laptop in 2004 and it's still running nicely. I just recently bought another HP laptop about 4 months ago (to keep up with technology) and absolutely love it. If there is such thing as perfect, my new laptop is.
I would look on HP's website, pick a laptop in your budget, customize it to your needs and post the specs here so we can review it if you like. If HP doesn't fit your needs, I would take a look at Dell next and then perhaps Toshiba and Lenovo. Also, search on HP coupons. I save $500 on my laptop with a coupon on the internet.
You may want to check newegg.com or ecost.com for HP and Dell laptops - you may get a good deal there.
Thinks to think about on a laptop are battery life, screen size, weight, cpu, hard drive size, memory (ram), graphics card, wireless card, usb ports, webcam, microphone, bluetooth, operating system, 32-bit or 64-bit, dvd drive (dvd/cd burner, lightscribe, dual layer). Think about what you care about most, what you would like and what you can live without. Once you kind if figure out what it is you want, it's much easier to shop because you have a target.