I attemted several times to restore my laptop to original factory image by pressing f8 at the dell icon upon startup and get to the "repair my computer" page, but when i press "enter" it goes direct to loading windows (Vista). any suggestions?
You should have made a backup of the system partition. Then you would only have to boot from the windows dvd and choose "repair the computer" and then "recover my computer from a packup". it's very handy if you don't want to install a fresh copy of windows and all the headaches with drivers and other software. And another advice: don't store important data on the system partition. you never know when disaster strikes.
Many of the OEM computer vendors buyes allow to purchase an OEM copy of the OS dvd (at an additional price). They do, however, provide a hidden partition on the HDD so the end user can restore the HDD to it's factory condition, if necessary. Maybe you should check with Dell and see if you still have an option to buy the OEM DVD.