Well, after my earlier experiments with CrunchBang linux I decided to install it on the $83 machine as a secondary operating system.
Installation was as smooth and as straightforwards as it was on a VirtualBox VM earlier this week with the machine coping correctly with the Australian locale and the fact that for reasons lost in the mists of history the $83 machine has an old UK format Digital Equipment Corporation keyboard.
The system disk was repartioned sensibly and the installer claimed to import and pick up my various application settings. What it failed to do was to recognise that my home directory was installed on a physically separate volume, ie a second hard disk in the machine - something I'd done originally to allow multiple operating system installs.
The other oddity was that it when updating its libraries from the Ubuntu repositories it seemed to have the gb locale hardcoded rather that the more sensible au locale. (Given I'm in Australia)
Other than that the install seems reasonably fast and responsive, and would seem a reasonable choice for an older laptop, assuming that wireless support works well.