I definately have to agree with jalrnc; Gentoo is the way to go.
Installation may feel a little daunting at first, but it's really not bad at all. If you're comfortable with the basic mechanics of linux, you'll probably be fine with the quick reference guide
Being your first install, however, it's probably best to read the installation instructions
as well. (For someone completely new to Gentoo, understanding the differences of the three stages may not be quite apparent.
 How could I forget two of the most compelling reasons for Gentoo (for me)?
1. Portage. App installation with portage is very easy -- and unlike rpm's, you'll not worry a tiny little bit about dependencies (for the most part). (The downside -- to some -- is the build time for larger packages; KDE comes to mind... hint, install the kde-base if you need basic KDE compliance then install the rest of the KDE packages overnight)
2. Speed. Since Gentoo (through portage) allows you to build your system from scratch -- and build it to fit your specific system -- you'll get a Linux install that actually is made for your hardware. Beautiful.[/edit]
So, yes... Gentoo all the way Irish Rebel. Go forth and amaze yerself.