OK, I'm posting this in hopes of getting a definite answer to this problem that's effecting A LOT of users. Not only is it annoying, but the developers seem to be whitewashing the issue... I found 4 related bug reports with the same symptoms in Ubuntu's launchpad, and 2 in Debian. I didn't even check Fedora, because it's obvious it's not related to a specific distribution.
When using any memory intensive program, such as Firefox 3, VLC, gnash, etc. the operating system complete freezes. It will not respond to keyboard, mouse, or SysRq commands; the screen just shows what was on it prior to the freeze. Waiting also is fruitless, the freeze was still present after 32 hours. The crash doesn't occur when the computer is completely idle with just Gnome or KDE running. The crashes seem to happen quicker when using Firefox 3, however the issue still happens with VLC and Firefox 2, so it's not related to these programs.
I've confirmed this error is present in up-to-date installations of Fedora 9, Ubuntu Hardy Heron, Arch Linux, and Debian Lenny. Also, the same bug and behavior is present on the following computers (tested with all of the above distributions): Compaq Presario SR1303WM Desktop, Compaq 730us Laptop, and a Dell Dimension 2400.
Possible Resolutions Used
On all these systems, the memory has been tested with Memtest86+ and has passed with no errors. Also the boot parameters nolapic, noapic, acpi=off, noapm do not help the issue, as all of them have been tried alone and together, in all possible combinations.
Furthermore, I've run a system monitor and there is not a process eating 100% of the memory, up until the freeze everything appears normal. Furthermore, disabling powernowd or completely uninstalling it does not help (suggested in other forums)
Using the radeon, nv, nvidia, or fglrx XOrg drivers with their respective cards does not fix the issue (3 different ATI and NVidia where tested, for a total of 6 different cards). When using the vesa driver, the lockup still occurred, but the system was willing to accept a ctrl-alt-backspace to restart the XOrg server, the same freezing occurred.
The error is present in the 2.6.24 kernels and up, however I don't think it's kernel related as there's nothing useful in the log. The problems started with updates to the distributions around June - July. Prior to those months, all systems where working fine including those with proprietary nvidia and ati drivers.
Lastly, there are no useful messages in the system log and at tempting to SSH into the frozen computer is not possible (SSH was installed properly and running). KDE and Gnome also produce the same freezing.
Reproducing the Freeze
For some reason certain webpages cause the freeze more often then others in Firefox 3. I've found this page: http://sites.target.com/site/en/corp...d=PRD03-002477
, to cause it almost always. As stated above, this is not the only webpage and Firefox 3 is not the only program that causes the error.
I'm thinking it's some small package that nobody's thought to check, as there are no errors in the system log (Kernel, XOrg, etc) or anything. It's not related to a graphics card as many seem to conclude, due to all the drivers reproducing similar errors and the fact that the systems where working fine up until new updates where released.
Let's try to figure this out, it's definitely a major bug and a lot of people are turning from Linux due to it.