well no luck so far guys
partition magic allowed me to find out what id already found out using windows recovery console, which is that there is 19.8gb on the hard drive and that only 9mb of it is actually accessible at the moment, i have no idea why this is as i have not created any partitions or formatted the disk in any way, there is no clunking nosies either so the disk seems ok in itself.
I dont understand how to use linux live disks im afraid, any more help would be very very much appreciated as my mum has some of her MSc work on the drive she would like to retrieve.
Whats that I hear you cry 'backup??' too late methinks