Well the next move should cover both options. http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=...ed=0CC0Q8gIwAw#
This list shows a variety of places where you can get an adapter to test the drive in another pc with an ide ribbon cable.
The range from 4.00 to 10.00 and if you have a radio shack nearby, they either have one or can order it and save you the shipping cost.
Or you may be able to borrow one from a locql geek or indy computer store. If you call around someone may be willing to test it for free.
If the drive is recognized and readable it may indicate you have other hardware problems. On laptops this is usually bad since 90% of the functions are on the same mainboard.
Alternately, you can just boot from a linux live cd and see if it can see a drive. If the bios doesn't see it then it is unlikely but if the linux live cd works and detects the rest of your hardware, then replacing the drive should fix it.http://www.livecdlist.com/
As old as the hardware is, you might need one of the smaller distributions. Ubuntu 8.04 works better on old hardware than the current 9.10 does but it still might need more memory than you have.
What city are you near? I have a drawer full of small laptop drives and someone near you on craigslist or a local forum might give you one or sell one cheap.