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the only way to erase a partition and wipe it clean while saving the OS is to use Symantec Norton Ghost (or a similar product) and create a Ghost image before you delete the partition and restore it after you have deleted the existing partition, recreated a new one and formatted it. then restore the OS from the ghost image.
Using Norton Ghost 9.0 is very good program to backup your System & Documents. You said the PC is dead then you want to restore back your System to a new PC. All you have to do is that Norton Ghost 9.0 CD is Bootable. Of course also your external hard drive are plug in it too. Manually you're going to open that Sv2i file to restore back again your old system but there are some programs that are not going to use. Like for example: System Drivers (Motherboard Driver, LAN, SOUND, etc.) but at least you have the Documents and the rest of the programs run again. I try it myself this kind of situation, I'm using Windows 2000 with Norton Ghost 9.0 version, and it's 100% works. Good luck! Hope i might give you some tip & idea. Tell me more about if you got a problem. Please rate me. Thank you.
Ghost saved the drive information in an image file. Whatever you named your backup you would see *.gho, *001.gho, *002.gho. That is your whole hard drive in a spanned image file. Ghost Explorer is what you need to open and view these images and you would be able to extract files as your would from a zip file. There are no restore points as you would think using Windows Restore. Only the raw hard drive information as it appears on your dive now. I'm not sure if Ghost Explorer is provided with the home edition as I'm used to the enterprise for my work.
let me know if this helps
If you are going to restore with the disks, all the OS updates and programs you have installed will be discarded and you will end up with a disk full of junk. Also, I had one of those dells a few months ago. If you just want to do a clean install, backup your data and re-install the OS (windows, I guess), but before you do that, go to Dell's site, and download the drivers for your OS. I believe there isn't anything absolutely necessary you can not get there.
You can use a hard drive imaging program such as Norton Ghost to create a recovery DVD(s). Norton Ghost is available as part of System Works or as a stand alone program. Power Quest's Drive Image is also an alternative, however it is too old to be compatible with Vista - you could do a Drive Image outside of Windows - booting off the Floppy.
After fdisk and format you need to ensure that operative system is installed into yor hard drive. Using ghost you restore the image disk by booting from ghost image CD if you made a bootable image disk. Ensure Bios is set up to boot from CD. If you used Norton Ghost ensure you captured the image of full bootable original hard disk drive for same computer. If it does not boot after restoring ghosted image, than the image it is probably not complete. If hard disk image is not good, easiest thing to do is using Windows install CD to installl again operative system, then you eventually restore ghost image.