I think I might be able to give you a hand on some of this. I’ve used Linux for a quite a while now, and my small site has a lot to do with it.
I’ve used Ubuntu, Gentoo and Fedora for long periods of time. Ubuntu is a great distro to learn on, as (once it’s installed) it’s easy to use and doesn’t need much manual config at all. Gentoo is the exact opposite. All text install, and can be confusing (but documentation is great). Almost everything is done manually, so if you want things to “just work” I’d stay away for now. Fedora is like Ubuntu, but different. It does a lot of things for you, but also has some manual parts. It’s a good combination of both. And, since it’s made by the guys with Red Hat, it’s got tons of packages in the repos.
I’ve tried Mandriva, Knoppix and Arch as well, and none of the struck me as much as Ubuntu, Gentoo and Fedora. My vote would be Ubuntu or Fedora, and if you could be a little clearer with what happens with Ubuntu, I might be able to help with that too. But otherwise, download a Fedora Live Spin and you’ll probably be set.
(If this is ok with mods or admins…) Here’s a link to my site, and a helpful guide I’m writing on various distros. I’m getting done, but there’s more to come.
Also, you might consider Debian. It’s what Ubuntu is based off.
Edit: Also, Fedora 7 is what I’m running right now. It is pretty great. And, I think it has Blender in the repos ;). And, if linking to my site isn’t allowed, I’m really sorry :(. I’m not trying to plug it, I joined for help with Blender and this looked like a topic I could help in :D. I’ve been trying to learn Blender since I first started Ubuntu a little over 2 years ago, and I’m finally trying to actually make good stuff.