I've been looking at both the notebooks you mentioned and have a few questions. If I went with the 18.4" should I go Quad core of dual core? I like the size and design of the 18.4" but the 17" has the newer processor. What benefits are there for going with the Core i7 processor?
Unless you need raw CPU power, there isn't much of a benefit of choosing either the Quad or the i7, especially if the dual core has the higher clock speed. Most games are only now taking advantage of dual core CPUs and a few with quads, so in some cases the duals are actually faster. So basically, if you go for the 18.4'' and want the Quad make sure it has a high clock speed. Personally, I think I would take the T/P 9600/9700 over the Q9000. And honestly, I don't think the QX9300 is worth the money to upgrade to.
With most games, especially First Person Shooters, graphics power is more important. You would do better to get a dual card set-up than the one with the i7.
1) I've used customer support twice to get replacement parts, dead battery and broken hinge. They were fast, understood what I needed and were understandable. Considering both of these issues occurred out of warranty, no complaints from me. They were also pretty good during the build process with updates and such.
2) The P9700 is a newer release than the T9600 and uses a little bit less power. I think the P9700 is rated at 25 watts TDP and the T9600 is at 35 watts.
3) From the base configuration, I would at the very least upgrade to 4gb of RAM and a 7200 RPM HDD. After that it's up to you if you can justify the cost of a faster CPU, SSD or Blu-ray.