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If you just want to try it out, the knoppix live CD gives you the option of running beryl. It has a lot of impressive features, some of which might actually be useful .
As MS3FGX suggests it is not so easy to install. You will probably need to edit configuration files by hand. If you get it wrong the GUI may fail to start and you would have to fix things from a console login.
ATI devices are notoriously finicky as well. The official drivers leave a lot to be desired, and 3D acceleration just isn't up to par with the open source drivers.
If the drivers are finicky (I don't mean to be mean/rude), but why don't you tell us just how do we get about to upgrading them. For example I am using fedora, can I perhaps use yum? I too am using an ati card for the HP notebook model Compaq nx6125
There is an interesting thread on the Mepis site linked above about various video cards in the context of beryl.
I have been running beryl for a couple of days with Intel integrated graphics, which cannot handle some of beryl's more exotic special effects. Otherwise the performance seems OK. I'm sure an ATI with the X.org driver would be more than adequate for this.