For some reason my dad has always been a fan of Dell (maybe he knows someone) and the craze caught on to me. We have 3 Dell laptops at home and 2 Desktops and God knows how many more at my Dad's office. And we love them. None of us are incredibly computer-proficient so we've always favored brand name and customer service over building something ourselves and dealing with the headaches that oft come with that.
As for the laptops themselves, both my parents have the 600m, which is more for their work purposes. I, on the other hand, have the 8600 (which I don't know if they are making anymore) and for 1200 dollars, it's one of the best computers I've ever owned. I've already had it for 8 months now and it's almost never given me problems. And I game on it all the time - Halo, Battle for Middle Earth, Knights of the Old Republic I/II, Call of Duty, Half-Life 2 (demo). Granted, many of these games aren't the most demanding ones out there at the moment, those that I do run do so superbly, which makes me think newer games will run fine as well. I even tried the Brothers in Arms demo, which worked quite superbly. But for some reason the Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault demo didn't work so well; all the people showed up as yellow blobs... On a different, more relevant note, I haven't tried the Psychonauts demo yet. I did download it, but finals are taking their toll on what I play and don't play.
(As you can tell, I'm a big fan of trying out games before I buy them.)
So this is basically my Dell Inspiron 8600 with Pentium M processor, 512 RAM and an ATI Radeon 9600 PRO. The ones on sale today actually boast better stuff than this, so I would presume what little setbacks I experienced with games you wouldn't experience if you tried it today.
As for battery life, the 8600 claims it has 5+ hours in it everytime I unplug the power cord and the most I've run it off of battery is 2 hours, at the end of which it still showed 2+ hours remaining. I live at college, so really, this laptop is more of a desktop replacement for me, which is why it's almost always running off of power and on my desk. And frankly, it's a little too bulky to be taking around with me wherever I please.
*A short note on their customer service - it can be darn slow at times, but it's no better than any other company that I've experienced customer service with. And yes, like virtually every other company, they assume you're an idiot, but I play along and it always fixed the problem for me. One time with my desktop, it wouldn't turn on, and so I contacted them with this problem a month before my warranty expired. They basically delayed the resolution, essentially, unable to pinpoint where the problem was, and once my warranty expired claimed they couldn't help me anymore. I reminded them that I first talked to them a month ago and the delay was because they mis-interpreted the problem (or I mis-represented it? but that's besides the point) and they apologized and went gung-ho and sent me parts for virtually everything that may go wrong - power supply, motherboard, processor, memory, etc. I basically replaced everything, and now it works and I'm so happy.
Hmm...turns out it became a relatively long note. Oh well, I hope this helps.