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I am an utter Linux idiot - so I definitely need something as easy as Ubuntu. But I've also already spent a lot of time on this and I have other things I'd rather do than tinker with my OS :-) And it seems that's what I do about 1/2 the time.
Although Karmic has it's problems, Linux IS a tinkering OS. So you will have to tinker with any distro to get it to do exactly what you want. This is by design, as it allows you the most control over the OS. So if you are wanting a *nix system that has all the nifty little gui control centers and no tinkering involved, with a "windowsy" feel, you may just have to look into a MAC.
However I recommend you stick with Linux. It takes some getting used to, but you have to forget windows to appreciate it. Treat your Linux experience as though you have never used a computer. Forget windows exists with all it's "user friendly" tools and LEARN linux. Once you learn it, you can breeze right through modifications. So get you a good Linux book, get on the interweb and start learning. And always ask here for help
Using Linux is very satisfying, once you have sorted the problems, (and they can be "difficult") the sense of achievement! Using XP is like using someone else's clothing, not really yours, written by Microsoft to do what Microsoft want. And the help and backup you get with Linux - you won't get with Microsoft unless you have big pockets. Thousands of programs written by people who work for the love of it, you won't regret working with Linux.
My point is that I don't want to research distros, try them out and all that. I want to use my computer for storing and manipulating my photos, editing videos, and sometimes playing games and digging the web.
I really like a lot of karmic - but the blockers are getting to be too much.
So, if there is any easy way of downgrading to Intrepid or switching to debian or whatever - by easy I mean that I get to keep my files and installed programs - and that WILL solve my HW issues - I'd love to try.
But I need to stop spending 50% or more of my time screwing with the OS and actually get some work done. :-)
You are probably going to find that be it linux, windows, or mac, downgrading is a more traumatic experience than upgrading because it's not a given. In other words there aren't generally tools that go backwards. Maybe a little arrogance involved on the linux side, and profit motive on the other side of the fence. Saving the files is easy enough, just back them up. I can't think of any OS that would be easier to re-install programs on than Ubuntu. You might have to add some additional repositories, but after that it's just search, mark, apply with Synaptic.
Just for future reference, I've found it's good to have an NTFS partiton to save data to, be it primary or backup, if you haven't jumped into linux with both feet or really even if you go back to windows for good. Windows will need a re-install sooner or later. That way you always have your data accessible regardless of OS.
EDIT: I just saw that you started out by asking for distro advice. I personally like Ubuntu 9.04 (I think that's Jaunty) on my two non-fiddle boxes. Of course Slackware is my favorite, but that's beside the point. 9.04 is rock solid on the two machines I run it on, which are far enough apart that I could recommend it. I hear very good things about Mint, but I never tried it. As someone else mentioned Mandriva is also SUPER-easy for someone coming from windows. You might try 2009.1 I'm sure it's still available. The ONE editions of Mandriva have proprietary things in them which make them super easy to install if you have things like nvidia graphics or whatever. The only downside would be that ONE isn't available in 64 bit.
It seems to me that you have a computer which has inherent temperature deficiencies. You can't do anything about them without replacing the motherboard (which may or may not be your cup of tea). The designer of that board was, unfortunately, "pushing the marketing envelope" of published specifications, knowing that the temperature throttling software in Windows would be slowing the CPU down ... long after you'd bought the thing.
(Hey, it happens. A lot.)
So... perhaps for your distro there is a package that you can install, which will add CPU temperature monitoring and power regulation. I do not know your distor well enough to suggest what it might be, but I do suggest that you look for it.
You see, the designer of a distro realistically has no way to know whether your particular hardware needs such a "crutch," as your motherboard quite-obviously does. Therefore, the "stock" set of packages and options that's shipped with the distro might not (and quite reasonably "might not") include it. But it should be there, to be added.
Much as I like Slackware (a lot), I would not recommend it to someone who has little Linux experience and who writes "But I need to stop spending 50% or more of my time screwing with the OS and actually get some work done". One of the things I like so much about Slackware is that, once set up, it needs very little care and maintenance but setting it up does take a while and would take someone with less Linux knowledge a lot longer. While running ubuntu 8.04 for around a year, the issues list kept getting longer, stopping at ~60 items on migrating to Slackware. After running Slackware for 5+ months the equivalent issues list has 4 items.
Settings are kept in two places. System settings are in /etc , while settings for most programs you use are in files and folders that start with a . in your home folder. (In Linux, filenames that start with a . are hidden by default).
There is, however, no guarantee the programs on your new distro will read the configuration files on intrepid, due to differing versions or being configured to look in different places.
So, save all of /etc and everything starting with a . in your home folder. But don't just restore it all blindly. It's probably best to leave /etc well alone or you might break things and even make your Linux installation unbootable. And be careful restoring program settings - make sure you back up the NEW settings before you try to restore the old.
If you save your config files to a usb device or a windows partition, you may encounter ownership and permissions issues when you restore them (because the FAT and NTFS file systems used by removable drives and windows don't support Linux permissions). To get round this, make your files into a 'tarball' and save the tarball. Ubuntu Karmic should have a GUI archiving program that can do this.
Well backing up data is a good thing to do no matter what OS you use, if you are more comfortable using win-xp then use it. If you don't have the time to learn something new then don't, stick with what you know. Later at some point if you do have time to spend then come back and give linux another try.