I'm curious what type of 'nothing but trouble' you experienced with smxi, and in what areas.
Judging from your post it looks like you've had a lot of trouble in general, but I'm wondering what specifics you had with smxi.
Over about 5, 6 years, I've found the most rock solid stable way to run nvidia is via sgfxi/smxi, which simply means using the direct downloaded current real nvidia drivers from nvidia themselves.
All other methods tend to fail at some point.
Note a few things that I've seen mint users really get confused by: first of all, it's not necessary to upgrade constantly, so keep that in mind.
Things that cause you to need to reinstall or rebuild nvidia module is new kernel or new xorg. So smxi of course tracks if you got a new kernel or new xorg during the upgrade and lets you know that you'll need to reinstall your nvidia driver.
The dkms method is not a good method for rolling release, precisely because it fails on xorg updates, and also fails in other circumstances. It is a good method for stable pool distros, which will only see security fix kernel/xorg updates, which the existing packaged nvidia drivers can always support.
sgfxi of course supports all methods, including the nvidia deb installer (sgfxi -d), but I dont' test that method much because it's not nearly as reliable and stable and consistent as using the direct install method (sgfxi, or via smxi), which basically always works, unless you have a bug in your hardware triggered by nvidia driver, which is unrelated to methods used to install the driver.
But I am curious re the alleged smxi 'problems', I believe there may be an education problem with Mint users, who do not grasp quite the concept of rolling release, yet enthusiastically adopt it in LMDE anyway, then so of course encounter a variety of problems where really there is just a fairly normal flow of how this stuff works in real life. But since I get essentially zero feedback in any meaningful way from Mint users, I can't worry too much about it. All issues reported and followed through on my forums WILL BE SOLVED. If you fail to report an issue, then I'm not psychic, sad to say, but my first guess is its error in understanding more than anything else, or incomplete upgrades, or using kernel metapackages instead of more stable methods, like installing only kernels you need. I for example, only rarely update my kernels, and if there are bugs in a series, I just skip it until it works. This box, for example, exposes some serious nfs failures in 2.6.38 and 39, so I am using 2.6.37 until those get resolved upstream in kernel land. That's something I've done many times, and it's why I NEVER use kernel metapackages, ie, the ones that pull in new kernels with every upgrade.
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System: Host yawn Kernel 2.6.37-2.dmz.1-liquorix-686 i686 (32 bit) Desktop KDE 3.5.10 Distro sidux-20070102-d:1
Machine: Mobo ASRock model A770DE+ Bios American Megatrends version P1.70 date 09/07/2010
CPU: Dual core AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ (-MCP-) clocked at 1000.00 MHz
Graphics: Card: nVidia G86 [GeForce 8400 GS] X.Org 1.10.2 driver nvidia Resolution firstname.lastname@example.org
GLX Renderer GeForce 8400 GS/PCI/SSE2/3DNOW! GLX Version 3.3.0 NVIDIA 280.04
Network: Card Realtek RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller driver r8169
Drives: HDD Total Size: 810.2GB (71.0% used)
Info: Processes 206 Uptime 5:09 Memory 1280.0/3166.7MB Client Shell inxi 1.7.13