I like My Dell, this is my third, and third only because the second took a can of beer in the keyboard. Got this one on Kijiji for 300 because the screen had a red line through the middle. Its a high end business model that the university uses as a standard for their teachers.
It was still on warranty so I jumped through Dells warranty hoops and got the screen fixed locally for free.
Running win 7 64 bit, upgraded ram to 6 gigs and Hard drive to 500gig. total cost 600.00, and its faster than a lot of the new machines that cost double.
Perfect for the garage for media and research. I'm networked with a quad core media desktop server, and an 8 core desktop PC downstairs and the wifes 2 laptops upstairs.
Stay away from win 8 as long as possible.
Look for an upgradeable machine that will do what you need,
We use Lenovo and Sony Vaio laptops at work, and they seem to be pretty solid machines, although the Vaios had a couple of fan issues.
I've never liked HP laptops, and I've never tried any of the others. Both the wifes laptops (personal and work) are Higher end Dells.
As a side note on toughness, the second dell I had, took a can of beer in the keyboard. I took it apart and dried it all out but I could never get the keyboard or DVD to work again. It still starts and runs, but needs a USB keyboard and mouse to be useful. I bought a newer laptop so it sits on a shelf downstairs. A lttle while ago, the water line to the humidifier leaked on it, when I found it, it was literally full of water. I drained it all out, a let it sit for a few months.
I pulled the hard drive and its got rust all over it but it still works. turned it on the other day, and it starts right up.