The gist is that I bought a Tatung WXGA laptop from Walmart.com. It came with WinXP on it, as well as some Redhat derivative that was on a "hidden" partition. Probably that was the rescue partition.
EIther way, I reformatted the entire disk and first tried to install the most recent Fedora Core. The FC install CD would not boot on this laptop. (Kernel panic during boot.)
So I tried installing Ubuntu linux, about which I had also heard good things. It installed clean and worked just about perfectly the first time. It detected the unusual screen geometry (1280×820) and the wireless network card just fine. I haven’t tried using USB or Firewire devices yet. Sound and 3D graphics seemed to work fine. I’m not sure if I tested Xvideo. or not.
The minor issue I had were that Ubuntu includes hibernate scripts for suspending to RAM and to disk on ACPI events. If you want to suspend to disk, you need to include ‘resume=/dev/hda5’ into the grub config, assuming that hda5 is your swap partition. I assume that the swap partition must be as large as the RAM, also. It also had some issue where on resume it would not restore to the correct Virtual Terminal. I recognized what it was doing, and could hit Ctl-Alt-F7, to fix it, but many Linux folks would not be so sophisticated to figure this out. I added a line somewhere to force a change back to VT7.
This seemed to work fine at first. About a week or two into using the laptop, Ubuntu offered a package upgade to the kernel. After installing it, the laptop would only suspend once – subsequent suspends would power down and then immediately resume. There were messsages in dmesg about problems with the ohci1394 driver, which I assume was causing the problem. I blacklisted that driver, since I’m not using any firewire/ieee1394 devices with that laptop currently. I’m not sure if that fixed the problem or not yet, since I have so little time to mess with it because of my two small children.
Anyway, for anyone else who’s considering the Walmart Tatung WXGA laptop for use with Linux, it worked almost perfectly out-of-the-box for me. (modulo problems described above).