I already have a Sony PCG-Z505HS laptop running debian linux, as well as my office computer (an IBM NetVista A40) and two homemade machines at home (a Pentium 90 with 192MB RAM and an AMD Athlon XP 2200+ with 1.5GB RAM), all of which run debian. I've installed it probably 20 times before on various machines, including IBM, HP, Compaq, and homebrew desktops and Sony, IBM, Toshiba, and Zenith notebooks. I was ready! I asked my friendly local Linux Users Group, TriLUG, for advice on small and light notebook computers that would comfortably run linux. My original query is here, and the first response recommended the Thinkpad 240. I bought one on ebay for under $300 and was off and running.
I should pause and say that I run debian exclusively, so didn't pay attention to any other distributions.
I threw in an old network card (an IBM EtherJet that's supposed to take the tulip driver) and booted to the experimental new debian-installer boot floppy. Unfortunately: no luck. Same with a Dell-rebranded 3Com PCMCIA card, and with a card I went and bought, an SMC CardBus 10/100 adapter. Ugh. Finally, I borrowed a 3Com 3c589 from a fellow TriLUGger and plugged it in, and was able to proceed with the network install.
My install went basically fine from there, although I had to install a home-compiled kernel in order to make dhcp work. The "gotcha" is this:
The CardBus hardware in the ThinkPad 240 is screwy.. The upshot is that the kernel needs a boot parameter, "pci=assign-busses", to enable CardBus cards. Furthermore, when it's booted that way it disables regular PCMCIA cards. So you have to choose on bootup which kind of card you'll want to plug in. Very irritating indeed!
Just for the record (and the search engines) the error I got when inserting the CardBus card without the kernel boot parameter is:
"PCI: Failed to allocate resource 0(14000000-10bfffff) for 00:00.0".