Back up HD's partition content and info, installing Ubuntu, etc

(not even sure if it's on the right section of forum; mods please move it if my choice was innapropriate)

My 18-month-old Dell laptop has a 160gb Sata Fujitsu which has never been abused, just daily use. Then, all of a sudden, it crashed and won't boot up the main partition. Some sort of utility in the other partition was still bootable, though. Warranty is over, as you might expect.

[this paragraph is somewhat irrelevant, you can skip it] I ran some sort of utility which replaced many file headers, then used Windows Vista installation disk to run recovery console and 'chkdsk /r'. Partition is recognized and tries to boot, Windows Vista loading bar runs normally, then I can move the mouse on a black screen, it will even go into energy saving, but the system never finishes booting. Tried connecting this HDD as external in another Dell laptop which would recognize partitions, but won't let me browse my main partition. Connected the HDD to a WinXP computer and it would read the defective partition normally (!), so I could back up my data.

It seems to me the problem is not hardware, but corrupted file system (anyway I won't get another drive as things are pretty expensive in my country), so I just want to install Linux and Vista in different partitions. Problem is the drive has 4 partitions: 2 visible (recovery and OS) and 2 hidden (mediadirect and some fat16 thing), as you can see on this screenshot. MediaDirect is some sort of operational system dedicated to media, so if you want to watch DVD or listen to music you can boot from it directly just using a different power button on the laptop.

The disk I'm talking about is disk 2. The defective partition is F: OS.
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Well, I would like to back up partitions 'fat16', mediadirect and recovery, so I could delete them and experiment different partitioning (I'm thinking about 4 partitions for Linux and making the "mediadirect boot button" boot a partition with Vista). But I also would like to backup the partition properties, so they could be restored exactly at the same place if something goes wrong. Already tried using savepart before but things went fubar. I've also read some guy who bought a branded laptop then formatted his drive before backing up properly, then he was never able to get things as they were before.
I've found a portable utility called TestDisk ( ) which may be helpful backing up the partition's info, but I'm not sure.

Can you guys give me advices or recommend apps which would help me to:
- make sure my HDD is not completely dead yet
- back up partitions in fat16, fat32 and ntfs in a reliable and restorable manner
- back up partition's info in a way I can restore them to their exact place & size if needed
- configure a dual boot sysytem using ubuntu and windows
- any tips about ubuntu will also be appreciated, as I'm quite new to this and only installed it to my brother's laptop (he's loving it, btw) using 3 partitions.

Even if you can't help me, thanks for reading all that. :)
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More about back partition content info installing ubuntu
  1. 3 days and not a single reply? No one knows nothing that might help me? Maybe point out something someone has done when had issues with savepart, maybe tell me Dell also stores information in unformatted space on the HDD so I'd better somehow back it up, maybe someone could even tell me I should put linux's /tmp in another partition or tell me I should install linux after windows because it will automatically make a pretty boot menu for me...
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