I've been wanting to play with the Gnome 3.2 desktop, and one of the best versions around is probably Mint. I had already downloaded Mint 12 as an ISO (for burning to DVD) but instead of doing that I also installed an application called unetbootin which let me create a bootable memory stick from the ISO file. The advantage of this is that it provides a much faster load time and better responsiveness when in use - it's not obviously much slower than a HDD install - however the trade off is lack of data persistence (some versions can also be set up to work like to true install).
It seemed to recognise my (nearly 5 year old) hardware OK. Everything seems to work including the onboard network connection. I've not tried a wireless dongle, but it's likely all the common chipsets are catered for, and there's a utility for handling windows wireless drivers.
Gnome 3 actually seems pretty good in this version: basic operation has been sorted now, and switching between the main window and application launch window makes much more sense (probably thanks to the Mint team tweaking and adjusting). It's also striking how much Windows 8 beta was like this, but with winpho style graphics and a bias toward the 'metro' interface instead of desktop. It did seem very clunky and unintuitive by comparison.
What about usability? I dug around a little and adjusted the aliasing of the screen fonts, resulting in a huge improvement over the standard mess that characterises Ubuntu/gnome distributions. Not KDE-sharp but no worse than a Macbook. Overall it's quite nice to use, though I still prefer Pear linux (also gnome-3 based) overall for the apps that are available and general appearance. If I were obliged to move distros then I'd certainly consider this one.
So if you're interested in another distro, this is worth checking out.