Dell Inspiron 1427 (see picture below which is from another site; I'll post mine in an update) was my choice after searching the websites of local computer shops, calling them up, and even calling up the different branches of the same shop/company--I discovered that they can offer very different discounts and perks!
As I shortlisted my choices I also found it useful to search forums that talked about the brands and models I was considering. For instance, I was really eyeing the MSI EX460x-T66 and the ASUS K4oIN-VX128 because they both fit my budget and had 512 mb of dedicated video memory. I was getting more and more undecided, even after having checked out both models in the stores, and so it was a great relief to find out that there were others who found it just as stressful!
Anyway, I ended up with the Dell because aside from budget (principal consideration), I was looking for 512 mb of dedicated video memory plus a firewire port. The combination of these three were what really made me search and search. The Dell Inspiron 1427 has these.
I can't say much about its looks though. It's squarish and a bit too plasticky to the touch for my taste. But as I had to choose, I chose the specs over the looks. (Tomorrow I'm bringing it back to the store for a change of unit since the external part of the optical drive, the part with the button, is loose.) I just hope it will last me more than the two years it'll take me to pay for it!
For those interested, here are the specs:
Dell Inspiron 1427
- Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 2.1 GH
- 2GB Memory (I had 2gb more added)
- 320GB Hard Drive
- 14.1" WXGA TL
- nVidia 9300M GS 512MB
- DW1397 Wireless LAN
- Vista Basic (I'll be changing this to Ubuntu)
- 2.0MP Camera
- Ethernet 10/100 LAN
- Firewire port
- Card reader
- 4 USB ports