The different community editions make a big difference as well. Linux Mint 9 Xfce, for example, does not ship with that dumb buggy PulseAudio like the main (Gnome) edition does.
It also appears that the Intel issue has been 99% solved in the new kernel, and that's as easy as
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
I've tried all the 'Buntus (X/K/L/ubuntu as well as the standard Gnome) and the differences are much more than just the desktop environments. Xubuntu, in particular, seems to be more "apart" from its siblings, developed by a different team on a minimal Ubuntu base. It's "separate" enough for Canonical not to offer Xubuntu CDs in its ShipIt service (but Ubuntu and Kubuntu are available from ShipIt). The Xubuntu folks had to make their own separate arrangements with a whole 'nother vendor.
Mint 9 Xfce is built on Xubuntu 10.04 (LTS), but they dumped the abominable PulseAudio and made a few other very cool improvements as well. It's kinda like "Gnome Lite," actually, but Xfce is full-featured and intuitive. You might try Xubuntu or Mint 9 Xfce edition. They really are quite different from their "big brothers."