Answer Best answer as chosen by user skd90
Just my opinion
Just my opinion, but as someone who works at a repair depot for a national retailer, my thoughts are along the following.
First and foremost, NEVER buy an Acer... So no Acer, Gateway, or eMachines. Second, I personally would only consider HP a step up from Acer, which really isn't saying much, and that goes for HP's budget brand Compaq too.
Lenovo, by all accounts, has done a spectacular job of running IBM's computer business into the ground. I have very little direct experience with them, except one time I was asked to estimate the repairs for one, and while taking it apart, noticed that they literally scotch taped one of the wifi antennas to the CPU heatsink. The mind just boggles trying to figure out what they were thinking. Even if we ignore the fact that the cable could very well melt under the heat, you're also introducing a crapload of unnecessary interference on the part of the CPU, which is right there. The thin shielding cable on the wireless antenna cables won't be able to block all of that, so you're compromising the effectiveness of the wireless for no particular reason.
My information is also second hand, but allegedly IBM has awarded Toshiba the contract for outfitting its staff with laptops, and they also offer the option of an Apple laptop. I heard this from someone who works for Toshiba, but again, second hand info, haven't verified it, so take it with a grain of salt.
Toshiba isn't a bad brand overall, so long as you stick to at least their mid-level stuff. Their low end units are garbage. Mid to upper range stuff is pretty good for the money.
Dell isn't what it once was, but it's still a pretty good overall brand. Like Toshiba, as long as you avoid the low end, it's a pretty solid middle of the road kind of choice.
Then there's Apple, which is a premium brand for a reason. I may be slightly biased in that I'm paid to repair Apple stuff, but honestly, the workmanship and overall design of Apple hardware is heads and shoulders above anything else I've seen. You do pay for it, there's certainly no question about that, and if you want to run Windows on your Mac laptop then it's going to cost you even more because the copy of Windows isn't included in the unit price like a PC laptop, but inside and out, Apple's design is just flat batter. It's better aesthetically, and it's also better from a general quality standpoint. Which isn't to say they never break, because otherwise I wouldn't have a job, but failure rates tend to be a bit lower, and Apple doesn't screw around when it comes to repairs. They are good at keeping repair parts stocked and getting them to repair shops quickly. And to be fair, when I did Dell stuff a while back, they were pretty much on par with Apple. Acer tends to be the worst, Toshiba is pretty bad, and I can't speak for Lenovo or HP.
Acer tends not to bother stocking repair parts period. They produce X number of units, and I guess whichever ones fail QA testing become warranty parts, which ends up with quite a few DOAs from what I hear from colleagues who work on those. Toshiba just takes forever to get parts it seems. It wasn't all that uncommon for me to wait 2-4 weeks to get a part. Often times we're talking simple parts, like a replacement keyboard. Apple will ensure that they keep a ready supply of parts on hand for a minimum of 5 years from the time a product is discontinued, Dell outsources their warranty fulfillment after about the first year, and that company will keep offering to sell you warranty extensions for several years. Or at least that's how it was when I did a lot of Dell stuff about a year and a half ago give or take. What little I know about HP seems to be that they're a little slow at getting parts to repair places, but they're probably not as bad as Toshiba or Acer. I know nothing at all about Lenovo.
Anyway, to sum it all up... I would personally limit myself to three choices: Apple, Dell, and Toshiba in that order really. If you go with either of the latter two, just remember to avoid the low end stuff like the plague.