The main focus of this article is value for your money (at each price tier). The "Our Pick" selections are not necessarily the highest rated laptops, but rather the laptops that offer the best performance relative to their cost.
Before we jump into our laptop picks, I've addressed two very important questions to consider when purchasing not only a laptop, but any personal computer.
If the computer you are looking at comes with less than 2GB of memory, I highly advise upgrading it to 2GB.
Memory is dirt cheap right now. You can get 2GB of both desktop or laptop memory for under $30 if you upgrade the memory yourself, which is a relatively simple task on most desktops and laptops. You can also pay a small fee at a local computer shop to have them install it for you. Avoid the more expensive Geek Squad (Best Buy) and Fire Dog (Circuit City) computer repair counters, as their services are very overpriced.
Anything more than 2GB is excessive for most users.
If the computer you have comes standard with less than 2GB of memory, and if you have the option, I'd consider sticking with XP. Make sure there is no charge associated with this option though. (Dell is currently charging $100 to do this).