I find that if you don't have fully modern hardware, it's better to go with something like gentoo or slackware or the like. I think the ubuntu folks have "modern desktop machine" as their baseline, so they work pretty well if you've got a PC that's less than 5 years old, but get creaky otherwise.
I wind up repurposing old hardware as unix/linux boxes fairly often. Generally, I reach for gentoo; it takes a little more fiddling to set up, but it works pretty well even on older hardware. Assuming you don't try to install KDE or GNOME, of course... :)