Edit: after getting the laptop back from repairs, and setting some non windows optimized settings in the bios before plugging my SSD again, this time grub worked and linux booted without bricking the system.
More details here:

For indexing and search purposes, both +Theodore Ts'o and I got a lenovo thinkpad T540p (t540), and when we booted from a linux drive as the main drive inside the laptop, it bricked the laptop by only showing
"To interrupt normal startup, press Enter?" after power on.
From there, no way to get the bios, no way to get past this screen even after putting back the original windows8 drive that came with the laptop.
Ted tried to removing the cmos battery but it didn't reset/fix the board, it had to be replaced. We think something, likely grub (Ted tried grub2) but hard to say for sure, corrupted the bios/firmware in a way that isn't reset by power cycle or removing the battery (it's not the linux kernel because it never booted on my laptop, and for Ted he was able to boot it from a secondary drive).

Ted had his motherboard serviced, the laptop booted again, and when he put his drive back carefully and booted from it, it bricked the new motherboard.
He did get linux to boot from a secondary drive before that happened, I didn't because I put my drive directly in the main bay. As of right now, we both have a bricked T540p.

I haven't gotten my laptop back yet, we're not sure what causes this, but it could be grub that is causing a MB bug (I believe neither of us got the grub boot screen).
This is worrisome. I'll +Tejun Heo to pass the word for now and will update this when we know more (or Ted likely will too).

Ted's experience (with more details, because my laptop arrived and failed 24H before an international flight, so I had little time to debug further after lenovo support said "we need to replace the motherboard", is here:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TheodoreTso/posts/Sx6VLADVW9L
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