Would it be fair to say, though, that BSD would give me better performance either console or X than Debian?
Although this is a fair question, the problem is that the word "performance" is nebulous. Debate can also quickly decay into a Linux versus *BSD fight which is counterproductive. Intuition tells me that you will not see a significant difference between either, but maybe the *BSD's will be somewhat better. Ultimately, performance is dependent upon usage, & the definitive test is simply to install both & test for yourself.
Something I don't recall being mentioned in any of your previous posts is what processor is in this laptop. This may be an issue given that the hardware described sounds like it is ~ten years old, & Debian has dropped support for any processor less than a Pentium:
http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i … #id2530465
FreeBSD requires x486 or better:
http://www.freebsd.org/doc/en_US.ISO885 … dware.html
OpenBSD claims that a plain 80386 is problematic:
NetBSD claims that it works on 80836 & up:
If the base requirements are drastically different, then would not also be performance?
Potentially, but again it also depends upon usage.
So i suppose it's either FreeBSD or NetBSD, since I don't know of any others that would suit the system... would there be a reason to choose one over the other?
I don't use FreeBSD, so I can't give a definitive answer, but I suspect NetBSD would be a better choice because it has a longer history of being used in embedded systems -- as far as I know.
Whatever version I choose, would it be a good idea to read the entire manual?
It seems that NetBSD has the lowest requirements out of them all. Would it be of that great benefit to not install X?
X provides a GUI interface, so going strictly with a console interface precludes viewing PDF's & some Web surfing. Otherwise, all of the *BSD's on the Intel platform provide virtual consoles so you can log into the system multiple times & easily change between each via Ctrl-Alt-Fx. I suspect that a minimal installation of NetBSD will run acceptably on a system with only 24MB RAM where the dominant form of interfacing is through a text console. Again, the definitive test is to install & see for yourself.
Is there a list of wifi cards that work with BSD so I could determine which one to get?
Check the compatibility lists of each project. Until recently, Atheros-based cards were more likely to be supported because the parent company was open about providing documentation. Lately, this seems to have changed. Recognize that the wireless industry is very hot & volatile. Because of this, all of the Open Source Unix-like operating systems have issues to some degree with compatibility. It is simply a reality we have to live with...