacular. I'm sure you will be able to multitask 3d modeling, photoshopping and gaming with ease.
I also recommend the WUXGA (1920x1200) screen. It is brilliantly sharp and having the massive desktop space is great for designing/photoshopping.
They look nice too.
I wanted mine "naked" because I like the minimalist look to it but you could get a cool design to make it yours.
CAD, 3dModeling, and general office stuff is what I do with my Killernotebook Executioner during the day. At night, I game with it. I liked the minimalist look as well since this rig occassional goes with me to a client's office where led's and neon don't make the right impression.
Videocard selection was the toughest choice. Go with either the gaming style GeForce Go 7900 or 7950, or if the cad performance is really what's needed, do the top line Quadro: Mark can get these if you ask. The problem with the Quadro is the cost (but it games just a hair slower than the 7900). I've got the 7950GTX in my rig. I did this because OpenGL isn't natively supported in Vista and will have to rely on drivers and development from manufacturer's. Haven't noticed any ghosting using my gpu, but have on older NVidia cards when using rendering software.
I'd also suggest setting aside some money for external monitors and keyboard. I've been real happy using three 17" samsung flatscreens running off the notebook via a matrox triplehead2go. Lots of desktop space is handy since I will have multiple programs running. I typically have 3-5 applications going and it's nice to see stuff side by side like a cad drawing and the photos & reports. If I really want, I can also use the laptop screen as the 4th monitor. Along with that, get a good mouse and keyboard.
I'd further suggest getting an external harddrive for file storage since 100gigs disappears fast... Possibly consider a usb hub as well if you have a lot of accessories like plotters, scanners, and printers so you just have 1 cable to plug in when you "dock" (or they also have wireless hubs out there so you won't have to plug in anything).