using kde4 and compiz everything improves compared to kwin desktop effects
your video card as other intel video cards can and will use more or less vram, it takes ram form system according to usage, as you say up to 64 mbs but if it doesn't need it will only use 10 or less
"wish I could tell the bios to allocate more to video memory... i rather like how pretty PCLOS can be."
ceratin bios will allow you to do this but 99% of the time intel video cards won't let you do changes, it is done automatically by video card, os and video driver
"Is there any reason I should use PCLOS 2009 vs 2007? my specs are 1.86ghz Pentium M w/ 1.25gb of ddr 333 and a 4200rpm ide drive... 2007 seems to run much faster and im not sure what "improvements" I would be missing out on."
pclinux 2009 was a updated version of pclinux 2007, both currently are unsupported because a update of some basic parts of pclinux tools and kernel will break those systems
right now 2010.12 kde4 is the base, also lxde, xfce4, e17 and gnome to mention some desktops are available with the latest versions
"Wow. What a difference. Switched to compiz-fusion setting and everything sped right up!
there is many functions you can disable and enable to improve performance and give lots of eyecandy, including emerald, be prepared to do that travel, take water and food before entering there