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Building an old DOS system

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June 18, 2009 7:34:59 PM

Well, I've got DOS 6.22 on the way in a hard copy, as well as Windows 3.1. Norton Commander is already here.

I want to build an old DOS system for my older games to run on. Yes, I know, I can use DOSbox, I don't care. I want to build one. The thing is, I can't remember what I can get away with anymore. I guess it has just been too long.

It looks like I am limited to FAT16. I seem to recall this only supports a 2gb drive, and searches I have performed have turned up little help. If I were to use a larger drive, could I simply use it as a 2gb drive and just forget the rest of the capacity? Can I let DOS format what it can use and forget about the rest? Or will the utility refuse to use a large drive to begin with?

That is a waste of space... I don't care. This isn't going to cost much. I've got to use a reasonably new HDD, or just get lucky and find an old one somewhere in good condition.

No modern operating system will be installed on this machine. Only Windows 3.1 and DOS will be installed. I won't need to pander to anything new, here.

Now, back in those days, I've run everything from IBM to Intel, AMD to Cyrix, and even the odd math co-processor (weren't those fun?). Thing is, the upgrade paths were so riddled with hardware back then, and games were finicky to get working properly and at the right speed.

I want to go with a processor that is fast enough to run anything from the DOS days, like Doom, Duke 3d, and Ultima 8, but I don't want to destroy my ability to play the really old stuff, like Commander Keen, Cosmo, Jetpack, Tankwars, and things of that nature.

I've got a Pentium II 233 sitting on a shelf over here. I'm wondering if that will be enough or too much. I'd prefer to use something from AMD, but I can't for the life of me remember precisely what I was using at any point in time. I do not want to go overkill for games like Duke3d, becasue if I do, I am only making life more difficult for the older stuff.

Obviously, processor choice will completely affect my choice in a motherboard. My plan is to get the best motherboard for what ever slot or socket I end up using, more than likely an Abit.

So, yes, I know their are other ways. I don't care. I want to do this anyway. Does anyone have some hardware suggestions? What can I get away with here, especially in the HDD and processor department?

In the HDD area, can I go big and waste space or not?

In the processor area, how fast is too fast? Where did AMD compatibility meet Intels? How slow is too slow? I want something that is just BARELY fast enough to run the most intensive DOS games with their graphics pumped. I remember that at that point, I was still running the older stuff with good success, though tankwars was getting mighty fast. :) 

More about : building dos system

June 18, 2009 7:41:34 PM

Back when i was younger we had windows 3.1 running on a 6GB HDD which was partitioned into 3 2GB volumes, it was able to use the other volumes it just cannot support a partition that is larger than 2 GB, so be aware that you may end up with an 80GB hard drive with 40 partitions, or just boot and run off of a USB flash drive, that would probably be the easiest and cheapest solution.
June 18, 2009 7:59:07 PM

I likely won't be able to run off of a USB drive, because I'm not sure if I am going to end up with any kind of USB support. I am not overly concerned about having such support. I didn't trust USB until Windows XP.

I don't want to do that, anyway.

I want to use a hard drive. Yeah, I know about making many partitions, but that isn't really my question. I want to know if I can make just one 2gb partition, on, say, a 30 gb HDD or larger, and forget about the rest.

I may do 2 or three partitions, but that is all I want. I don't want any more partitions than that, if I can help it. I do not care one bit about wasted space. I am perfectly happy to buy an 80gb drive and use only 2gb of it's space. Can I do that? That is my question.

The problem is, it is hard to find 15 year old drives that are still reliable or functional. Anything newer is going to be larger, and I don't want to juggle 20 partitions. Only two or three is acceptable.

In essence, my question is this:

Can I run a 2gb partition, with loads more unpartitioned space on the physical drive? I don't want to know how smart or efficient it is. :)  I want to know if it will work. Does the entire drive have to be partitioned to work properly?

I've never done this before, so I have no idea. In the past, I was always trying to use the entire drive one way or another. Now, I am trying not to use the entire drive.
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June 18, 2009 8:04:02 PM

P2 233 w/32 MB RAM would work very well. You'll want a 4-8MB PCI video card, and an older sound blaster (Like AWE32 or SB Gold). The issue you will still see with some games is that they are clock synchronized (the original Secret of Monkey Island has this issue, as well as Space Quest 4), and will still require some third party software or fiddling to get working properly on anything faster than a 486DX. DOS 6.22 and Win 3.1x will only see 16MB RAM, but if you dig you can find older RAM-disk utilities that will allow you to use the other 16MB for virtual memory under Win 3.1x, which will make the whole experience very, very fast.

