|Re #4. What you do is run Linux from a CD on the faulty machine. This doesn't involve either Windows or the hard disk and it is gone once you remove the CD. It uses your RAM rather than the HD.|
You create the CD on some other machine by getting the image file from the appropriate website. You then use the CD burner on the same machine using the "burn image" feature. Nero has this feature (if that happens to be on board).
Once you have created the CD, you have to set the BIOS on the faulty machine to ensure the CD is the first drive in the boot sequence (usually set by tapping F2 or F11 while the machine is booting - its a menu type screen).
You then insert the CD in the faulty machine and power it up while it is in the drive. Eventually Linux will appear and you use that to browse your hard disc and copy your stuff onto a flash drive. It has a desktop like Windows but everything is "single mouse click" - you can access all drives from icons.
I happen to use "Puppy Linux" but I've also seen "Knoppix" suggested on this forum (the later being are more ambitious form of Linux compared to Puppy).
What you are looking for is is a Linux "Live CD". Here's the info for Puppy:
Ignore the bit about Installing Puppy (and much of the other info) - you are only interested in running from a CD in order to get your stuff onto a flash drive.
Lots of words above but it's not difficult to actually do in practice. I've run it fine on W98SE, XP & Vista machines.
some other bloke...