I have a failing drive on my Inspiron 1420 running Vista. I already have my info backed up, but I don't have the recovery disks to reload windows on the new drive. Am I able to copy my recovery drive to my external to boot from usb and to reload from there? If so, how do I accomplish this? I'm guessing I can't just copy the drive like I would with any other.
Copying just the recovery partition to your external hard drive will not work.
You need to create a hard disk image of the entire hard drive (all partitions) using disk-imaging software, and save that disk image file to your external drive.
Then buy and install a new hard drive inside your Inspiron.
Boot your Inspiron from the disk-imaging software's boot CD.
Plug in the external drive and write the disk image to the new hard drive with the disk-imaging software.
A selection of free disk-imaging software is here: