"they had no drivers for my Nvidia 970 leaving me with software rendering "
Sorry don't have too much time to go into this at the moment this but there are Linux Nvidia drivers available for the 970 - http://www.nvidia.com/download/driverResults.aspx/77844/en-us
What is likely to be the problem is that (I'm not a Mint user) the driver needs to be added after install via probably an additional repository ( certainly that's what I've done with OpenSUSE but I've not needed to install on a system with a Nvidia card for quite a time). I note you've also had problems with NVidia on W10
In general, I'd also suggest trying a few live-CDs just to see which you prefer.