After posting over the weekend about my recent Dell woes, I received a comment from "John @ Dell" who works in their Customer Advocate group. John looked up the system I'm having issues with and agreed that it's overdue to be replaced.
After confirming the service tag and my shipping information, he commented again to let me know that an exchange machine is on its way. That's GREAT news... I look forward to posting again once it arrives and I can confirm that all's well and I'm back on track.
I gotta hand it to Dell... between the Customer Advocate program and the Direct2Dell blog program, they look to be pretty serious about being proactive with customer issues that arise. It's a bummer that it took blogging about it publicly before it was dealt with, and I'd have liked to have seen more responsiveness using the "traditional" support channel... but the end result is what's most important to me in this case as the machine's pretty much unusable as it is. Thanks again, John, for picking up on the post and taking some steps to get this resolved.
PS... ironically, I finally got a response to an email I'd sent in middle of last week wherein I wondered about the replacement panel that didn't appear to have been shipped. The response was a very short and generic message, stating simply that it "looks like the part should ship on 7/20".