What you have is an OEM Vista install, and it is VERY IMPORTANT to recognize this!!!!!111oneoneshiftone
This means that you have crazy a whacked-out fadangle of hardware rigged up nice an spiffy-like to work 'perfectly.'
When you formatted, you just pointlessly wiped out that custom configuration that you PAID for (teh lol lol lol lol).
If you intend to configure it yourself, why praytell, would you buy a pre-built? You're doing all the work AND paying someone to do it for you.
1) Yes, creating that Recovery Media will give you a copy of the installation CD/DVD that you will be able to pull the drivers off* of in your custom install. *(this is assuming the information isn't encrypted in some proprietary format on the install disks). But bare in mind that you'll have multiple disks(I have the exact same model) of the recovery media to scan for drivers.
2) Yes,, you can format install your own flavor of an OS but understand some of the more difficult drivers might be beyond your abilities or the scope of this forum(namely that 32-bit NIC driver, read **below).
3) To recover the system as it is, I could 'extract' the driver from my system(same model as yours), send it to you and see if it loads but chances are you'll just get the same 32-bit error.
4) Yes you can 'recover' with the recovery media, it will completely wipe, repartition and install the original factory settings as if you'd never wiped it the first time.(I used to be a tech support agent for Sony, before my job was outsourced to Manilla, and I looooooved recovery media. PC Cure-All).
5) That 'Load Drivers' option was most likely for the NIC you're having trouble with, as Windows usually tries to register itself online during installation. This Load Drivers option is also very similar to what you should be seeing in Device Manager, but instead of choosing to 'Search the InterWebs for Drivers!' you should have chosen 'Browse' and pointed to that 32-bit driver or any directory that you think could have a driver in it.
6) Partitioned Hard Drive Anger?! My god man! That partition was for your safety! Acer had your hopes/dreams/wishes in mind when they did that! Separating OS/ProgramFiles from user data is a VERY sound thing to do as it keeps these two data types SEPARATE, effectively reserving a chunk of your harddrive as 'minimal use' which will cause your PC's life span to jump by 2-3 years, as opposed to dropping your data files and OS/Programs all into one giant pot that you constantly mix-up and move around(more wear and tear on parts) all the time, everytime you move/delete/compress/update your data files you're fragmenting both data and OS files ... it's just craziness. I understand your undying drive to 'have-it-your-way' cuz you paid a big-*** chunk of money for it but bro, believe me it is in your best interest to go with their configuration for all the reasons that you don't know. Especially since you paid for it(and my god was it a good buy! I got mine at Office Depot for $476, but they tried to charge me the $16 monitor tax when I didn't buy a monitor with this PC lol! Lord knows I tore that manager a new one. I am currently rubbing a free $50 Office Depot gift card all over me).
Gonna boot to Vista and see if I can upload the NIC driver I have installed.
**Though I am not sure why the OS won't take the 32-bot driver and just run it on a single processor/channel of the dual-core(I understand you're using a 64-bit HAL but this backwards compatibility should be possible and included in Vista, since it claims to be a 64-bit OS), I suspect that the Acer engineers that created this model's disk image may have had to devise some neat way of forcing to accept a manufacturer's 32-bit driver, to keep from having to write their own 64-bit version. And kudos to them for figuring it out! Your best solution is just to use the original configuration that it came with, but if you want to press the matter further then I have a bit of information that might help you. The vendor/device ID is 10de:07dc, you might want to Google it and see if you can turn up a driver from the original manufacturer. Don't like Vista? Fedora/Linux is uber hawt on this HTPC! My only complaint is that the processors are being recognized as a single 32-bit @ 2.4 Ghz rather than a 64-bit 2x32 @ 1.2 Ghz per.