about your computer. For instance you ask "Should I use that or Windows Vista's complete back up of the computer?" - we don't even know it that is actually and option because it is ONLY AVAILABLE with Vista Business and Vista Ultimate but you haven't told us the version of Vista you have.
As far as "If I do either one of these, will I be able to get all my programs back or just the operating system?", a drive image consists of EVERYTHING contained on the drive including partition table and boot sector (think of it as a photocopy of the bits and bytes of the drive).
Such images should be made WHILE THE COMPUTER is set up exactly as you like it and functioning properly - otherwise the image contains the exact same problems you are trying to resolve. For this reason I suggest that you save all your data and settings/serial numbers/etc. so you can reinstall everything to Cd or DVD or USB storage media then restore to factory settings, reinstall everything, set things as you prefer them to be THEN create the drive image so you can have what you want when you want it.
I have a windows vista home HP laptop and my laptop's volume stopped working. I was doing a sytem restore to fix it and it was working fine. After some other installation, when I did a system restore to the working state, it is not working anymore. I called HP's customer service and they suggested system recovery and I want to do a back up of my hard drive. I have some program which I have subscribed to and the settings & don't want to lose that when I go back to the factory settings. I read the forums and found out about driveimagexml. Should I use that or Windows Vista's complete back up of the computer? If I do either one of these, will I be able to get all my programs back or just the operating system?
I am a newbie and need help!