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To make the Ubuntu faster? Add more RAM to the machine, or upgrade the CPU to a faster/better one. Upgrading the video card may help too, but I would do the first two things first.
How to make your existing machine faster, without buying new hardware? Don't use Ubuntu - use a lighter-weight distro, maybe Xubuntu for example, though there are lots of other lighter distros that would perform a lot better on that machine.
Vector Linux, Slackware and Dream Linux would be much faster on the machine.
You can also remove unnecessary services through 'boot-up manager'
restrict applications that start-up automatically on start up
Install XFCE and the LXDE desktop and use one of those instead of Gnome or KDE
Besides whats already been said (remove unused services, autostart-apps and consider using a distro which comes that way out of box) try this:
applications->metacity->general and activate "reduced resources"
2) consider using a different window-manager instead of metacity (say icewm or openbox) for your gnome
3) use light gtk2-engines, for example the gtk2-engines-xfce are quite light
4)remove the background image
I use xfce on PC's with similar specs and it works good. Enlightenment is ok too. All window-managers are ok.
As far i can see the main problem are all the services.