I finally managed to free up an old system at work and put it in the lab so that others on my team can start getting comfortable using a Linux desktop.
I installed 8.04 since I am still a little wary of 8.10.
A very simple install with just a single root partition and a swap partition. Things seemed fine, for a few days after which the system just locked up. After forcing a power cycle, grub complained saying "Error 17".
A quick google search will tell you that this has something to do with the hard-disk. Probably a failed disk or at the very least some errors.
Fortunately it was just the case of errors on the disk which I was able to fix by booting the live-cd and doing the following:
fdisk -l # to figure out the root partition.
ext3fsck -y /dev/sda2 # to find and fix disk errors
fsck found and fixed a few errors. The subsequent reboot was fine.
Searching for the error on google, showed a good discussion on the Ubuntu forums about another case when you might run into this error after a fresh install. Probably the case if you have multiple disks and/or more partitions. Check it out: