What all new distro call 'HARDWARE PROBING AND RECOGNITION" is a stupid grepping shell script, understand a 'pattern matching' similar to regular expression. What do they match ? i hear you asking.....Simple, the output of a command called 'lspci'. You can use it with higher levels of verbose, like lspci -v, or even lspci -vv ( as root ) to know all memory addressing range of all your devices. Let me illustrate that on the Sager 5660:
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corp. 82845 845 (Brookdale) Chipset Host Bridge (rev 11)
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corp. 82845 845 (Brookdale) Chipset AGP Bridge (rev 11)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corp. 82801BAM/CAM PCI Bridge (rev 42)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corp. 82801CAM ISA Bridge (LPC) (rev 02)
00:1f.1 IDE interface: Intel Corp. 82801CAM IDE U100 (rev 02)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corp. 82801CA/CAM SMBus (rev 02)
00:1f.5 Multimedia audio controller: Intel Corp. 82801CA/CAM AC'97 Audio (rev 02)
00:1f.6 Modem: Intel Corp. 82801CA/CAM AC'97 Modem (rev 02)
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc Radeon R250 Lf [Radeon Mobility 9000] (rev 01)
02:04.0 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Texas Instruments TSB43AB21 IEEE-1394a-2000 Controller (PHY/Link)
02:06.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL-8139/8139C/8139C+ (rev 10)
02:07.0 CardBus bridge: ENE Technology Inc CB1410 Cardbus Controller
02:0a.0 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. USB (rev 50)
02:0a.1 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. USB (rev 50)
02:0a.2 USB Controller: VIA Technologies, Inc. USB 2.0 (rev 51)
As you see, we get all pci devices, and their BUS ID number, vendor etc...This is sources of many problems, as your hardware recognition can be only as good as the scripts written by the distro vendor are. For EX, the ATI M9 is currently not properly installed ( drivers ) by no distro. Instead, the card is probbed, and not matched, therefore a generic driver 'vesa' get assigned.
This command usually comes with 'pciutils'. It works by having a database of PCI 'signatures' and matches them and print. Glad you are turning to debian, but yes, it isn't USER friendly, more for the power user. But coming from OS X, is a good choice, as long as you have used things like 'fink' and the root account of OS X csh shell.
Fink is a portage of debian packaging system onto OS X. fink install gimp works, but hehehe, apt-get install gimp works too.
Anyhow, remember that debian will break your head a bit at install (much better now ), and as stated, not user friendly. But if you are courageous, ready to read ENORMOUS amounts, and maybe want to start coding, go for it !!!
Tho, if you want instant enjoyment, user orientated distro will be better, faster. Hope that answers your queries.