An update on my saga/angst: The laptop I was using that was on its last legs gave up the ghost faster than anticipated and forced me to buy something immediately - couldn't wait for greater deals or to build my own desktop. So I purchased a refurbished Samsung r580 for, neatly, $580. The deal was posted here: http://tinyurl.com/sr580 and Laptop Mag's review of the laptop is here: http://tinyurl.com/samr580
I'd appreciate honesty as to how I did, both as to quality of machine and price, and advice as to what I can expect and how best to optimize the thing. I was attracted to the discounted Dell outlet laptops using 20% and 25% off coupons recently posted (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/dcoupon), but neither the Sammy's convenient (if imperfect) BD drive or discrete GPU could be found in the machines I saw there, which were already priced higher besides (even post-coupon) for a Core i5 machine.
And apologies for the self-absorbed nature of this post.