I'm a bit confused about your problem, but I do get that a stand-alone linux system won't work on your hardware, right?
Since you're on windows, VMware is a nice option that is free (as long as you use VMware server or VMware Player). I prefer VMware server since it lets you run the OS as a service and has a bunch of tools to help create/modify the guest system.
Also, you won't need to bother about the NIC not being compatible because VMware will create virtual NICs that bridge with your physical one. As long as the physical NIC works in your host OS (yours is windows), then the internet should work in your virtual machines.
As far as distro's for it, I've recently had trouble getting ubuntu to 'completely' install in VMware server (can't get vmware tools or open vm tools to install). I do know for a fact that openSUSE 11.0 will install open vm tools for you and fedora 9 will work with open vm tools if you manually install it.