ok i ended up getting it to work using a drive imaging program called diskimage.
previous to that i tried scp over putty, but im pretty sure i was getting the local (windows) path part of the command wrong. i tried winscp which let me see all the files on the mini pc but i couldnt copy a few of them over, or the mini pc would kick me out (i think it was timing out). my last idea was to try out some live cds or portable installs but there were too many things to overcome (read only filesystems, no usb card reader support, i dont have a flash drive to install to) and i was out of time.
overall my first 3 days using linux were pretty fun though. sorry for a pretty much off topic thread, and thanks for that link. im going to try to find a distro that suits me and get more comfy with it so i never get stuck like this again