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I have a 3 year old Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with an Nvidia video controller and a high end Intel processor so it is still a competitive model. I have tried CentOS, Ubuntu, and OpenSuse over the years to find a distribution that worked well on this hardware. It has been a challenge with all of them but Suse has worked the best.
The biggest problems occur in ACPI power management features such as sleep and hibernate. I have worked out how to make it work by using the proprietary Nvidia drivers and avoiding Nouveau completely.
I wrote a small article that I posted on the Novell Cool Solutions site regarding my steps for fixing sleep and hibernate on my computer. Here is a link to that article --> http://www.novell.com/communities/node/9085/fix-sleep-and-hibernate-thinkpad-t61p-nvidia-fx570-video-card
The Nouveau driver is simply not ready for common use on laptops. They don't support 3D and Compiz which I like to use.
The Gnome desktop is still my favorite simply for the reason that it isn't as glitzy as KDE.