Not too sure why a lot of people see it as a pain? It's only really a replacement for the original control applet and later versions appear fine to me. As long as you have the latest version of Microsoft's .NET framework and install the CCC correctly, there should not be any problems. As to slowing down your PC, I'm not too sure how that could be? The CCC doesn't run all the time, only when you request it.
If you just use the driver you may not be able to ensure a refresh rate of 85MHz (the best all round configuration for the majority of users to reduce flicker and thus eye strain); without the CC it could only be the basic 60MHz on a CRT.
Once you have installed and configured the Catalyst Centre it should only be available from the Taskbar icon.
By the way, I'm assuming you are using the latest driver (6.6) with the latest version of the Catalyst Centre?
It's worth reading up the excellent TweakGuide to graphics cards and drivers installation at:
The version that I had on one desktop and one laptop (both cards dating from last autumn) would run at startup unless told otherwise by removing it from msconfig and disabling another part of it from services.msc.
Wouldn't know about any refresh rate issue, Stuartli. I got shot of my CRTs a long time ago. They give me eyestrain, no matter how they're configured.
I too find the ccc a bit of a pain. I now use Omega versions of the drivers. He tends to be i version behind, but they are tweaked (probably no more than I could do myself, if I had the patience and time) and do perform well