I would think that the real issue is not "which distro play nice with xxxxx chipset" . . . but which Linux Kernel does it have?
The newer kernels have better support for newer hardware (ie: chipsets and USB Modems) where the older kernels do not.
The default kernel in Debian Lenny 2.6.29 does not support USB Modems where the Defualt kernel in Debian Squeeze 2.6.32 does.
And this only improves as the new kernels are released.
The old 'stable' kernel 2.6.35 (Ubuntu 10.10) has very good support for Modems and Chipsets.
The current 'stable' kernel is at version 2.6.37 and it has very good newer hardware support.
You can go to a Linux Kernel site and check for 'support issues' of a particular kernel release.http://kernel.org
Perhaps, installing a good OS and then upgrading the kernel to one that supports whichever chipset/hardware you need, would be the answer?