For many years I've heard about the wonders of the different Buntu distros.
However it is until now that I decided to try it. What I did is download the regular Ubuntu 12.04 distro and installed it on a partition alongside my current OS (Windows 8).
Headaches until dawn. It just runs incredibly slow. Sometimes it will run OK, but then I want to launch a menu or app and it just freezes and hangs there for MINUTES. I tried changing the kernel's swappiness, and I logged using Classic Gnome (with no extras). Nothing. Compared to Windows 8 (which works seamlessly in my Netbook, but it's Windows and I hate Microsofts restrictive environment) this thing is crawling if anything.

My specs are:
-Acer Aspire One Netbook
-Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processor
-Intel Chipset graphics card
-I gave the Linux Partition System 30GB dedicated HDD space

Now I Know that often great stuff like this takes some time and work to get it just right, so that is why I don't want to quit just yet. But I am clueless, that's why I started this thread.
My best guess right now is that I should try a different distro of Buntu (or generally of linux) but I just don't know which is the right for me and my limited Specs.

What I'm looking for:
-An OS that is highly customizable
-An OS that can match Windows 8 in speed and performance on my netbook (I don't really care about boot times, just general performance/smoothness)
-Something that looks good (as in graphics) and not like if it was brought from the 90's

I REALLY appreciate your guidance.