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X failure, not chipset; what is it?

Howdy.  I'm seriusly confused by a problem that is showing up with my
Debian-distributed X server under Linux 1.3.  I've been using various
1.3.x kernels, four different video cards and chipsets, and two
motherboards; still I can't make it work (yet).

When X starts (using either startx or xdm), it produces a black
screen; no matter how long I wait, nothing happens.  When I hit
Alt-Ctrl-F1, *then* the X server puts up the initial gray background
and mouse cursor.  (And I can tell it's actually waiting until then to
draw the screen, not just delaying showing it to me, because my ISA
video card is so slow I can watch it draw the pixels down the screen.)

Then the screen goes blank again.  I can wait forever and nothing
happens.  But when I hit Alt-F2/Alt-F1 over and over, the screen
finally wakes up and shows me tty1/tty2; and at the same time, the X
server fails.  (The S3 server exits; the ET4000 server hangs.)

Given the effects of the console-switching keys, I speculate that the
X server might be waiting to get control of the screen; and when it
*does* get control, it doesn't know it, so it does nothing; then when
I switch _away_ from the server the first time, it wakes up and starts
drawing.  How could this happen?  How could the kernel and the X
server be miscommunicating so badly?

If any of you has a clue or a hint or even words of encouragement,
please E-Mail me and/or the list.  Let me know if I'm alone...  please...
Chip Salzenberg     a.k.a.      <chip@atlantic.net>
      "Men of lofty genius are most active
       when they are doing the least work."
                          -- Leonardo da Vinci

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