IBM makes very nice laptops. As others have mentioned their features/price is not good, performance sometimes lacking (especially for games since the laptops rarely come with any kind of high end graphics chip). I used one for a few weeks and it was very sturdy and felt great. It was stable too of course.
I have a Toshiba laptop which since I got it in 2003 has been sent away 2x. First time because of a headphone jack problem (later i've learned that this was a common problem because it was cheaply made and was just simply soddered onto the mobo with nothing else to hold it). I sent it away last year because when I turned it on it would sit there like a bump on a log. Turned out to be the mobo. Also it had a dead pixel from the day I purchased it. The second time I sent the laptop away it took over a month to get it back. When I did I found out they replaced the screen which was awesome at first because it had no dead pixel but this screen has a redish hugh on the left side of the screen. Oh yea and the HDD activity light no longer works...
I have talked to nearly a dozen people with Toshiba laptops and only one person had no problems with their laptop. I have handled a few different models of Toshiba laptops and some feel sturdy, (mine doesn't). But it appears that the quality is not where it used to be a few years ago when Toshiba was a big name in laptops.
3/4 of the machines I see at work are laptops I need of various fixes (virus/spyware/adware/general os issues), so here's what I've seen in terms of survivability of laptops.
Apples - Aesthetically pleasing, and generally very hard to corrupt/damage the OS. Stable. Body is very strong and light. Overall a very reliable. However, there's a small caveat: if you are unlucky enough to drop a Powerbook, you can dent the metal casing, rendering the optical drive inaccessible. If you're skilled with a Dremel, it's possible to work around it, but it looks like crap. Cheap alternative to a ~$700 Apple casing repair. It's a problem that's pretty unique to Powerbooks, since most other laptops are primarily made of plastic. Some might call the material cheap, but it's easier to cracks than dents. Repairs are expensive, you typically have to ship the machine out to a repair center. Some of the simplest network configuration utilities you'll ever see. Recommend for someone who hates Windows, or doesn't play games.
IBM - You could probably throw one in an oven and bake it, and it would power on without a problem. I've yet to see an IBM laptop in bad shape, even some that are running the original Windows 98 installation. Extremely sturdy. Very few hardware problems. Very conservative styling, perfect for a business environment. Hard-drive protection kicks in more often than you think, and is probably one of the best laptop features ever conceived. Highly recommend the brand.
Sony - Aesthetically pleasing and generally feature loaded. Cases are pretty fragile until you get to the mid and high price range - they get fairly solid once you get to the thin and lights. Hardware failures are pretty rare.
Dell - Hardware is getting more reliable, but still see total hard drive failures every so often that raise an eyebrow. Generally good bang for the buck. College workhorse brand, I see tons of em. Tend to have more OEM crap software loaded than other manufacturers, so a clean install might be recommended(Dell Access Direct is factory installed a useless piece of software). Easiest website hardware configuration by far. Fugly cases until you get to the m series, and even then it's an acquired taste. (They need to learn about colors other than blue and grey).
HP/Compaq - Crap. Their laptops are similar to their desktops. Underpowered, overpriced, fugly, etc. Working on them is like getting a root canal. Ultimately you can do some good, but it's a painful process. Horrible warranty services, I've heard. Overheat straight out of the box. Booting from a CD can be a pain. You don't get your money's worth.
Fujitsu - Haven't seen too many, but they seem decent.
Toshiba - Older models seem more durable, but I can't say I've seen any in any real state of failure. Feels very solid, looks pretty nice. Can be pricey, but you get what you pay for.
Averatec - I own one, and haven't had any serious issues with it. I wouldn't recommend one for someone who's clueless about computers though. It's a really good power/price ratio, not to mention the weight. Case is probably the cheapest of all brands I've seen. You'll never use a hotter computer, but the slightest bit of ventilation helps. Seems like fan power was traded for size and weight. Heat comes from the AMD cpu, which is one of the main factors in keeping price down. Performs great. Touchpad is a little finicky.
Sager - A friend has one. Built like a tank, weighs as much as one, and packs just as much power.
Panasonic - You won't see many of these, but they seem decent. I've mostly seen Japanese OSes installed on them, so good luck finding one stateside.
Laptop speakers in general suck. Apple and Sony win on that count.
Screen resolutions are best at 12 inches and widescreen 17. Everything else has annoyingly large pixels. It's a problem with almost all manufacturers.
Keyboard screen rubs are pretty common. Only brands I've seen it -not- happen on: Apple, IBM, Sony, Panasonic.
forgot Alienware. Too many features. Weigh the most of all brands. Great hardware, pathetic case. Great gaming laptop if you don't have space for an actual desktop. You'll pay the most for it though. Generally not worth it.
love my dell d800, the dvd/rw is starting to go, but i have a faster external one now so it isn't a huge deal. For tossing the thing in my backpack weekly, it has held up very well. I think I'm going to splurge on a voodoo laptop soon, it will be a "business" purchase, so hopefully I can write a lot of it off.
