Okay, so I've got it down to two choices, thanks to hakamadare
: either I'm going to get the cheapo Dell deal through Columbia, or I will definitely get a light, high-end Toshiba (where I think I can still get some kind of educational discount, but would eat most of my budget).
Now I'm all worried about the reliabilty of the Dell; on the other hand, it would cost me around $500 out-of-pocket, leaving me plenty of my computer-budget money for nice extras like a new digital camera (I've been craving one of the tiny Elphs) and an iPod for the boy, or a port replicator plus backup drive plus boy-iPod. Even if it's not the right system, it just has to work for me for a year or two in order for it to make financial sense. But I trust the Toshiba brand a lot more, and it's got the power I need to play games and run other graphics-intensive software, which is a lot of what I do professionally. Will I stop playing PC-based computer games if I have to do them only in the lab? I don't know . . . sigh.
Sorry to keep ranting about this, but it's really been on my mind. Most of you probably don't care (except ikeeverett
who is going to be getting my desktop at a very nice price), but I could still use advice and/or haranguing. :)