....there is no backup to the main boot partition. ....
You mean that 10Gb or so recovery partition? Otherwise I see no impediment to backing up a partition.
If you are going to use the recovery partition, I would instead use a Vista OS with SP2
and use the product key on the laptop case to activate.
Here is a time saving bonus
Be sure to have the latest drivers ready...especially a laptop as the there are usually a lot of them.
BTW, run the HDD maker's diag app on the drive first.
If the drive passes, try sector by sector recovery with Linux:
(sudo or ./ not needed, just the command)
ddrescue [-options] bad disk good disk (should be equal or greater size) log file
logfile should be used as it checks log file for already recovered files and goes from there.
fdisk -l [list hard drives detected and names... sd_ for SATA drives, hd_ for IDE drives]
ddrescue -n -f /dev/sdb /dev/sdc resq.log
This will retrieve all non-damaged files and file structures first from sdb and transfer to sdc and note them in the log file. I recommend trying to transfer (backup) all files rescued at this point to another drive. Then,
ddrescue -r3 -f /dev/sdb /dev/sdc resq.log
This will attempt to recover the damaged files three times before moving on and use the resq.log to find their location and not waste time looking.