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First post, by Baoran

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If a late 90s motherboard has settings in bios for booting from lan, how would one setup such a thing? Like there isn't lan connectors on the motherboard in such old motherboard so would it need to be specific kind of network card that bios can do that and what kind of setup you would need in the netword device that the bios is booting from?

I am not sure if that will be useful for me but since there is an option for it in bios with over 20 year old motherboard it makes me curious how it works in practice when I doubt the bios can have drivers for all types of network cards.

Reply 1 of 10, by aha2940

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The network card would require to have a BIOS. If you check old ISA network cards, many of them have an empty socket, which can be populated with an EPROM containing the boot BIOS image. However, you would also need to have an environment for the machine to boot. I don't know how that was done in the 90's, but on newish (like 20 year-old or newer) machines, the way to do it typically is using PXE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preboot_Execution_Environment

Reply 2 of 10, by hyoenmadan

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Early RemoteBoot wasn't done wity PXE, which is a later PCI era thingie, but with RPL. Cards would offer RPL bootroms made with Netware Hardware Partner SDK (Novell Ready Firmware (tm)) or with IBM RPL, which could boot from IBM OS/2 RPL bootserver.

Reply 3 of 10, by Baoran

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Thanks. That kind of makes it difficult to see a situation where using that would be useful in normal use. I assume the roms used would be network card specific and such roms would be likely to be hard to find nowadays.

Reply 4 of 10, by hyoenmadan

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Baoran wrote on 2020-11-25, 05:09:

Thanks. That kind of makes it difficult to see a situation where using that would be useful in normal use. I assume the roms used would be network card specific and such roms would be likely to be hard to find nowadays.

Generally Realtek's, Davicom's and some other compatibles have the ROM bundled with the driver disks. Not sure about high ends... I have seen some 3coms with roms in driver disks too, but not sure. I guess you had to buy the rom separately for PCI models. You can also make them for some network cards with packages like Etherboot and Netboot.

Reply 5 of 10, by chinny22

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The bios option is telling the computer "don't boot off my FDD/IDE devices, go look for something external" kind of like if your using SCSI or SATA drives form a add on card.

Only reason I could see it been useful for retro gaming rigs is same reason it's used today. Rolling out an image of windows over the network rather then CD.
Does seem like a lot of hard work for just a single machine, it's something I would like to do someday though.

Reply 6 of 10, by Deksor

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hyoenmadan wrote on 2020-11-25, 06:01:
Baoran wrote on 2020-11-25, 05:09:

Thanks. That kind of makes it difficult to see a situation where using that would be useful in normal use. I assume the roms used would be network card specific and such roms would be likely to be hard to find nowadays.

Generally Realtek's, Davicom's and some other compatibles have the ROM bundled with the driver disks. Not sure about high ends... I have seen some 3coms with roms in driver disks too, but not sure. I guess you had to buy the rom separately for PCI models. You can also make them for some network cards with packages like Etherboot and Netboot.

Few years ago I found a boxed ROM for cheap on eBay for a 3com etherlink 3 (and I think it can also work on other cards)
Soon after I uploaded its content and the floppy disk that came with it here http://www.win3x.org/win3board/viewtopic.php? … le=30&f=8&t=281
There's also a manual but I didn't take the time to scan it ... Maybe someday ?

Unfortunately I never figured out how to do RPL boot using modern Linux. I have looked everywhere online but I couldn't find a satisfactory answer on what to do.
However I managed to do PXE booting. I made a DOS 7 disk image with Microsoft network client 3.0 on it and so when the PC is booting on that image from the network, then I can log into my "old pc" Nas and finally run some nice software such as Norton ghost to image HDDs or simply copy windows 98's setup files very quickly to the hdd and then install it 😀

I think the next step would be figuring out a way to boot from the network and then run windows 98 from the network directly that way my retro PCs wouldn't require HDDs/ssds anymore and I could swap in and out images or files just like virtual machines 😁

It's not that much hard work, there are tutorials online to make PXE servers. However the true hard work is getting Microsoft network client 3.0 to fit on a floppy image (2.88 image works very well) because it seems that mounting a CD-ROM image from the network using pxe crashes a computer having just a hundred megs of RAM (maybe there's something else wrong here but I haven't found the solution).

As for the retro pc Nas, I created it long before doing pxe booting on my PCs. And finally, I'm using it often on many of my PCI equipped PCs, I just make sure to use the same kind of NICs each time because otherwise msnc3.0 would have a driver issue.
There are other cool things that can be run from the network are testing utilities (such as memtest). That way if you have to often test new parts what you can do is create a set of "hardware testing" images and then put together the hardware you want to test and a nic and you're good to go. No need of big flat cables, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, HDDs. Just a nic with a rj45 cable and you're set.

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Reply 7 of 10, by hyoenmadan

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Deksor wrote on 2020-11-25, 13:15:

There are other cool things that can be run from the network are testing utilities (such as memtest). That way if you have to often test new parts what you can do is create a set of "hardware testing" images and then put together the hardware you want to test and a nic and you're good to go. No need of big flat cables, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, HDDs. Just a nic with a rj45 cable and you're set.

This is how I used to service PCs back then, before Live OSs and USB keys became a thing. Was easier to boot a RPL/PXE ROM-floppy with less floppy corruption chances, than load a full bootdisk system from it. Ofc you would require some RAM, but as soon as 64MB became the rule, even Win98 remoteboot sessions were feasible. And Ofc Ghost/DriveImage were completely served such way.

Reply 10 of 10, by gex85

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Back in the day when I was still working for a computer repair and BTO shop, we used PXE boot quite heavily. Number one use case was backup/restore. We used the Personal Backup Appliance (PBA) for that, it was really handy. Basically it's a virtual appliance that can be fired up on any VMware host and will store the images. You could download an ISO for a bootable CD from an integrated web server and use that to boot the PCs you wanted to backup or restore. Although its backup techniques are not too advanced (basically full backups only), it worked really well and I have been thinking about setting it up in my home network to hold images of my various retro PC configurations. But setting up PXE in a home network is usually a bit complicated because the integrated DHCP servers in most home routers (including mine) don't support it, so you would have to deal with a separate proxy DHCP that handles all the PXE stuff. Not too convenient. Plus, the PBA project is long dead, so I'd probably have to put some work into it to make it run on any up-to-date version of VMware, VirtualBox, etc.

1992 - i486DX2-66 // 1997 - P1-233 MMX // 1998 - P2-350 // 2000 - P3-650 // 2001 - Athlon 1400 // 2003 - Athlon XP 3200+ // 2008 - Xeon E5450 // 2015 - Xeon E3-1240v5