Other issues? Good luck finding drivers! Unless you have the original floppy disks for such old hardware, it may be very difficult to get it all working properly under Win 3.1x.

The other response about 2GB partitions is correct - Dos 6.22 does not have FAT32 support and will only allow 2GB partitions. However, there is a solution, which is to use MS-DOS 7.10 instead. You can find it available for download here: http://ms-dos7.hit.bg/#msfv.

Hope this helps you out!
June 18, 2009 10:07:02 PM

I have an old "prebuilt" NEC (Ready 9625), my first computer, that I use for this purpose. (Duke 3d, Blood, Quake, Railroad Tycoon, Master of Orion 2, Imperium Galactica, etc.) Surprising, it still works with no parts changes after the few "upgrades" I did in the first 2 years.

Specs of the system:

200 Mhz Pentium 1 with MMX
48 MB EDO Ram (2 x 8 & 2 x 16)
2.5 GB Hard Drive
Onboard ATI Rage 2 MB 2d graphics
PCI Voodoo 2 8 MB card for 3d graphics
8X CD-Rom
"Unknown PSU, not at home"
"Unknown onboard sound"
PCI 10 Mb Ethernet card
PCI 33.6Kb Modem
<Running Windows 98 SE>

However, when the computer came from the factory, it was running Windows 95 (Fat 16). I, to this day, remember that the "secondary partition" became 387 MB. (I didn't understand then, now I do. And, isn't it surprising the things you remember?)

Another poster mentioned the "locked clock cycle" issue, and you will have to run a 3rd party program in order to slow the cpu down for some applications. (Railroad Tycoon for me)

I don't know about some of the games you mentioned (they are older than my gaming experience), but would Windows 98 SE might be a better choice for the "general OS." It was the first to have native USB support. Further, it allows for "rebooting into MS-Dos mode." (Although, I don't remember the Dos version it reboots into.) I can confirm, however, that it runs a "true" Dos (versus Win XP). Imperium Galactica, whether Win 95 or Win 98 on the system, always required rebooting into Dos mode in order to play it.

Lots of rambling, but hope it helps a bit.
June 19, 2009 12:30:06 AM

Well, I know that no matter what I do I'm going to run into issues with clock syncronized games. As long as I don't go too far, though, there are workarounds. Monkey Island is one of the reasons I am doing this, so I'm watching that aspect of the build like a hawk. That is why I dont' want to go too far. I know I'll end up needing something to slow her down, but there are many programs out there for that purpose. Does anyone have a suggestion? I can't remember what I used to use.

The funny thing is, many games like that offered a way to slow them down from within a settings file, but it never did go far enough, even when maxxed out.

I've got the DOS 7.1 download, and I'll be able to use it if I want, but let's say I don't want to.

There is lots of great information being posted here, but no answer to my primary question yet.

Can I take a 30GB drive (just an example), and only format 2GB of it to keep DOS 6.22 happy, completely ignoring the rest of the capacity?

Keep the suggestions coming, though. All of this information is of value to me. It has been a long time since I messed with DOS, and it is just hard to remember it all.

I'll respond to the rest of the stuff when I have more time. Keep it coming. I think more people ought to explore doing this. I meant to do it a year or so ago, but never got around to it.

June 23, 2009 8:36:13 PM

The quick answer to the 2GB partition on a larger HD question is yes. You can partition only a portion of the drive and use it.

The real answer is - what motherboard are you using, and what brand HD? If you are using a 486 class board, or a socket 5/7 board, anything larger than a 20GB Hard Disk (not partition, just total disk size) will likely not be recognized properly by the BIOS on the motherboard. Some 486 boards will even be limited to 1,2, or 4GB Hard Disks, and may require you to manually configure Hard Disk parameters in the BIOS (#sectors, tracks, heads, etc.) If you are using a P2 class machine, your limit will likely be something more like 80-120GB (or even higher on some).

The solution to the large drive on an old board issue is usually to use 'translation' software from the manufacturer. This is effectively a smoke-and-mirrors software approach. Seagate, Maxtor, and WD all provided such software on floppy disks with new HD's for several years. It usually worked w/o issue, sometimes not though.

