So I finally replaced my aging laptop with something a bit more up-to-date: a Core 2 Duo Thinkpad T60p. I'm really happy with it; it's definitely got that solid feeling to it for which Thinkpads are famous. I'm pretty sure it's the most sturdily-constructed laptop I've used. Even the Trackpoint device is a pleasure to use. If you've hated Trackpoints on other laptops, the Thinkpad version is much more comfortable, and being able to move the pointer without leaving the home row is a big usability win.
The only disappointment I've noticed so far is the graphics card; it's an ATI FireGL V5250 for which no Free drivers are available. If I had known I'd have to use the binary fglrx drivers, I would have gotten another configuration—the ATI drivers are kind of lame compared to the Free drivers that work for other cards. They work better for 3D effects, but they don't work with AIGLX and Beryl, which is the only 3D stuff I would actually be marginally interested in using. I've also heard that the binary driver can cause major issues with hibernation, but I haven't really tried that much; suspend seems to be fine. Next time I'm getting an Intel card if at all possible.
The resolution (1600x1200) is ridiculously sharp, which is the main reason I chose the Thinkpad over the similarly-priced Macbook Pro. It has 2.3 times as many pixels as my last laptop. It's also got a nifty fingerprint reader that you can plug into PAM and use to authorize yourself with any regular Unixy programs. Pretty cool. I was a bit worried about the extra weight, (~2.5 kg vs the 1.5 of my old Dell) but it turns out I don't tote it around nearly as much as I used to when I got my Dell, being in university at the time, so the weight doesn't bother me.
The other issue is that the folks at Adobe don't have a Flash player that works on 64-bit Linux systems, so I can't watch YouTube. I was already on the edge about whether I should bother with installing Flash on this machine, so this made that decision easier. All in all I'd consider not having Flash a blessing in disguise, and it's not even a very convincing disguise. Maybe once Gnash gets more polished things will change. (Or if Adobe gets a clue, but I'm not holding my breath.)
I decided to go ahead and try out Ubuntu "Fiesty Fawn" 7.04. It's a bit rough around the edges as it always is with prereleases that are still a few months away from primetime, but it's definitely stable and usable enough for my daily work. All the hardware was detected fine with the exception of the video card—since it's nonfree it required an extra step to get working—and the fingerprint reader, for which I had to compile the driver manually. (This was very easy to do.) By default it uses the vesa video drivers which work for display but are quite slow. I'm going to hold off on apt-get upgradeing frequently just because that can be a recipe for disaster when you've got a lot of work to do. For my own use I kept notes on the installation process so I remember all the steps in the future; perhaps that would come in handy for others.
The real news is that this frees up my old laptop for a career in robotics. Once I get a chance to research UARTs and pick up the proper chips, I should be able to get that project rolling again.