Ok, after the holidays and playing with things (4 distros... whew!) I am coming back to revisit this thread.
I played with ubuntu (cluster-f*** of massive proportions), Debian (video issue still), SuSE and Fedora.
Canonical has REALLY screwed the pooch with this latest release. Between the techincal vomit that is called 'unity', the new and discredited apt-get utility and the fact that I cant change my terminal shell, I finally said pluck it and will be scrubbing the distro from the HDD, NEVER to touch ubuntu again (I was able to disable the unity desktop, but the overall performance was worse than my old 32-bit Intel Pentium).
I worked with Fedora, but I HATED that plasma display mulch. Yes, I was able to remove it and work with a basic display environment, but remants of the blech that is plasma remained. The other thing about fedora (which has been an ongoing issue for some time now) has been the ongoing issues with yum updates/downloads. For whatever reason, it has been an issue and has more often than not failed. But that was not the reason I gave up on fedora.
I will be retrying SuSE again and see if that improves from a performance perspective. I will also dive back into the debian distro and see if I can ferret out the video errors. Slackware and/or OpenBSD may be options as well (any one have experience with either of those two?).
Before you lob rockets against my skred, I am a somewhat technical guy. I KNOW what linux/unix can do. I prefer command-line over a GUI (although I understand that a GUI is a requirement for a number of apps these days). I AM NOT one who is impressed by 'fancy-shmancy' colors and gee-whiz bang effects (yes, I turn animations OFF). I am not fan of glossy finishes or whistles and bells. To me, that is trying to hide something from the end user.
I liken the new ubuntu vomit interface as Mac OS-X/Winblows-7 wannabe. If I WANTED a Mac/Windows interface, I would have bought one of those products. I buy/use linux becuase I know it works!
Ok, my flame retardant suit is on now.