Ive had a T510 for 2 years this month and yeah - it's good. I would certainly look at Samsung and Asus too.
Today's Barron's (financial magazine) has a cover article on the death of the PC, same idea we've seen on tech websites for a year or two, however Baron's suggests that HP and Dell are losing big money (stocks down % and 35% YTD respectively) mostly in their end-user PC divisions, and they suggest that both Dell & HP may exit the PC market and retreat to enterprise products. Samsung looks pretty shiny on that list. My hunch is that both Dell and HP are decent enough to continue support for ~2 years, which is probably all you need. Just saying - be aware.
I'd ask you to consider several factors.
Can you really use 4 cores + hyperthreads ? In a lot of tests the i5 mobiles will match or even beat the i7s. If you can use those cores - for example use the R-language multicore add-ons then it can be a good choice. Otherwise for typical laptop use (reading mail, browsing & skyping) it''s just a power drain.
HEAT ! The i7-*QMs will dissipate 45W TPD at load, and they probably turbo faster if they are cool enough, so DO consider the heat dissipation issue. Those svelte 0.8 inch thick laptops looks great BUT there usually isn't enough space in there for adequate air vias for cooling.
It's certainly a matter of taste, but I require a NON-glare screen, and a decent KB. If its critical to you test the KB. Lenovo generally gets high marks for a traditional type KBs. I generally hate 'chicklet' KBs but Apple and Samsung have among the best I've tried (I hate Apple laptops for other design/technical and pricing reasons).
Generally speaking you are better off buying an aftermarket SSD (and aftermarket DRAM too) and installing it yourself. Nearly any SSD will be faster, quieter, lower power, and more mechanically stable
than any rotating laptop disk. Of course they are pricey. So you can pretty much pick any drive name-brand drive with the right SATA interface and live happy. Look for sale prices. If you can live on say 240GB or less then they have near-ideal characteristics for laptops.
1) Does anyone have Fedora working on any of the above models? Does everything work?
I don't have these but ...
AVOID Broadcom wifi like the plague. Atheros is a good notch better, Intel wifi best.
Nearly everything can be made to work, but some vid cards can be a persistent task.
2) What's the procedure for side-stepping the Nvidia Optimus set up for the time being?
Lenovo BIOS has a feature to disable it, then it's completely off and invisible. I was surprised that others had so many problems w/ Optimus. Yes it can be disabled and de-powered in Linux software but you might need to create a script in /etc/rc.d/rc.local or similar. The other point is that your i7-3*QM will have an Intel hd 3000/4000 vid built-in at low power, and it outperforms a lot of mediocre NVidia parts you *MAY* want to seek out a model w/ only the integrated GPU.
3) Is there some setup instructions to get the Intel 3000/4000 working with multi monitors?
I don't have the 4000, but you SHOULD
be able to do it with either the xrandr command or likely with the screen setup tool for your desktop. But yes - you should look for evidence from a current owner.
Best reviews on the web, and links to other lesser reviews.
None for HP.