So this started out as a driver issue - I couldn't seem to install the updated drivers for my ati radeon hd 5 series (I don't have access to my actual specs right now) video card no matter what I tried. Each time it would seemingly revert to the awful on-board graphics and I would have to perform a system restore to correct it. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, I tried one forum poster's recommendation of updating my bios, which managed to bork the computer so bad that it broke the system restore function altogether. So, time to reinstall windows.
The computer is a dell xps9100 and didn't come with a windows 7 cd, so I restored to the factory image of windows 7 through the advanced boot menu. It seemed to work, but when it rebooted I got the windows logo and then nothing (black screen, no cursor).
I'm assuming this has to do with the graphics card/drivers still, but as you can see from reading the above, I am not very tech savvy. Is there anything I can do from here?