As a laptop refurbishing tech I can offer the follow opinions based on thousands of units:
IBM: Bar none the cream of the crop overall, dead reliable, fairly easy to work on. Never seen very many that needed work after years of use.
Dell: Decent for the price, but tend to be very flimsy and not very well engineered, especially the lower priced Inspirons. Tend to have frequent screen pitting and pressure marks on the screen after a while from the LCD rubbing on the keys. Also see many that don't live very long. Cheap parts make for frequent floppy/CD/DVD drive and battery and LCD replacements.
Fujitsu: Haven't seen many of these, but overall decent and usually working.
Sony: Mediocre, see about half and half that are in good working order, and the other half barely usable for parts.
Panasonic Toughbooks: Best ever for heavy field use and clumbsy people. Very well engineered and long lasting.
Compaq: Older units like the M700 are very good, would be my 2nd choice after an IBM. Newer models built by HP not so great.
HP: Decent units, frequently last a long time, kind of middle of the road like Dells.
All other brands I haven't done enough to form a valid opinion.
IBM - Own a T21 and actually worked for the company very rock solid computers with the exception of the a series. Screen/Key rub happens with my model.
Toshiba - Older models are rock solid but their new line of inexpensive notebooks break down if breathed on wrong.
Sony - Yes software sux but to be honest I've not seen many die of hardware failure.
HP/Compaq - The new lines seem to hold up much better than previous models specifically the DV1000 and 6000 series. Not flimsy at all and casing although plastic can take a beating.
Dell - I can't stand em personally. For a dirt cheap notebook they can't be beaten but for anything similarly configured they are more expensive and a bigger pain to deal with their tech support (Dells support is never wrong or so Dell tells me) working for a company with over 10k users and 10% of the laptops (D600's) fail with the same problem (ethernet failure) I think the product is defective.
Avertech - Dont get me started LOL worst of all the manufactures flimsy and run very warm.
ahhh forgot the panasonic toughbook never seen a computer take such a beating. Dropped from a ladder 6 ft up in a construction site and it kept chugging along like nothing happen and it was powered on when it happen.
PS I know all Dells aren't bad but the ones it seems everyone talks about is their cheap ones (ie students, inexperienced users, and cheap ppl). They always come whining to me when it fails (especially the drives) and then tell me I must recover thier data.
My wife has a dell, and when i get my hands on it, the "feel" of the laptop just seems weird, and I usually have a hard time with it, however it has been very stable and a long battery life.
My Alienware however is a dream. The desktops that I usually am on are rock solid and very stable, yet my Alienware laptop kicks all their asses. However its is back in the shop because I fried the video card. oops. I gues doing too many 3D renders on it finally took it out. However their tech support is usually pretty awesome. When I bought it the HT options on motherboards were just comming around so Alienware thought that it was a bois update, but when it wasnt, they upgraded the motherboard and video card for FREE.
Althought it is only an ATI 9000 128mb video card, it was still nice of them to bump me to that from 64. I am praying that when I get it back in a few weeks, that it will have something like an ATI 9700 in it.
I have had some great luck with my Dell Inspiron 5150.
One day i left the window in my dorm room open and my laptop turned on and open. While i was out it rained heavily and my laptop ended up completely full of water. After pouring the water out of it i left it in a warm place with a fan going on it and after a week i turned it on and it worked perfectly. Since that point it has worked just fine.
It has a 3.06P4 with HT in it, so it has nice office productivity performance. The 5200 go leaves a little bit to be desired, but i was able to play far cry and HL2, so that's all that really matters (much happier now that i have a desktop and 6800GT though).
I currently work at a dell service center, and one thing to keep in mind about the Dells with P4s in them is that their heatsinks have to be air dusted pretty frequently. I have seen units with celerons shutting down because of overheating, and my unit kept engaging thermal protection while i was gaming. Now that i keep the heatsink dust free, i haven't had any problems. This applies to all laptops, because manufacturers usually design them pretty close to their thermal limits. This means that even a little bit of dust and a warm room can put them over the top.
I've used a couple of IBM models from the T20 then late last year the T41, pretty solid laptops to be honest. However, compared to my personal NC8000 the T41 just felt slow, battery life was worse even tho it only had a 9200 ATI gfx and the NC8000 a 9600 Pro (on high power mode I might add) both models were the same spec, gig of mem and 1.6ghz Pentium M
The screen on the T41 seemed to have a very small viewing angle compared to the NC8000 and soundwise... well laptops aren't known for being bass boxes, but I've never heard sound like the 8000 can produce. I remember decorating and using the laptop to play some tunes to ease the pain hidden under a cloth sheet, when a friend lifted the cloth to see what was playing the music he was pretty shocked!
