Hi, thank you very much for your time and interest in my predicament.
in terms of the drive not being removed, that's too late, I got it out and had good look at it. it seems fine so I put it back and it works fine, I believe. however I learned that the internal optical drive is actually the cd rom drive which I was looking for, so it means that bios IS recognising it, its just that I was getting confused bnecause in previous machines I have seen it listed as cd dvd drive, or smth like that.
i then learned how to expell all the other drives and leave only the cd rom drive for the computer to boot from, and I loaded one of the cds which I was given, which says vista 3.4 gb, and its doing smth. finally. this is as far as it has been to in the last 2 weeks, so im very excited. it is apparently installing windows vista, and it went past the 'collecting information' step and its now on the 'installing windows', 'expanding files, (26%)....'. I imagine this will take quite a long time, but I dont mind, as long as it works. at the same time, this looks rather old... somehow it doesnt have the slikness of vista.. perhaps its just the installation.
in any case, if this fails, I have another thing to do, which is that which you suggested.. I hope I can restore it to its previous state and retrive some data back too.
thanks for your help, it is much appreciated.