My first impression was, "WTF?! Why would anyone want to do that?" Keep in mind that not only am I typing this on a Chromebook, I basically live on this thing. For what I use it for, it works well. With a web based IDE and an SSH client, you can accomplish almost anything. Entertainment is not a pleasant situation but that's what we have gaming PCs for, right?
ChromeOS does actually have some nice features. It's nice to have updates that only take fifteen seconds, including a full reboot. The battery life is great, and it's really cool to be able to sit down at a brand-new Chromebook, type your google username and password in, and have all of your bookmarks, apps, and files available within 30 seconds. The thing is, I really don't think you're going to be able to get those same features with any other combination of hardware and software. As you point out, the boot speeds are likely not going to be any faster, and I would be surprised to learn that the non-Google versions of ChromeOS had the same, ah, vendor lock-in.
I'm very ambivalent about ChromeOS. It looks nice, it's very secure, it has a number of good features, and I feel like it is particularly good for schools. I've been able to make my Chromebook do what I want, and having a pair of them was really great for wandering around Central America for a year or so doing freelance web development. They're cheap enough to be more-or-less disposable. On the other hand, it's very much not a replacement for a real operating system. The good thing is that it sounds like the OP doesn't need a real operating system. The bad thing is that he probably isn't going to get what he likes about ChromeOS out of this either, no matter what he does. A stripped-down distro is probably the better option.
As an aside, I also share your sentiments with regards to the swapping issue. I've had a bunch of netbooks in addition to this Chromebook, and I've had real Linux running on this machine via both crouton and a direct install. With ChromeOS, I can only have 30-40 tabs open before it starts killing tabs to free up memory, and fewer than that if the pages are resource-heavy like gmail, disqus threads, or videos. In my experience ChromeOS has far more memory issues than other distos on the same or worse hardware. However, I will say that ChromeOS's failure mode of killing pages early and often works very well to prevent the machine from ever becoming unresponsive due to memory/swap issues. It's kinda hard to pick between those two problems, to be honest.