You get what you pay for...I've noticed over the years that the people I know that have problems with their Dell laptops are the owners of the low-end consumer Inspiron brand. Conversely, I find that myself and other Latitude owners are very happy.
It is a mistake to lump all Dell laptops together. They have different product lines that cater to different markets. Personally, I would never buy an Inspiron, despite the fact that on paper it out-specs a Latitude.
You should look at Dell that same way you look at General Motors or Ford. Some GM car lines have notoriously poor quality reputations (Saturn Ion for example). Others lines and specific models have excellent reputations. People don't say that ALL GM cars, or all Toyota Motor Co. cars are bad, do they?
To lump all Dell laptops together is like comparing a BMW to a Kia. Yes, they are both cars, with 4 wheels, an IC petrol motor, and 4 doors. But 4 years of use and wear-n-tear later, guess which one is probablly going to have the more satisfied user?
When people ask me what laptop to buy, I don't tell them "Buy a Dell." I tell them specifically to buy either a Dell Latitude D600 series, or an IBM Thinkpad T series. They may cost more. But in the long run, they will be happier.
The way I look it, my laptop is my livelyhood. It is a critical part of my ability to earn money. It is not a place where I want to be cheap. I want reliability backed by solid service, and I am willing to pay for it. If my laptop gives me 2-3 years of excellent service, then an extra $500 capital outlay gives me one hell of return on my investment.
I view it the same way as my car. I own a Mercdes-Benz E series. It is solid, boring, low-tech, relatively expensive (when compared to Korean imports!). I don't buy brand new ones. I keep them for 5 years, use them, service them, and they give me rock solid performance. They get me where I need to go, when I need to, comfortably and reliably. When I factor in all my transportation expenses (fuel economy, resale, insurance, safety, etc), and factor in how little time I loose worrying about my car, it is a bargin.
Yes, I could save a little more on the front-end and buy a cheaper car. Or I could buy a more "thrilling" car. But when I jump in my boring old E300, she looks and runs just as good as the day I bought her 4 years ago. Same goes for my reliable little Latitude.