So I had to get new my T-61 serviced (some HD bad sectors and of greater concern, the top PCMICA button/latch broke after only 2 days so the Aironet 352 was hard to get out). The good news is it came back today and they replaced the latch with a single button that feels more durable. And of course, replaced the drive. Door to do, a week, not too bad.
Since I didn't have a time to do the Gentoo thing again and I didn't feel like manually running ntfresize so I gave the network install a try again and copied over the org.conf I had generated on Gentoo. So the deal with the Intel X3100/965 support under X7.1 is that it works with VESA even at 1440x900, just the autoconfiguration under most shipping distributions doesn't work right now. So Debian, Ubuntu whatever should work as long as you don't do the GUI installer.