My needs for personal travel laptop have not really changed, at home I'll continue doing majority of heavy lifting with iMac that is starting to be old, but still feels quite snappy (16GB of RAM helps). Mainly for fun and curiosity I decided to see how much better the laptop would feel with SSD. I bought 240GB SSD for it. Installing it was easy. I just opened bunch of screws from bottom, pulled the old drive out and replaced it with new one.
I decided to start from scratch and install fresh OS to the upgraded laptop. Starting from scratch was a good opportunity to try out couple of different linux distros to see if any of them would work better for me than kubuntu has.
At first I installed Ubuntu Mate. Install was trivial, this seems true for all Ubuntu variants I've tried so far. The desktop resembles traditional Gnome desktop. Bootup was fast. Menus and app launches seemed quite snappy. The desktop wastes a bit space as there is toolbars both on top and bottom, but otherwise UI seemed ok. Trackpad settings UI was minimal. It allowed me to enable two finger scrolling, but did not allow inversing directions, which is a must have for me. The sensitivity and sensitivity could also use some adjusting. For desktop use with mouse the distro could be good, but these few issues were enough for me to move to next candidate.
Xubuntu was my next candidate. I've used xubuntu earlier in my work laptop for a while. I liked it, but ditched it when I realized that its multidisplay support was not good enough for my use. I often used different monitor setups and needed to quickly setup the laptop with new display when holding a presentantion. For personal use that is not an issue. Xubuntu feels quite fast in basic use, but the graphics are not entirely smooth. There is some tearing in cases like watching fullscreen video on youtube or scrolling graphics intensive website in Firefox. I got the touchpad set the way I like it, and I like the minimal desktop that xfce provides. I definitely prefer xfce desktop over Mate. The look is nicer and with one toolbar the screen usage is also more efficient.
SSD doesn't make the laptop amazingly fast, but a lot of basic tasks like bootup, start of apps, and install of packages got a lot more pleasent. I've seen a lot less lag due to swapping so far. Xubuntu seems good enough for me. I think I'm going to keep using it in this laptop.