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Are you sure it has frozen and not just applying the updates? Sometimes it can appear to have stopped when in fact one of the larger packages is currently being installed. Especially when fonts are being updated or a newer kernel is being added.
It definitely has something to do with your video card.You said yourself that it's an old PC.But maybe installing newest driver for your video card could solve some problems.I guess that there is "Device Manager" and something like "Hardware Drivers" somewhere in the menus which you can use to see some details about your hardware and install drivers.Look for hwinfo and lshw packages with Synaptic or try in the terminal:
About updates,in Linux world things are changing really fast,so it's not a surprise that you've seen so many updates available considering that Ubuntu 8.10 was released on October 30,2008.
You can see what's Compiz about here and what's Emerald here.
I suggest that you visit Ubuntugeek.It has a lot of tutorials about Ubuntu.Also,you could read this.
There are few links in my signature,I recommend that you check them out.