So long as you have a decent backup of your stuff, and you have at least a little knowledge of what hardware you have, installation of pretty much any distro should be plain sailing.
Mandrake installation (certainly 8.1, not tried 8.2 yet) is possible one of the easier...it probes and autodetects most hardware, and sets most of it up for you!
Most of the information on hardware can be found prior to installing anything by simply right-clicking on 'My Computer' and going to properties, then looking through your hardware lists, and keeping a note of it.
As far as your NIC and IP stuff, if you're running with 'automatic IP configuration' under Windows...just select DHCP when it comes to configuring network stuff. Most NICs are well supported under Linux, so you shouldn't have many problems, if any.
Good luck, and remember to come back here with any questions.