The other day I had an urge. An urge to install Windows ’98 on a machine that was made several years after 1998 and to see how easy it was (Take a look at these lovely minimum requirements!). This I feel in hindsight, was an error. Now, what I perceive to be a modern machine and what you perceive to be a modern machine, may differ. My definition may be out by quite a few years. The machine in question was a Dell Precision 360, Pentium 4 (Hyper Threaded!) with 512mb RAM… to all intents and purposes, a machine I would have dropped my jaw at in disbelief if it was around in the late 1990’s.
You see, My Dad kindly donated to me, a Dell Precision 360 tower. Quite a heavy lump (the Dell, not my Dad). Running a clean install of Windows XP effortlessly at the time. But, I’ve already got a machine running XP, and I wanted to re-live the 90’s with a classic ’98 experience. What better machine to try it on I thought?…. I could use it for early Windows gaming, DOS gaming and to run a multitude of Encarta and Edutainment type programmes, as well as watching Buddy Holly by Weezer in crystal clarity… Oh, no, wait, that was Windows ’95. Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea. So I grabbed the machine, almost giving myself a hernia, grabbed a copy of Windows ’98 on Compact Disc, and got cracking……. It went…. as you might have expected……..
FORMAT C: /qThis was the first step to take. Wipe the drive clean of that hideously easy to use XP OS; I mean, why stick with what’s easy? Who wants to use an OS that has been designed to run on the technology you’re using?! No one. Not a single person. Anyone I can think of would opt to install a completely outdated OS no matter what it takes… Fortunately, this initial part of the process went without a hitch. It was lovely to get back into DOS and type those raw commands directly into the computer. POWER. CONTROL.
The next step was to slam in the Windows ’98 installation CD and kick things off. The machine can happily boot from the CD-ROM drive, so there’s no problems on that front. No floppy discs to slow things down or to become corrupted at the slightest whim, ruining your brand new operating system.
Ok, so that worked, which led onto the….
Windows ’98 DOS Installation Screen
This brought back some fond memories. Those text based “graphical” DOS screens. These screens were made with sheer love to try and make the interaction with DOS look like something it was not. Thankfully this screen went without a hitch. Trusty Scandisk then fired up and did an impressively quick analysis on the 40gb drive tucked inside this machine. And then came the start of the problems…
Windows ’98 Installation Screen
Windows attempted to load it’s graphical elements to continue the installation in a “more pleasing” manner. I for one, wished it hadn’t. For here began the woes of the next 12 hours (Yes, that’s not a typo, I spent 12 hours getting this machine fully operational). The problem was, I was using a Dell wireless keyboard and mouse plugged into one of the USB ports. The Windows ’98 installation, was expecting either a serial or PS/2 mouse and keyboard combination. Therefore the Dell was falling back to USB emulation to try and trick Windows that is was using PS/2 interfaces. At this early stage, this was less than successful. Indeed, trying to press any key resulted in a completely random character on the screen. I’m not talking about the same characters for each key either, oh no. I couldn’t even map keys to other keys because quite literally, every keystroke initiated a completely random character. Pressing enter one minute produced a “J”, the next minute it was a space, then it had absolutely no effect for the next twenty or so pushes.
Anyway, I managed to muddle through this part of the installation (for the first time) with repeated key bashing and hoping for the best. Windows then proceeded to install.
Although the installation timer estimated 36 minutes, it took about 10, which was lovely. I remember trying to install ’98 in the 90’s on my Cyrix 5×86 and watching the installation time just creep higher and higher, rather than the opposite. Technology Win.
“Starting Windows for the First Time”
Ahhhh, yes. The lovely greeting that appears on the first install, if only for a matter of seconds on this particular machine. Windows ’98 was installed! Well, the bare bones of it was. For the next ten minutes, the installation proceeded to setup plug and play devices (I say this loosely), attempted to detect non plug and play devices and setup various other little bits and bobs, such as location, time and the control panel. Although I have no idea why it tells you it’s setting up the control panel. What exactly are you going to do with that snippit of information? Perhaps you might deem it a suitable juncture to go out for a pint or to scrap this entire, ridiculous project. Well, that’s what I should have done, because the true horror of Windows ’98 driver setup was about to begin.
My suspicions were first roused when the machine booted straight into a 16 colour VGA mode, at an eye popping 640×480 resolution. Back in the day, I would have worked happily with a 640×480 resolution on a 14″ CRT flickering away at 60hz. But after many years of higher resolution conditioning, it looks a little on the silly side, especially on a 17″ screen (remember that a 17″ in the 90’s was absolutely immense. Both in the sheer physical size of it and the mind numbing immersion that could be achieved by sitting 6 inches away from it).
