Laptops are notorious installation targets; working out of the box does not happen often enough. Their hardware is specialized, and the producers are continually substituting components. The actual components in the machine in your hand may well not match the specification sheet in the box. Getting the drivers right, and understanding the capabilities of the various hardware components, is crucial to obtaining the functionality you want.
You can solve this problem by assigning it to your integrator. If you do it yourself, you will probably want to sort out the machines by type (and components) so as to develop install tricks and shortcuts. One useful snooper is Knoppix, which comes loaded with drivers and is often successful on an automated install. Once it is in place, you can look at the system to see what components it found and which drivers it used to reach them. And if you want to follow through with Knoppix you'll be a Debian user.
A site like Linux on Laptops may also offer some help.
This was first published in January 2007