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Many kernel features are related to laptops. For instance APM, IrDA®, PCMCIA and some options for certain laptops, e.g. IBM™ ThinkPads. In some distributions they are not included by default. And the kernel is usually bigger than necessary. So it's seems a good idea to customize the kernel. Though this task might seem difficult for the beginner it is highly recommended. Since this involves dangerous operations you need to be careful. But, if you can install a better kernel successfully, you've earned your intermediate Linux sysadmin merit badge. - I will not handle this here, because this topic is already covered in other documents.
Compile a modular kernel with modules for CDROM, floppy, pcmcia, sound and any other peripherals. It will allow to delay loading of these modules until these devices are actually used, and it may help recover the system after a hardware failure, e.g. a bad CDROM, because a module can be removed and re-inserted without restarting the system.