if you can use Apple instead of an IBM pc laptop for your college use than Apple has the highest ratings (See recent Consumer Reports) for reliability and support.
My friend who works in digital photography raves about Apples.
However, if like many people, you use a PC at work then you probably use one at home or school as well.
I definitely recommend you to get a Pentium M (Centrino line) notebook in an IBM PC if you don't go apple.
Your 4200 rpm hard drive in the Apple is the standard but it is much slower than the 5400rpm drive in the other two machines.
The 2.0 Pentium M (new Dothan line with 2.0mb L2 system Cache) is the top of the line right now so you are paying a huge premium for the 2.0. I would recommend getting a 1.7 Pentium M or a 1.8 Pentium M as those cost less but have the same Dothan chip updates over the older Banias chips 1.0-1.6 that had 1.0mb L2 system cache ( I have a 1.4 Pentium M in a Compaq X1360US and it works great but if buying now I would get a 1.7 Pentium M chip for the extra system cache).
Also, check out the www.x1000forums.com which also covers the HPZT3000 and NC7000 lines. These Centrino machines have a 15.4" widescreen which is very nice if you will be watching DVD's on it and you can view 2 spreadsheets side by side. It still weighs only 6.5 pounds and will fit in laptop backpacks like Targus that hold a 15" square screen.
Whatever machine you get I advise these things:
1) If you are ordering custom get a 5400 rpm hard drive as it is much faster than 4200. Some people are even getting the 7200 hard drives.
2) Get at least 512mb of RAM -- you can order less and put more yourself later to save money but end up with at least 512RAM
3) make sure you have dedicated video memory not integrated that uses system RAM. The X1000 series and similar HP has 32mb dedicated and 64mb dedicated optional -- 64mb is better if you can order custom but 32mb is ok.
4) Make sure you at least have the DVD ROM/CD-RW drive as the CD-RW is your primary storage medium now and you can also burn Music CD's. A DVD burner is nice but they are pricey and you may not need that in a laptop.
Don't get a machine with just a DVD ROM and not the CD burner as they don't cost that much more.
5) Unless you will be traveling a lot on planes, I think you will appreciate the 15.4" widescreen or the 15" square screen over the 14.1 inch square. Many businesses and travelers still use 14" but I think you will appreciate the larger 15" screens.
See a 15.4" widescreen to see if you like it or not.
I also recommend the Toshiba M35 series (Centrino)
I am purchasing a laptop and am trying to decide between these 3 computers. The price doesn't really matter. I will be using the laptop for college as a liberal arts major. I'm going to need it for taking notes in class/library, internet use, wireless internet, word processing, watching DVDs, playing music, and storing digital pictures. Obviously, I want it to last for at least 4 years. If anyone could offer advice/opinions on which of the 3 I should get, I would really appreciate it. Here are the specs I would get for each:
1. Apple iBook
Apple PowerPC G4 1.25Ghz processor
60 GB Hard Drive at 4200rpm
4.5 hr. battery
14.1 inch screen
2. HP nx5000
Pentium M 1.8 GHz
512 MB mem.
60 GB hard drive at 5400 rpm
5 hr battery
Intel PRO 802.11 bg wireless
15 inch screen
3. HP nc6000
Pentium M 2 Ghz
512 MB mem.
Hard Drive: 40 GB at 5400 rpm
6 hr battery
Either: Intel PRO 802.11b or Mini PCI card 802.11 bg