2 GB RAM best, 1 GB RAM doable but limited capabilities with Vista. Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 1.6-1.7 GHz, good enough for the uses you describe.
256 MB integrated Intel GMA 950 GPU, good enough for the uses you describe, but not adequate for a lot of games.
Intel wi-fi adapter is the best one; some others apparently can be problematic.
160 to 200 GB HDD available.
HP and Toshiba are good in that range. Maybe Dell too. Multimedia controls are nicer with HP and Dell.
It's worth putting your money into the hardware and giving the free OpenOffice.org office suite a spin before you decide you really need the Microsoft Office suite.
I am going to college this fall and my parents are going to buy me a laptop for my graduation gift. I want something to support the new windows vista, and good music/video playing ability, a decent size hard drive for music and video, and ill be needing word and powerpoint so i might as well get the office package or whatever it comes with. trying to keep it under $1200, so let me know what some of you think would be good and last me a while. Thanks