OK...let's try this...
installing linux on some laptops with acpi enabled wipes out the sound. reinstall and on the boot start page press ? for boot options. you will see a line at the bottom of the page with a bunch of parameters, just add acpi=off and press enter. proceed with a normal install and when its finished and you reboot linux you'll have sound.
if you experiment with other linux oss you will have the same problem if you install with acpi enabled.
these laptops come with windows preinstalled the vendors ship them with an acpi setup for windows and that acpi setup corrupts the sound in linux. it can be fixed but the fix is too complicated for most users.
You are a GENIUS.....!!!!!
I am using grub on this laptop. Added 'acpi=off' to the kernel line on menu.lst, rebooted, re-ran alsa and.......SOUND.....!!!!! Beautiful, undistorted sound.
Thank you, flip city.....!!!!!
And thank you, everyone, for your suggestions and knowledge.