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Thread: Windows 3.1 on XT 286?

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    Default Windows 3.1 on XT 286?

    I was wondering, is it at all practical or even possible to run Windows 3.1 on a XT 286? Wikipedia says the minimum system requirements are a 286 and 1MB of ram, however others say a 386 is necessary. I'm pretty sure that a 386 is necessary for enhanced mode, but not for standard mode. The PC XT 286 has only a 6MHz 286 (albeit it does have with zero wait state RAM), but is this good enough? I know not all 286's are created equal. Also, what would be the recommended amount of RAM for a such a slow system? If it's not really practical to run 3.1, which version of Windows would look best on a XT 286?

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    I've run Windows 3.1 on 286s before, it's not really a great experience. I had a Compaq SLT/286 laptop for a long time, with 2.5 MB RAM and grayscale VGA, it ran Windows 3.1 OKish. And yeah, no enhanced mode. But, I could run Word that way.

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    I don't see any special readme for an XT 286 but I haven't used one with Windows 3.x.

    With an AT or clone, having 4 MB of extended memory made Windows 3.1 viable. It depends a bit on what programs you intend on running and how patient you are. Complex Excel macro heavy spreadsheets would take a long time and I doubt anyone would be willing to wait for anything but the simplest of Corel Draw documents to display. Place Word for Windows or Ami Pro in draft mode and the performance is about equal to a middle of the pack DOS word processor. Scrolling with graphics was slow but not that much worse than doing the same work with Word Perfect 5 for DOS.

    With less memory, the only option is Windows 2. The simpler graphics will leave at least some memory free but most Windows 2 programs are either the early and quite slow releases or buggy initial releases of new programs that became the standard bearers for Windows 3.x.

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    Firstly, an XT/286 - very envious! I'm in the UK, and whlist 5150's and standard 5160 XT's are pretty common, XT/286's are uber-rare here (even AT's are rare enough). Would love to have one!

    I have run Windows 3.1 on a 1MB 286 before, but it's a pretty miserable experience as it will be constantly paging out to the hard disk, and that's before you consider the processor's slow performance.

    If you can get up to 2MB RAM (ideally 4MB) then it will be usable. However if you want to use more than the bundled accessories bare in mind that many programs either require a 386 or run miserably without one. I'm pretty sure also that none of the multimedia capabilities will work with less than a 386, so even if you have pimped your machine you won't be getting anything more than basic 640x480 VGA and beeps from the PC speaker on a 286.

    Notably though Word 2 and Excel 4 will run OKish on a 2MB 286 (although you wouldn't want to run both at the same time).

    All in all though, unless you want to do it just for the sake of seeing it running then I wouldn't bother. People struggled with Windows 3.1 on this sort of hardware back in the day because they needed to run modern software and couldn't afford a newer computer. If you must put Windows on it, I would probably install Windows 3.0 and stick to software from that era. But if you want a decent Windows 3.x experience, you'd be better off getting a 386 or 486 for that and leaving your XT/286 for DOS use.
    Last edited by cwathen; July 29th, 2018 at 02:24 PM.

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    I just like the way that the XT models look, and the XT/286 is the fastest of them all. You could theoretically buy a baby AT form factor motherboard with a 486 and put it in one of those, but I want it to be original. Windows 3.0 in my opinion is the first windows that looks nice, but Windows 3.1 has much more software. However, I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to run most of the software anyway . I might just stick with Windows 3.0. I don't really plan on using many programs, I just really want it to run it just for the sake of seeing it. Maybe I'll play some minesweeper. Also, how much faster does the computer get as you add more RAM? Is it linear? e.g. 16MB of ram is 4x as fast as 4MB. I know RAM can only do so much and isn't nearly as good as upgrading your processor. I'm guessing it will only get marginally faster the more RAM you add once you get above 8MB. Lo-tech makes 2MB memory cards that are cheaper than everything else out there, although they are still not that cheap and they utilize slower EMS memory.
    Last edited by willmurray461; July 29th, 2018 at 12:05 PM.

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    What you need is enough memory to run all the applications plus a reasonably sized disk cache. Win16 major applications peak at about 4 MB* each though more common would be 512 kB to 1 MB. So a complete office suite would fit into 4 MB. Adding at least 512 kB of cache** would improve performance on the hard drive; 128 kB would keep the FAT in memory at all the times and the remaining memory could be used for read ahead. Add another MB if planning on running a DOS program while running a full set of Windows applications. Motherboard memory plus 4 MB on expansion cards would be about the most that would make a noticeable performance impact. I had 5.5 MB on my 286 but I was able to waste 512kB on EMS just in case a DOS app needed it.

    * That would be Word for Windows 6 with True Type active and documents with just about every graphics and macro feature in use. A 286 would be bogged down trying to run all that even if the memory was available.

    ** You may want a bigger cache if using multiple hard drives. Smartdrv would shrink if Windows applications needed more of the collective memory reducing the need to discard code that then must be reloaded from disk.

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    While not entirely comparable, I'm running Windows 3.1 in standard mode on a Tandy 1000 RLX system (286 @ 10MHz, 1MB RAM), with full MCI CD-DA, MIDI, and compressed/uncompressed WAV playback capabilities. It manages those things and several others, such as playing Windows Entertainment Pack titles, to a decent degree.

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    So it sounds like Windows 3.1 is possible if I bought two 2MB expansions from Lo-Tech. Kinda expensive just to get Windows running, but still cheaper than trying to buy something like Intel Above boards. The only programs I might be interested in are Microsoft Office 4.3 and Microsoft Arcade. Although I'm not really sure if a 286 could handle the latter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by willmurray461 View Post
    So it sounds like Windows 3.1 is possible if I bought two 2MB expansions from Lo-Tech. Kinda expensive just to get Windows running, but still cheaper than trying to buy something like Intel Above boards. The only programs I might be interested in are Microsoft Office 4.3 and Microsoft Arcade. Although I'm not really sure if a 286 could handle the latter.
    If you are referring to Microsoft Pinball Arcade, I have it and you will need W95, W98, or NT 4 as a minimum, plus a Pentium 90. I also have Office 4.3 and it requires at least a 386.

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    Lo-Tech does Expanded Memory. You will need real mode Windows to use that card, either Windows 2 or Windows 3.0 in real mode. To get anything useful out of Windows 3.1, you need an extended memory card.

    I could be confused but I thought Office 4.3 was the first 32-bit version of Office. 4.2 was the last Office version to run on a 286. I think Office 3.0 might be a better choice.

    I know I ran much of the Windows Entertainment Packs on my 286. I don't remember if I tried Microsoft Arcade.

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