Linux freezes on Sony Vaio VGN-N385N laptop

Q I have a Sony Vaio VGN-N385N laptop and can run any KDE distro up to 3.5.8 or any Gnome distro with no problems at all. The problem is that any KDE 3.5.9/4.03 or any new Gnome distro just won't run. I install them on my hard drive with no problems but the minute they start the boot process they freeze. The Grub message comes up and counts down, it goes into the page with the distro's graphics and the coloured bar flashing horizontally across the screen - and then nothing! This happens with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mandriva spring and now Foresight. Is there something different with the bootloader that I need to change?

A This is failing far too early in the boot process for KDE or Gnome to be involved. Similarly, the bootloader is not a factor: once it has passed control to the kernel, which happens before the boot splash screen comes up, it takes no further part in the proceedings. I suspect that your problem is caused by a later version of some hardware-related system software, either the kernel or something like HAL or udev, not getting on with your hardware. However, this is only a suspicion, and you need to find out what is breaking during boot.

The pretty splash screens that most distros use do a good job of hiding all the scary text output from a standard boot process, but that text almost certainly shows the source of your problem. Some distros have some sort of 'safe mode' boot option that disables the splash screen, while others allow you to remove the splash screen during boot with a keypress, usually Esc or F2. If you can do this, you can usually see the point of failure, which often means you are 90% of the way towards fixing it. If there is no option to disable the splash screen, you can do it from the Grub menu. Press E (for edit) while the default menu option is highlighted, move the highlight over the line beginning with 'kernel' and press E again. The kernel line contains a number of options; the only ones you need to touch relate to the splash screen. For example, on Ubuntu it looks like this:

kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.22-14-generic
root=UUID=xxxx ro quiet splash

Remove the quiet and splash options, press Enter to stop editing and then press B to boot with the changed options. Some distros also have a separate quiet option on separate line. You can disable this by highlighting it and pressing D. You should now see a lot of text flash past, most of which is unimportant. What matters is the last few lines before things stop. Search Google for the last error message to find a solution, or post to the LXF forums at www.linuxformat.com/forums/. Before you do that, there are a couple of boot options worth trying, as they solve more hardware-related boot problems that all the others put together. After removing quiet and splash from the kernel line, add noapic acpi=off. Note the different spelling. Despite the similarity, these are two very different options. If you can boot with these, try with each one individually. When you find the best set of options, you can edit the menu file at /boot/grub/menu.lst to make the change permanent (you will need to be root to do this).

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