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ATI works fine enough as long as you use the proprietary driver. Running anything from the X1000 series with the open-source driver is a lot less fun, though. I got so fed up with it that I ended up buying an nvidia card instead.
Anyway, this trick should work: if you find yourself in front of a terminal (black screen with a prompt), enter "root" for user and your root password. Then type:
cp xorg.conf xorg.conf.bak
This should open xorg.conf in the vi editor, which is a real pain in the *** to use if you have never done so before... Just scroll down (use the arrows on your keyboard) until you come across the "Driver" section and replace the driver value (probably "ati") with "vesa". In vi, you have to press i before you can start typing and you have to type ESC to get back to read-only mode.
When you are done - make sure you press ESC first - type :wq and Enter.
and see whether things work better.
You'd better install the proprietary driver as soon as possible. Vesa works but that's about it.
By the way, one possible reason that it worked with Knoppix is that Knoppix may already have the radeonhd driver (the new open source driver for ATI x1000 cards) while most distros haven't. And don't worry if you can't find the xorgconf, xcfg etc. commands - most distros have abandoned them.
Look, pal. It's actually real easy. First you run lspci -v to see what you have there. If this does not help read documentation what came with your card, or open up your box and look at that GPU. Then you search Google and you'll find plenty of information like this. At this point you say Ahaa! And install ATI driver. Clear as mud, isn't it?
Of course, people are different. If you do not like Ahaa! variant you can always resort to different hardware or different OS or ... it's up to you.