I have been researching the laptop market for the last few weeks and on and off for years. However, while benchmarks are all very well and good it is impossible to know things like the build quality, longevity, cooling capacity etc of individual manufacturers products. With this in mind I'd like to outline what I want in a laptop and people can hopefully recommend good laptops they think fit the bill.
As an added bonus I think what I'm looking for is probably similar to what alot of people that casually game want so hopefully this thread will be of use to others too. Note when I say casual, I just mean that I don't need crysis to look like I've been personally kidnapped and dropped into the heart of the korean jungle but I still would like to be able to play it at medium to low settings without the frame rate ever dipping far below 20 fps.
Onto the spec:-
Graphics - After looking at benchmarks I've concluded that the sweet point, value wise for graphics cards probably lies in the geforce GT 240M or the radeon 5650. Anything above this and the price ramps up and anything below and the performance just isn't really good enough.
Processor - With the new core I series coming out it really doesn't make sense not to get one. A core I5 isn't completely necessary as the speeds in any of the series don't differ hugely but considering it probably won't cost significantly more than an I3 I don't see why not. As to differing models within each range I'm not really sure.
RAM - Kind of a non-entity in the laptop market at the moment it seems. DDR3 seems to be the norm and laptop manufacturers don't seem particularly bothered about quoting the speed or latency. I'd assume it will be able to match up to the front side bus of the processor whatever it is but additional info would be helpful.
Hard drive - While this isn't a major factor with external storage being as affordable as it is lately, a 500gb hard drive sounds like a good number to work with. One consideration here is solid state becoming an option recently but I'm unsure as to whether many laptops around have more than 1 hard drive slot.
Screen - The screen should have a decent viewing angle although this really isn't too essential. I think for the graphics card a resolution higher than 1600x1050 isn't really necessary. Compromising to a lower resolution here is possible since most games look perfectly playable to me in 1280x800 (my current laptop). After using a 15 inch and a 17 inch laptop I'd say the 17 is really preferable and verging on a must.
Speakers - Some decent built in speakers would be a bonus since carting around an external pair constantly is a pain. I have been in many situations where I'd have liked better sound quality in my laptop.
Cooling - Overheating while playing games has been the number one cause of grief for me in using laptops. Good cooling and even an easy way to clean the inside of the laptop would take a lot of the stress out of owning a laptop though manufacturers, as ever, seem loathe to let you poke around inside their creations and continue to make it as hard as humanly possible.
Price - The big difficulty here, I'd really like to be able to get all this for under £800. I'm currently looking at getting this http://www.acerdirect.co.uk/Acer_Aspire_7740G-434G50Mi_... when it's released at the end of this month however the spec is vague so far and I have no idea how it'll shape up to other manufacturers.
Well that's it, hope someone out there knows something that can help though I know there are very few with the opportunity to test all these products side by side.
More about :expert advice specific laptop specification
Just a quick note to say that I have had real good experience with the build quality of the Acer product (which was one of your concerns). I support one medical clinic that is still running 7 year old Acer laptops with no noticable wear and tear on the hinges, LCD's are still bright, and keyboards are still going strong after 7 years of 12 hours days of data entry. We are only now starting to replace them because of upgraded specifications in a medical application.
I own an Acer Aspire AS5740G-6979 and the build quality is better than Dell or HP in my opinion. It's not spectacular, but it feels well built. I can play Dragon Age: Origins smoothly, but it will sometimes freeze for a brief second because of ATI PowerPlay (not because of overheating).
Intel Core i5-430M
1GB ATI Radeon HD 5650
P.S. My laptop has one major flaw and it is that it makes a loud, annoying beep when I unplug or plug in the power adapter, but to solve this problem all you have to do is uninstall Realtek sound drivers and use Windows 7 default sound drivers then the beep disappears.