Also looking for a gaming laptop

Tom's Hardware Folks:

Here's my long post; thanks for reading!

I am interested in getting a new laptop. I currently have a Toshiba A205-S5864 (Core 2 Duo T550 1.83GHz w/ 3 GB RAM) that still works pretty well, although it has garbage integrated Intel graphics and the wifi cuts out every now and then (although I'm not sure whether that's a symptom of the budget router). So, there are very few games I can play these days due to 3D graphics incompatibility. I'd like something suitable for modern gaming, with high build quality. I'm not sure how much VRAM my card needs, but I see that 1GB is the minikmum these days, so I'm looking for at least 1.5GB, preferably 2.0 or more; I've seen a 3GB Geforce 555m option.

My ideal laptop would be the Dell XPS 15z if I could configure it with an i7 2630QM and nVidia 550m w/ 2GB VRAM or better. At the bottom, I mention that there's a Dell XPS 17 that seems like the best fit for me; Alienware is more expensive and their cases aren't professional enough for my taste. (How does Alienware build quality compare to Dell XPS these days, since they're both owned by Dell?) I may be sleeping on other brands that are suitable.

1. What is your budget?
Preferably under $1400, but I'd spend around $1500 or slightly more to get what I want. (Dell XPS basically has set the price point for me.)

2. What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?
14.5" - 17". I currently have a 15", which is a comfortable size for gaming and decent trade-off for portability.

3. What screen resolution do you want?
At least 720p, preferably 900p or 1080p.

4. Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?
Desktop replacement. Portability is less of a concern. I basically want to be able to play games while sitting on the couch with my wife, rather than having to sit at a desktop in another room. Back in the day I would have just custom-built a desktop machine.

5. How much battery life do you need?
Not a major concern. I do like the nVidia Optimus technology that would save me battery life on the go. I read somewhere that nVidia provides a smoother transition that ATI/AMD's equivalent. Hence, I'm biased toward nVidia, even though I've always owned ATI graphics cards in the past.

6. Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?
Yes. I should be able to get High on current/recent games (e.g., StarCraft II or other). I would settle for Medium.

7. What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo/Video editing, Etc.)
Streaming 1080p video, office applications, web browsing, software development (Eclipse).

8. How much storage (Hard Drive capacity) do you need?
500 GB @ 7200 rpm; more is better, but not required. If it were a sticking point, I'd settle for 320 GB @ 7200 rpm.

9. If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.
Costco, NewEgg, Dell XPS, HP.

10. How long do you want to keep your laptop?
3+ years -- build-quality is very important to me. Getting the 2nd year of warranty from Costco would be preferable, but I don't think they care anything with more than 1.5GB graphics (e.g., Dell XPS 17).

11. What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?
DVD writer; BD reader (or writer) would be nice, but not required.

12. Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.
- My first laptop was an HP that had chronic motherboard issues. Eventually my credit card company refunded the purchase price during the extra third year or warranty (after manufacturer and Costco warranties expired). I would only consider an HP with higher build quality.
- This Toshiba has been pretty solid, although I question the aforementioned wi-fi card. I know they offer the Qosimo line for gaming, although I don't think new models are on sale yet (but I would wait).
- Apple doesn't offer better than 1GB Radeon graphics (at $1800 for a 15", although I'm sure their build quality is stellar); I'm not sure 1GB is enough, and I don't want to have to pay a performance premium for running Windows on top of Mac OS for PC gaming.

13. What country do you live in?

14. Please tell us any additional information if needed.
Would like something durable with a metal chassis -- aluminum, magnesium, etc. I like the Dell XPS 15z, but I don't think the 525m 1GB graphics or i5 will suffice. I'm seeking at least a 550m with 2+GB graphics and i7 2630QM. I could be wrong, but I feel like 1.5GB is the minimum for high-level gaming, and 2+ would be better. I have seen a 555m with 3GB graphics option in the Dell XPS 17" that is tempting to me.

I'd prefer a full number pad, but not required; I know I can get that easily on a 17" and possibly on a 15". Chicklet keyboards seem to be en vogue right now, although I haven't used one.

I want a solid touch pad with discrete keys. Multi-gesture is not a requirement.

I couldn't care less about 3D.

Currently I can get a Dell XPS 17 with i7 2630QM, 555m 3GB, 8GB DDR3, 750 GB HDD @ 7200 RPM, 900p display ($100 more for 1080p), and DVD writer + BD reader for $1200 @ 7.57 lbs. This seems hard to beat, although I'd love to see a cosmetic makeover of the case.

Would anyone pay $20 more for SoundBlaster X-Fi sound? Obviously we aren't in the 1990's where SoundBlaster compatibility is king, but I have no idea how much better the sound will be.
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