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I you type Ctrl-Alt-F1 and are able to log in, the system isn't hung. The GUI may not be responsive due to a process being hung though. If that is the case, there are ways to find out what the process is and stop it.
The acid-test I use is to press caps lock/num lock and see if the LED indicator toggles on/off. If not, I find the system is usually totally stuck - or at least in a state where I can't do very much good without cycling the power.
There is a special key combo which will reboot your system if the kernel is getting keyboard events, and is sometimes useful if you can't easily get to a power switch:
Hold down alt and sysrq (print screen), then, While holding them type REISUB. On the 'B' key the system should reboot. It's not a pretty way to do it though, and I don't know if there is really any advantage over cycling th power. Still, it's kinda fun.