I beg to differ on Dell coming above HP.
If you're rich,don't want to tinker with/customise your hardware and do lots of media, graphics work you will definitely not go wrong on apple.
ThinkPads( In my experience) rate equally to their HP counterparts.
Acer is good for students and would be the low budget option as u said. OK for short term ownership (4yrs is fine) even more
Otherwise its a whole lot of money to part with
Dell = moderately priced and good quality
HP = corporate and on a general scale with a very very wide range.(In media, 3D, ArcViz and gaming rigs will NOT compete with Dell's AlienWare notebooks)