No matter how much I tried, I could not up the colour depth, nor could I increase the resolution. This meant one thing, and one thing only… A driver issue!
Please God, not the Drivers
It was too late to turn back now. The only way was forward. The only way was to deal with these driver issues. Hesitantly I moved the mouse to the control panel. I’m not sure why I did this, as the mouse wasn’t working (did I not mention that?). There was clearly a driver issue with the USB mouse as well as the video adapter (Windows ’98 was Microsoft’s first OS to deal with USB, so you’ve got to expect a few teething problems). Thankfully, it’s possible, although infuriating to navigate through windows using just a keyboard and a lot of tabbing.
So, here, I arrived in the Device Manager, confronted by all sorts of yellow exclamation warnings. And here, is where the next 10 hours of my life disappeared to, somehow. How nieve I was to try and run Windows ’98 on more modern hardware. It’s not like there’s even the scope to “Search for new drivers” automatically through Windows. Oh no, this was well before that time. You either had to use the “Have Disk” function and supply the driver, or just hope that Windows contained the correct driver for your hardware in it’s meagre little database. Plus, even if it could connect to the internet, there was a driver issue with my ethernet card (remember, these were the days of dial up modems, so Windows is expecting a dial up modem over anything fancy like a local area connection).
So the next 10 hours consisted largely of;
Reinstalling Windows approximately 8 times (sometimes with Windows allowing me to use the CD-ROM drive, sometimes not)
Searching through reams of pages on the internet to find appropriate drivers
Trying to figure out how to resolve the ACPI conflicts.
The Bloody ACPI Conflicts
Now this was the major issue in all of this. Even after finding appropriate drivers for the video card, there seemed to be a conflict with the I/O and memory resources of the ACPI Bios and several other devices, the video card being one of them. Oh, how I miss resource conflicts….
After many, many attempts to install drivers, re-install windows and tweak BIOS settings, I discovered this lovely little forum. Where a user who went by the name of Caravel had offered this advice to someone back in 2006.
Run Windows Setup with the /p i command line parameters. i.e. D:\setup /p i
The basic premise of this is that it forces Windows to not detect the plug and play power saving BIOS and instead use the APM BIOS. This was the greatest revelation of the entire evening. After wresting with these conflicts for many hours, this piece of advice sorted this major stepping stone.
At this moment, I’d like to point out how painful it is searching for Windows 98 help in this day and age. A lot of links are dead. A lot of forums contain uncompleted threads and there’s also a lot of crap to sift through (people have obviously been using the internet a lot since 1998).
Now the Other Drivers
This allowed me to install the Forceware video card drivers courtesy of Nvidia. Thanks very much guys. Worked a treat, and I was quickly presented with a 32 bit colour Windows ’98 in an impressive 1024 * 768 resolution! Good times.
Of course, it wasn’t over at this stage. Oh no. The next steps were setting up and finding appropriate drivers for;
Intel Network Card (and setup the internet connection)
The Intel Chipset
The on board sound card
USB stick reading drivers
This took some time, but after several hours. I found appropriate drivers. Which, if you’re in the same predicament as me, can be found at;
The Dell forum was a huge help in finding some suitable sound card drivers. After trying various Windows ’98 based drivers, I opted to try some drivers designed for Windows ME… and to my sheer surprise, they worked a treat. It’s also worth noting that the Dell support team pointed these forum users to the wrong drivers, but thankfully, a user had posted the correct drivers to use for the Precision 360.
The Moment(s) of Glory
The first glorious moment was getting the video card to work. The second was the mouse, which occurred after the chipset drivers were installed, then…
After much faff, messing about and configuration. Several moments of glory arrived. The first was firing up Internet Explorer 5 and experiencing a wonderfully un-rendered Web, the likes of which I haven’t witnessed for 10 years (or at least the last time I went on a shitty website). By the way, you need to specify yourself an IP address in the adapter settings, set the adapter to use DHCP and tell windows that you’re connecting to the internet over a LAN to stand a chance here.
The last moment was hearing those sweet, sweet Windows ’98 startup sounds after ramming the Windows ME audio driver down it’s thoat… Abosolute bliss.
So, was it worth it
In a word, No. At least, not until I put the machine to good use and it redeems itself.
Getting DOS games to run on it, I’m sure will be another lengthy story. If you fancy reading about it, stay tuned.
P.S. If you’re looking for a copy of Windows ’98? I’m sure Microsoft won’t mind 😉