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I had to force a hardware reboot due to some CPU hungry application. It now hangs at the start-up screen right after the progress circle completes.

I have no way to see what it is doing (checking the FS or something) but when I press Ctrl+Alt+Del, a s/w reboot occurs in 5 seconds.

How can I see the regular Linux start-up log instead of the splash screen and at least understand what it is doing?

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Try hitting the ESC or Ctrl+Alt+Backspace

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In /boot/grub/grub.conf, comment out the "splashimage" line. Then, in /etc/sysconfig/init, change the BOOTUP line to say "BOOTUP=verbose". That should restore the old-style text boot messages.

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