Problem: There is no difference between new and old Laptops, they always need the best Drivers on Linux to operate safe.
Solution: For this you should take Sqeeze Debian Version. To get a fast Desktop on a older Laptop like a Thinkpad R50p or T30 you can use LXDE Desktop.
deb http://ftp2.de.debian.org/debian/ squeeze main non-free contrib deb-src http://ftp2.de.debian.org/debian/ squeeze main non-free contrib deb http://security.debian.org/ squeeze/updates main contrib non-free deb-src http://security.debian.org/ squeeze/updates main contrib non-free
for upgrade, or take the LXDE-Debian-testing iso of the Debian Mirrors.
To install with a Install netinst – CD do:
aptitude install xdm lxde xserver-xorg pcman leafpad gpicview evince openoffice-org gimp iceweasel icedove vlc
to explain for new Linux Users:
xdm = Login Window
lxde = Desktop Window
xserver-xorg = Desktop Base
pcmanfm = fast Filemanager with smb and sftp options
leafpad = nice Editor
gpicview = view Images
evince = view PDF Documents
openoffice = free Office
Gimp = Image Editing
iceweasel = Browser
vlc = View Videos or News online
Remark: Base Memory usage of all near 120MB Ram only !!
If you want to get a very fast Browser you can install Google Chrome