With Vista, the error message should have some more detail...see if you can catch what it says...
What are you using to partition and format the drive?
Use the drive manufacturer's diagnostics to 'zero fill' the drive and start from scratch. Then use the Vista media to partition and format the drive.
How much RAM is installed when trying to run the Vista setup?
If more than 2 GB, drop to 2 GB or less, just for the install...Setup can have problems with larger amounts of RAM on some systems.