Short version: BSOD on Windows last night, cannot boot to Win or a live Linux CD, moving HD to another comp won't boot.
Update: Had a little success attaching hd to other comps via USB (or plugging it in after booting), but not much.
Final Answer:Ultimately, when Dell replaced the motherboard I was able to boot in and save my data, but still had to send the comp in for major repairs (replacing at least fan/heat sink/ram and possibly hd)
Full story: Last night I left my computer running unattended for a bit (ripping a DVD). When I returned, I saw a BSOD and attempted to reboot. Since then, it always locks up on the Dell Logo loading screen (bar goes about 3/4 of the way). I can't access setup/boot options/etc. I tried booting with a Live CD (Linux Mint, I believe), but that also failed.
Talked to Dell, they had me remove the battery and boot with just the AC power--same issue, no beeping or anything. They're final diagnosis was motherboard issues, so they're replacing that. That sucks and is inconvenient, but then I hit another issue that makes me question that diagnosis.
If I remove the HD, I can boot to a Live CD (although it seemed slow, but that's hard for me to judge because I'd never run Mint on my laptop before, it was just the only disc I had onhand last night). Also, if I put my HD into my desktop (it's a mini-thing that uses a laptop HD normally anyways), it will not boot from the HD or from a live CD. Again, without the HD from the problem laptop, both comps will boot Live CDs without issue.
If this is a motherboard issue, why does the hd seem to cause problems in my other comp? And if it's the hd, how could I go about trying to get data off of it if using it makes me unable to boot a live CD? (It's not that my comp tries to boot the hd first, I know my BIOS is set to have CDs preempt that on the laptop, and I'm fairly certain the desktop does as well). My only other idea was an external hd-to-usb enclosure that could be connected after booting, but I'd rather not spend money on that if I don't have to, unless they comp pretty cheap.
Update: I've had a little success, but not much. Basically, I degutted an external harddrive and used that as a way to connect to my laptop drive via usb, with intermittent success (just barely enough time (not even a full 2 minutes) to grab my important files.
I dug out my old external hd (500gb Maxtor One Touch, I barely used it, but was given a 1tb drive this past Christmas) and tore it apart. After removing the drive from it, I attached my laptop's drive instead and hooked it up.
Windows XP (the only Win I had available) recognized some files on the drive, but couldn't save anything. Ubuntu didn't seem to recognize the drive at all or let me mount it. Crunchbang, on the other hand, was able to recognize my drive for two brief bursts (so far). What seems to make the computers notice the drive is plugging/unplugging the power to the now-external drive (bad idea normally, I'm pretty sure). In those few moments I had, I was able to save my most important files quickly (having pre-typed copy commands on the command line helped) but the drive blinked out again when I tried to grab my music as well.
If anyone else is having this problem, my advice is to be prepared and know exactly what files you are going for as soon as the drive is recognized. I only had seconds to nab whatever I could.
Final Answer: The issue seems to have been a combination of things. Dell's tech replaced the motherboard and eventually got the machine running, but it still has to be sent in to replace heat sink/fan/RAM and possibly the hd as well. Still not 100% sure what happened, but I was able to boot to Windows and backup my data to an external hd after the motherboard was replaced.