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The laptop may no longer be set for external monitor mode. Try boting it up and then holding the FN key down while pressing the F5 key at about 2 second intervals. This is the most common key combination to switch display modes on most laptops. If everything is working you might find the external monitor setting after a few tries.
Actually during start-up there is a slight delay before the HDD & OS is detected by the CPU. Normally all monitors slip into power saving mode within 10 secs of inactivity of either mouse or keystroke. This inactivity is read by the monitor which promptly switches to power saving mode. However the moment the HDD LED starts blinking, the monitor wakes up & starts displaying. This power saving mode in most of the flat screens is only associated with movement of mouse or keypad. This does not register till the CPU starts up & thats why the monitor switches over to power saving mode till it starts receiving signal from the CPU. It is a normal behaveour, so don't get worked up over it, plus you can always hit the Auto set feature on the monitor after booting the PC completely. ( I think the time out for the monitor to enter power saving mode is only 10 secs). Hope this helps.
If you have a problem getting into safe mode using windows Vista or 7, boot up your computer. As soon as it tries to start windows turn off the power. When you try to start it again it should come up with a menu asking if you want to use safe mode or boot normally. Select safe mode.
Are you sure that your computer isn't just going into power saving mode? Not sure what operating system you have but go into the screen savers tab or video properties and find out how your system is set up for power saving It may be starting before your screen saver does so the monitor would just go black.