While I have everyones attention, any suggestions on laptop reliability?
I'm not sure there's such thing as a reliable manufacturer anymore. They all seem to put out their lemons along with quality products. My best advice is when you find a machine you like do a search on its model number and look for any complaints related to it. For my part I have an HP DV9225us, great machine, but it and many of the other DV9000 series appear to have some motherboard and/or gpu problem that will leave your machine unusable. Such is what happened to mine. For its part HP issued an extended warranty for the problem, and the repair time is lightning quick, but there's still no guarantee the problem won't happen again.
I think you're going to have a hard time finding a laptop that doesn't come with Vista. What's worse, or so I've been reading, is in many cases XP drivers do not exist for some of the laptops, so even installing XP yourself might not be an option. You'll probably have to call and ask, you might have more luck with the boutique vendors who seem to be more willing to customize (alienware, falcon northwest etc.).
In my opinion, Vista isn't too terrible (though still in the not good category), depending on what you're going to use your laptop for. I heartily recommend 2gb of ram is you're stuck with Vista though, that seems to help with the unnecessary bloat.