It just occured to me that the best way I've found to tune X with a laptop is any distro with XF86Setup installed, a sort of GUI that probes your hardware and starts X with minimal settings. Then you tweak up from there. Debian comes to mind as one with it on there as default.
Then you can just keep a stack of 3.5s lying around with the file /etc/X11/XF86Config on them. As long as the monitor, video chipset, and version of XFree86 match, you can swap in the config file and won't have to repeat configuration every time. This worked out really well with 4 pos old LapNotes (what a brand name!) with both 3.x and 4.x XFree.