Install a Linux aside a OEM windows with recovery partitions etc.
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If you have any Linux Live CD to boot, you can log in as root user and run the command: fdisk -l(Lower Case Letter L in the command) to find out. If the partitions are numbered 1-4, they are primary. I expect they are. You could install a virtual machine and Linux inside it. HP usually has a tools partition. My HP (purchased 2 years ago) only had three partitions. That would be the most likely candidate for removal/overwriting but that's up to you. Don't know how that would affect your warranty if you still have one.
I've installed Linux on a machine with an OEM restore partition. My machine came configured with two partitons, a very large Windows partition encompassing most of the disk, and a smaller recovery partition.
First thing I did was to create the recovery disks - just in case I somehow messed up the recovery partition. Next I booted a live CD and used gparted to shrink the Windows partition. I then created a small (1GB) boot partition as the third primary partition, and a very large extended partition encompassing the remainder of the disk (which I further partitioned to accommodate a number of Linux distros).
I have Xubuntu Wubi running on a Win7 box (mostly because I wanted to learn about Wubi) and it goes swimmingly. It doesn't have all the flexibility that a larger-30-GB disk would allow, but it can see the One TB external just fine.
I got a 16GB USB I could install it on, problem is, my laptop does not boot from it. I know it works to boot from it, it works on my other laptop etc. Could that be fixed in bios or such? THE pc can boot from my other disks, so I suppose its the power thats short I think.
If it's a modern laptop, it should be capable of booting from a USB flash drive. It may be like my HP Pavilion Slimline desktop, which will boot from a USB flash drive, but requires going into the BIOS boot menu every time I want to do so (there's apparently no BIOS setting that tells the computer look for a USB device first).