Update, 20 April:
Aaaaaand it turns out I went digitally spelunking for no reason at all. (sigh)
My office buddy set me straight this morning.
His instructions started with "Perform an emergency restore of the factory configuration..."
Had to get a Windows computer for the house. (Long story.)
Bought a Dell Studio 15 series with the guidance of a trusted techie friend at the office.
Computer arrived, and I thought to myself - you know, this isn't too bad. What am I missing?
I mean, I'm using Vista on a laptop and it's actually kind of okay.
My office buddy is a Windows aficionado in the way that I'm a Mac aficionado. He has been responding wearily to my trash-talking about Windows Vista by ragging me about the hardware I was running it on.
"On a properly configured machine, Vista is very satisfactory."
Hey, it was looking good.
Then I ran Belarc Advisor to get a snapshot of my current configuration before I started modifying anything (hi, worked in IT for 20+ years, occupational hazard.)
Huh. The machine has 4GB of RAM but Belarc only reports three.
Why, that sounds like...
Dell installed 32-bit Windows Vista on this machine, limiting me to 3GB memory access.
oh HELL no.
Bust out Windows Ultimate 64-Bit SP1 install disk, reformat the laptop, install 64-bit. Confirm access to 4GB RAM.
I start installing software again when I notice that the screen looks funny and I'm not connected via WiFi.
And that's when I realized that I hadn't saved a copy of that list of drivers and devices that I was kinda concerned about.
Have downloaded all thirty-five relevant pieces of software from Dell's support site and am installing them manually.
I AM IN HELL.