The T41 maybe able to stop the disk to avoid data loss, but it sure as hell looks like it could be damaged with a minor fall. Another friend of mine who also has a NC8000 has dropped his from about 4 feet, which resulted in nothing more than a slight whitening on the plastic due to the impact. (fixed with nothin more than a black marker pen )
The advantages of the T41 are its alot lighter and much slimmer, which would be an advantage for corporate users, but I'll stick with my beloved lump of NC8000 thx
I've had experience with IBM, Dell, Compaq, HP, Toshiba, Emachines and Gateway.
Build quality would be: Compaq because of aluminum/steel? some kind of alloy casing. They absolutely feel solid and expensive.
HP, Toshiba, Gateway follow the Compaq. IBM, Dell and Emachines bring up the end.
Reliability: IBM hands down is the best. They release the latest models later than the competition, but it's due to the extra testing and care that goes into each laptop. They have quirky design and feel cheap, but if you want a reliable laptop that will keep on going, the IBM is it. I still have an old Pentium 150 based IBM. The battery lasts about an hour and it will get wirelessly on the internet. With NT4 the performance is not that bad. Now that my friends is quality.
Problems: Dell and Emachines have flimsy hinges that break easily. At least they used to have them. I see that they've been redesigned on newer models.
Dell also suffers from a badly designed video cable that makes your screen shimmer. The only fix is to open up the laptop and reseat the cable. It's been a problem with everything from the Lattitude CPi (233mhz P2) to Inspiron 8200 (2GHz P4). Can't speak for the new models as they have been redesigned.
My favorite laptop BY FAR is the HP DV1000 series. I personally own the DV1049cl and I couldn't be happier. The new DVs also come with the Sonoma platform with DX9 graphics. No, this is not a gamer's notebook, but the screen is beautiful, build quality although plasticky is top notch, battery lasts forever and it's a looker. Easily the best looking notebook that I have ever seen. It's only about 5 pounds or about half the weight of the bulky Inspirons and other desktop replacements and only gets half as hot.
Here is my experiences with laptop support (from Norway):
NEC (Versanote's) : Lousy support. Has to send the laptops abroad to France for like 6 months just to change the cable from the gfx card to the lcd screen. And often each computer has to go to France 2 or 3 times.
HO / Compaq :Incredible fast service and support. Picks up the laptop within 4 hours even for regular warranty cases. Lets customer do much repair onsite. Has a qualified support personell that understands when the caller is a computer professional. GREAT DRIVER DOWNLOAD PAGE, only negative thing here is FTP downloads instead of HTTP.
HP Omnibook 500 & 510 are my worst enemy. Good thing both the laptop and docking has RESET buttons.. just remember too keep a pencil nearby to reset it. And do firmware upgrades regulary. There have been two times where HP has been unable to repair the unit after three tries and have given us new unit.
DELL: Their onsite support is great. Only tested next day support. Fixes even small things like missing letters on keyboard onsite Must have a lot of workforce with nothing to do.
Fujitsu - Siemens : Incredible hard to get the right phone number. Expensive phone support. Lousy help.. Often just patches me through to their center in Germany that says "Can't help you" to almost all questions. Have to email and phone to get firmware updates for their hardware.. driver page almost nonexistant.
Thosiba : Often some strange things wrong. But no problem getting the unit repaired. Driver pages is OK. Phone support nonexistant, but you do get help to return the unit for repair.
ACER : Did suggest that I sent my laptop and power adapter to Denmark for repair when my battery died. But I looked up their phone number to their Norwegian office and got a replacement battery few days later. Driver downloads are not good. They think they're done when they get release drivers out (non-beta). Sometimes asian driver sites are better..
Apple : English speaking support (no Norwegian here, though it's a free norwegian phone number). Lots of replacement needs to be done.. Like replace battery due to fire hazard.. replace motherboard etc.. But good looking and very sturdy laptops. Everything is thought very through on the design.
EDIT: IBM : No idea about support here. But their laptops can handle unbelivable amounts of water and really though handling. Just love their "industrial look" and their 12" models..
----------------------------------------------------[ My laptop ]---------------------------
Personally I have a Acer Travelmate 803Lci upgraded with a 7200rpm 60gb disk. 8mb cache and 768 MB ram total. The screen frame has cracked in three corners, but the laptop is still my favorite. And it should be because it was a 6/6 top rated laptop when I bought it. I have only upgraded it to make it run WoW. (Next upgrade, 108mbit Wi-Fi miniPCI.
Work Laptop is a HP / Compaq N610C with 512 MB ram and stock everything else. The Compaq 600 / 6000 series is our standard at work so I have dealt a lot with those.