Well, I am only just new to linux, but I can tell you that much.
Linux can format for you during the install process (at least the Redhat / FC 2 Core).
Redhat 9.0 seems to be the newest RH distro, but it is actually quite old and out of date. After RH 9 came FC 1 and now we have FC2 (Fedora Core 2). Think you might be better off with that than RH 9. Other thing is if you are using the enterprise edition of RH.
If you are looking for reports on your laptop, try www.linux-laptops.net