From what I gather, laptops have their own parculiarities when it comes to Linux. There is are several "projects", so to speak, concerned with running Linux on laptops, the first which springs to mind is, approriately enough, Linux on Laptops
Have you checked the BIOS setting? Once, putting together my current PC, the mainboard had been used by my oldest boy earlier. I could not install any Linux, or Windows NT on it. DOS & DOS based Windows were OK. I reset the BIOS to "fail safe", then got it to detect the harddrive. After that, all flavours of LInux I tried worked (and still do) - I guess my kid tried to "optimise" some of the BIOS settings
As for reformatting the HDD, I have found sometimes using a FreeDOS boot disc, followed by simple two disc Linux distribution like BasicLinux to boot the PC with, then running cfdisk
. It's quick and dirty, but it seems to work.
I use the DOS disc first, to run fdisk /mbr
to clear the MBR.
Then I reboot with BasicLinux and run cfdisk, which is pretty much straight forward to use.