View Full Version : Trials and Trevails of a Pentium Mobo

Rick Ethridge
April 17th, 2014, 09:36 PM
I was given a Gateway 2000 computer with a bad hard drive. The motherboard has 128 meg of SDRAM onboard with ATI Rage II video and Ensoniq ES1370 audio. Placing the motherboard on my wooden workbench, I proceeded to inspect the board, connect peripherals and p/s and boot the system. I found out that the BIOS would only see approximately 8 gig of hard drive space on a 20 gig drive. I never saw anything like this before. FDisking and formatting brought me to the decision of which O/S to install: I tried WFW 3.11 first. It was obvious there was only a minimum of devices installed. The lack of USB support made installing updates dependent on burning software to CD-ROM (a royal pain). I could've attempted to install a generic DOS driver but elected to forgo the hassle. Win32s was installed for partial win95 compatibility and the updated TCP/IP was installed. Windows complained of insufficient memory to install IE 5.01. With 128 meg of ram; why? I installed an XP-styled GUI but soon found that it only partially concealed the underlying Windows and DOS. Unacceptable.

I next went to Win95. Win95 took no longer than WFW 3.11 to install. My full installation disk insisted on a clean drive so I reformatted. I found 95 OSR2 smoother operating but experienced the same shortcomings as the previous system. Another reformat and on to Win98. Win98 would autoboot from the optical drive and didn't require reformatting. The 98 install was somewhat longer and the system required more resources but seemed to manage memory much better than 95. The installation recognized the NIC, modem and video but wouldn't install the audio driver. Next was the update to Win98SE which ran normally but installed no quicker. Finally, the unofficial SP3 pack was installed. Finding the audio driver was a pain but after installation provided excellent sound quality. It seemed everything was working to my satisfaction except one thing: no mass storage USB driver. Try as I may, attempting to install a generic driver was like my other endeavors in finding ancient drivers. I felt like pulling out what's left of my hair! Without a mass storage driver, the use of pen-drives or external harddrives was for naught. Configuring LAN is easier but still daunting. Next step...

Win2000 Pro requires much more resources and much longer installation time. The 166 Mhz CPU is just barely about the requirements which means the system will run much slower; at least until a CPU change and resetting jumpers offers better performance at a reasonable cost. All other peripherals met the requirements and the slow, but steady installation and update to SP4 made for everything I wanted. All devices were discovered and functional. Memory usage was within tolerance but more would be better. Why would Win98 run 24 bit color and 1028 X 786 but 2000 would only run 16 bit? Another video card (I have a modest treasure trove) should rectify the problem. Also, the MS Creative driver for the audio card is spartan compared to the Ensoniq Win 98 driver. Could it be used instead?

While the USB 1.1 ports are slow, they''l take much larger storage devices. Room, blessed storage room!!! I now look for a compatible USB 2.0 or firewire card. Networking is a breeze. Now how about a better browser and streaming audio. Time now to find software that's compatible with the operating system including maintenance programs to keep her running smoothly and safely. Anti-virus and malware protect is dicey but I do have a software firewall that'll work. Finally I will do a clean and "pretty up" so that she looks as good as she runs and then install a scanner or printer and put her inside parts in an inexpensive case and use her as a media delivery device.

Is it worth it? I did it like most of us: just to prove it could be done. She's old but not dead by any stretch and even after 17 years she shows no sign of stopping. I should live so long!

April 18th, 2014, 01:55 AM
I actually still run a Pentium-100 with FreeBSD 6.4 (the latest version that will boot on it) for environmental controls in my kennel building. I tell myself it is a good test of the software's ability to run on a slow CPU, but there is an appeal to using the old hardware. It is plenty fast for the soft real-time control, but is a little slow to generate graphs and so on.

The BIOS on my Pentium-100 system can only see the first 2 gigabytes of the disk. Once the system is up the O/S can see the rest (it doesn't use BIOS calls for disk I/O), so my "/" partition is only a gig, and swap, "/tmp", "/var" and "/usr" are in separate BSD partitions within the MBR slice. That way everything that the early boot code needs is accessible to the BIOS, but the whole disk is usable once the system is fully running. I don't know if you can do something like that for Windows 98 or 2000, but the idea seems like it might help.

April 18th, 2014, 08:05 AM
Good to see you've got a use for it Rick

I'm guessing CalmiraXP was the dos/win3x gui you were refering too.

It's fairly painless to set up Windows 98 networking and there are mass storage drivers that do work on it as well with it. w2k should be rock solid though. Give Opera 10 a shot as a browser. Out of interest what software firewall are you running? I use an earlier version Kario on my win98 box. It's a bit chatty but works a treat.

My P200mmx box runs RH 7.3 Didn't even have to go looking for drivers as all the hardware in it was supported in the kernal out of the box so to speak.

April 18th, 2014, 08:51 AM
I run a couple of P1s/Cyrix setups, but all are around 233MHz. If you're not wedded to GUI applications, they can be very snappy--and valuable if you're running old ISA bus hardware. I run NetBSD 4.something on one, Win98SE on another, but mostly in DOS mode (HX-DOS serves for those applications needing Win32 support, but no graphics) and Win2K or NT 4.0. I don't think I'd ever use them for browsing modern web sites--most just take too long to render even if you have a capable browser.

April 18th, 2014, 11:40 AM
That way everything that the early boot code needs is accessible to the BIOS, but the whole disk is usable once the system is fully running. I don't know if you can do something like that for Windows 98 or 2000, but the idea seems like it might help.

The OP could install a Disk Manager like EZ-Drive to enable the use of an entire "large" drive inside of an OS that depends on accurate BIOS size reporting. (IE, Windows.) (Here's a nice summary of the various BIOS limits you're likely to run into on vintage machines. (http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/Large-Disk-HOWTO-4.html) The 2GB and 8GB limiters seem to be particularly common for Pentium-era boxes.) I know people used to grumble vaguely about those disk managers but the one time I used one, an old version of EZ-Drive on a 486 with a *really* stupid BIOS, it seemed to work just peachy.

April 18th, 2014, 12:37 PM
Some still do grumble about them but I've personally not had much of a problem with DDO software. There's even drivers you can load to access the extra unused drive space after w2k etc is loaded. There's been a bundle of threads in vcf on the subject.