If you can, post which motherboard you will be using. Include the manufacturer, model, version, and BIOS revision if you can. That will allow me to help you with compatibility issues if there are any. If you are using an OEM built PC (branded Dell, Compaq, HP, Tandy, IBM, etc.) list the model info. for that machine if possible.
June 23, 2009 8:48:28 PM

For a good utility to use with Monkey Island, SQ4, etc., Mo'Slow is good. I've used in the past with good results.

It's available here: http://moslo.info/
July 8, 2009 5:45:27 AM

Now, that was just the sort of answer I was looking for.

I can't tell you exactly what I'll be using. I wanted to use an Abit LX6 motherboard, but I can't seem to find them. I have a factory HP motherboard over here, an Intel, which is where the processor came from, but I'm not keen on using it.

I did recover an old 6gb drive. It is a Quantum Bigfoot, though, and I'd rather use a hard drive that is a little quicker than that. I'd rather the rest of the stuff be slow, and the drive be quick and quiet. Drives don't last forever, and the computer this one was in has been stored in many locations. The last time I fired it up, it didn't know it had a hard drive. I never even made it into the Bios. So, I don't know what works, and I don't really intend to use it if I can help it.

I've just customized a case to begin the project with, so I am ready to go. I'm going to order a new power supply when I find one I like.

As for the motherboard, I just don't know what I will end up with. If you have a suggestion for a board that will be more tolerant of a new hard drive, please let me know. I don't have to use this PII processor. I can grab something different off of Ebay.

I honestly didn't think I'd ever get the answer I was looking for, sorry if this response is late. Remember, I don't care if it doesn't see the entire drive. I'm only concerned with formatting a small portion of it. If I waste 90 percent of the drive, I just don't care. :)  This project is about fun.

You mention that if it can't understand the total drive size, it may not be able to format that small portion. That is information I needed. That's the answer to my big question. Now, I need to find a motherboard\processor combination that will tolerate 80gb, unless I can find something smaller.

Any suggestions?
July 20, 2009 11:58:36 PM

An Asus or Gigabyte board with a Via Apollo Pro133 chipset would be a good choice, as those boards should be able to use 168-pin SDRAM and up to 80GB IDE drives, as well as Socket 7 Pentium processors or AMD K6 or K6-2 processors.

Intel also made two very good boards, I would use this one (LT430TX) with a Pentium (Socket 7) processor, or this one: (SE440BX2) for a Pentium 2 or 3 (Slot 1). I think the 430LX chipset on the Socket 7 board will support up to a 20GB drive, the 440BX board will support up to 120GB. I've used the SE440BX2 in the past myself, it's a great board.

Each of these companies may still provide drivers and Bios updates for these boards, you'll have much better luck with this older equipment than using any of the wung-fung-chu brands like biostar, jetway, or pcchips. I would also recommend using a 4-8mb PCI video card with DOS VGA/VESA drivers. Avoid using an AGP card if you can as many older programs will not function with them under DOS. An ISA Sound Blaster Gold would be your best bet for audio, but a standart PCI Sound Blaster could also work well.

December 9, 2009 9:56:57 PM

I have an old Win95 machine set up now and running off a Transcend IDE flash drive. The BIOS does not know the difference and its definitely quiet. Unless you really want a physical HD in the machine, this is a great solution.

I think I am using a 512mb one right now but am thinking of getting a 2 or 4 GB one.

Just remember, these plug into the mobo directly so if you use with a CDROM on a dual channel IDE cable, you may need an adapter or something to use this. I just have this on one port and the CDROM on the other. Both single channel.


_http://www.amazon.com/Transcend-IDE-Flash-Module-Vertic...

_http://www.provantage.com/transcend-ts2gdom40v-s~7TRSD0...
December 10, 2009 5:40:04 AM

I still have an old 40Gb IDE HDD if'n you want it :)  still works too, just recently took it out of my comp, had it in there for old time's sake LOL
February 1, 2010 12:06:15 AM

in response to finding older hardware check computer recyclers and free cycle in most cities
February 1, 2010 12:26:33 AM

It looks like your going to go with some pentium chip, and that looks like a good choice, but I'd just like to let you know that I have an old computer with a 486 and a 1 mb video adapter (don't know what type) that runs doom & hexen just fine.
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