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You're probably a little safer buying a slightly older laptop to avoid any bleeding edge hardware. If you are going to buy new, ask the shop if they have a demo model and if they'll let you boot it with a live cd relevant to your distro. Ensure all the hardware is detected/enabled/functional and go from there,
To add to what kbp was saying, it's generally the wireless that will cause you the most headaches on the newest laptops.
Generally, you should be successful with most laptops available at retail. I just bought an HP dv4 series laptop with Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n wireless; I had to find the right package to download, but it worked.
In today's laptops, I'd imagine some that are shipping with Wimax or chips for other Wireless data provider services may have some minor problems. At least, I doubt they'd be immediately recognized.
Other than that, keyboard, mice, sound and display should work. Power-saving flash (SD) readers sometimes are not supported promptly. A recent major distribution should give you the fewest problems of course.
I purchased a new Acer laptop a year ago. It had Vista installed, so I tried to install Ubuntu,then Mandrake but had no luck. Vista would not allow me. I had an older laptop with XP and had no problems with installing Ubuntu.
There can be the problem that some laptop makers expect a Windows operating system to the extent that they only release BIOS updates that can be flashed while running Windows. There was a thread here not long ago I fumbled around in, trying to get help with a Toshiba model now without Windows and a Windows only BIOS. Of course, if the machine comes with the right kind of Windows, you could try to make a Windows live-cd before you eventually remove Windows.
Once upon a time a laptop came with a manual with things like the BIOS and its settings; not so much any more. Documentation might be a consideration.
Last edited by thorkelljarl; 08-20-2009 at 07:07 PM.