Having used mandrake for the better part of 3 years, I think it IS a good distro. And yes, the longer you use it, the more obvious the short comings.
If you just want a windows replacement, then it's brilliant. If you really are keen to "learn linux", then you may consider looking elsewhere.
It was my habit, to only buy genuine "boxed set" disc's (power pack dvd usually), because I felt that the distro was good enough to "put my hand in my pocket". My greatest annoyance was that I could never make it "upgrade" in it's entirety.
Whenever a new version was released, I'd wait until the disc(s) were available and the do a "wholesale re-install", of the new version.
Sure, the updating (as opposed to upgrading) worked a treat, and I always kept it up to par, but the only way to upgrade was usually to change the update/upgrade sources in URPMI so that it reflected "cooker" (that's what they used to call the "testing" sources which is now the "community" edition).
the differences are often stuff like kernel versions, which seem only to be released as an update if there is a security type issue/exploit identified. Big things like newer versions of KDE etc etc where changed with the upgrades, unless you wanted to learn how to do that separately.
Oh, and for info, my first mandrake was 8.2, the last before I moved to gentoo was 10.1CE, and my move away, was because I was unhappy with the 6 month upgrade cycle, which I understand is due to change soon so that it becomes an annual thing (with an year based nomenclature).