I personally use a HP/Compaq nc8230 for work and play and am very pleased with it. the Radeon Mobility X600 graphics chip is sufficient for most games that aren't on the bleeding edge and the screen is great for photos and movie-watching. The one issue with it that I have is that the screen could be a bit brighter. Refurbished, I was able to get mine for under $1500 for the Pentium M 1.6Ghz/512 MB RAM/40GB HD/15.4" WXGA/Radeon X600 configuration.
That being said, I'm not sure I'd let someone else (much less, a child) play with my laptop. Due to their all-in-one nature, a soda spill or sticky keyboard can turn into an expensive proposition for a laptop, where a desktop would just require a keyboard swap. Additionally, as games evolve in their demands on graphics cards, you can upgrade a desktop piecemeal as the software makes its demands on the hardware. In your scenario, I would separate out the computers into the gaming desktop for the kids and the photo laptop for you.
I hope someone is willing to lend me their expertise (or weigh in on the office recommendations). I'm swapping platforms (currently Mac OS X to Windows PC), so I'm looking for advice on a new solution. I'm tired of going to the basement all the time to work on the computer but I need to be able to do some good photo and video editing and I would like a machine for the kids(boys - 11 & 9) to play their games (Age of Empires, Civilization, Command & Conquerers, ...)on. Should I buy a high end laptop like the Dell XPS M170 that the reviews indicate is a desktop replacement or do I buy a decent laptop and desktop (seems I can get 2 computers for around the same $ as 1 excellant laptop)? If possible it be nice if the kids' computer is able to play their games for 3-5 years (I'm not sure how fast the games outpace the graphics boards). I'd like to use the laptop to do some basic photo editing (so I can do it in the kitchen or in front of the TV) - the fine stuff I'm willing to do on a desktop if necessary.
I'm also looking to buy a big TV (current TV is 19") so my pocketbook is going to be stretched. It be nice if I could start with a laptop ~$1500 and then add a desktop next year or if the answer is to buy a souped up laptop then I'll put off the TV for another year and will have a total ~$3K to spend on the computer)
Current equipment that is swappable to new platform - photo printer(USB), scanner(USB), external harddrive(80GB)-firewire, wireless router. (No monitor)
Currently use Adobe Photoshop CS and iMovie(Mac specific) for my photo activities. What's a PC replacement for iMovie (might consider Adobe Premier but I'm not quite to the stage where I can sell enough to warrant that price).
THANKS in advance