Most notebooks now have a 1 year standard limited warranty. If you want a 3 year warranty it is best to get it directly from the manufacturer not from a retail store. You can buy a 3 year accidental damage coverage which will cover drops, etc. -- otherwise a standard 1 year or 3 year limited warranty covers defects but not abuse or accidental damage.
Apples are very good in reliability and customer service. If they will fit the needs of your student then consider them as they are lightweight and get very good battery life.
If buying an wi-fi notebook for college that you want to have good battery life (use unplugged) than the Pentium M (Centrino) is the best right now. They are lighter, use less battery power, and they have good performance. In a notebook, a Pentium 4M CPU is used only if you want maximum performance but at the expense of weight, heat, and less battery life (if you will use it similar to a desktop (plugged in) than those are ok.
HP/Compaq has a 6% discount when ordering custom online for college students (APP discount). Also, they have a $100 custom order rebate good through 9/1/04 (HP or Compaq).
Toshiba has a 10% discount online for all custom order notebooks.
Best Buy has 1 year no interest this week but you can also get that through HPshopping.com directly.
I recommend the Toshibas over the Sonys unless you want a smaller stylish notebook that only Sony offers in some cases. Toshiba beats Sony for reliability and value in the mainstream notebook area.
A 15.4" widescreen Pentium M notebook is a great option - they play widescreen DVD's in the dorm or elsewhere, they have good wi-fi battery life (3.5 to 4 hours unplugged while using wi-fi or longer if not) and they can still be carried in a student notebook backpack that holds a 15.4" LCD.
Look at www.X1000forums if you are interested in the Compaq X1000 or HPZT3000 (15.4" widescreen). It will also explain how to get all the discounts and what specification to order for maxiumum value (save money ordering only 256mb RAM and add your own 512RAM module later for much less $ for example).
I also recommend the Toshiba M35 series.
They have the M35S456 at retail (Best Buy, Circuit City) -- it is $1850 at Best Buy this week on sale. This is priced higher as it has a DVD burner which costs $200 more than a CD-RW/DVD ROM that is ok for most students. It has the new Trubrite LCD screen technology for a very sharp LCD -- check this out.
You can easily order a custom HPZT3000 or Compaq X1000 with a 725 Dothan 1.6 processor (2mb L2 system cache), 256mb RAM (add your own later), CD-RW/DVD ROM, 60gb hard drive, 54g/b wi-fi, 15.4" LCD and 64mb dedicated video RAM for under $1300 with all the discounts and rebates.
Note, you can see the extended warranty options through HP/Compaq or Toshiba online.
Also, if a limited warranty is ok you can often add a 2nd year of warranty for free if you have an American Express or Visa Gold Card, or Mastercard Platinum, etc (doubles electronics warranties for free up to 1 year).
We are looking for a notebook for college (fine arts program), primarily for reports, email, etc. Service and warranty are some primary considerations as are reliability and ease of use. Everytime I think I am getting close to a decision, I read another horror story, especially about store warranties.
The school may or may not have wireless connections, so that should also be a consideration. We have looked at HP/Compaq, Sony Vaio, Apple, and Toshiba's. We are a little confused about which processor is best, P4, PM w/Centrino, AMD, etc. Any help or advice will be greatly appreciated.