Well, I got the machine. Made the Win7 restore DVDs (2 DVDs? Why?) and installed PCLOS 2011.9 from LiveCD, resizing Win7 OS partition to fairly small, then let LiveCD install have it's way with it. Seems to have worked fine (though I did have to fool around with the video settings because of the 1366x768 screen). Just turned it on and let Win7 run chkdsk, then booted into Linux.
Hopefuly, that ought to be enough insurance(?). I assume I'd have to undo it all if I need warranty service. And then redo it when I get the thing back. (I'm pretty good at fixing desktop hardware, but much less so with laptops.)
Now the fun part: installing packages and trying to duplicate my preferred settings, esp. for Firefox. Last time I switched machines, I used the MyLiveCD method(?), but had to futz around with it because I already had too much stuff on my filesystem. What I'd like to do now is "clone" my usual user (which I haven't yet set up on the laptop, just a "guest" account) to preserve the settings. Would also be nice to be able to keep it in sync. I probably won't be installing all the packages I have on the desktop, but will probably install a few that I don't. Where they coincide, I'd prefer to keep them as similar as possible.
Thanks for all the help.