a laptop install isn't the easiest in linux, but it's possible. i have linux partially running on an inspiron 3800 - but part of the reason that it's not fully running is because i'm building the linux almost from scratch... which i don't recommend to anyone who isn't looking to learn everything
they can about linux. check out yor laptop on www.linux-laptop.net
- it's on there.
linux is much easier to install on a desktop - but if that's not what you're going for, go ahead and try the laptop with mandrake 8.1 - that should be the easiest install.