interesting question. Here is my 2cents, but by no mean the full answer
If the modules to load are known then they are in /etc/modprobe.something
If they are unknown, in mandriva there is a hardrake step
that looks for new hardware, and then look for ahdoc module I suppose.
The key about what you ask is the hardware detection step
AFAIK the kernel has a list of ID coupled to "real name" for hardware built-in.
IN mandriva lspcidrake -v list the pci device and the modules it will/would use