VOGONS


First post, by mcyt

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So, this is very long and you don't have to read it but I just want to tell a story and vent and maybe get a *little* advice. I pretty recently got my old Athlon XP system that used to be my everyday computer out of the closet to set it up as a tri-boot system. It's an Athlon XP 1700+, 512MB RAM, Abit KT7A motherboard, GeForce 4 Ti 4200, and I'll talk about the audio in a minute. The one big upgrade I gave it was an Inland 128GB SSD (using a SATA-IDE adapter) and I also ended up recapping the motherboard and PSU. (One or two of you may have seen the video I posted about this on YouTube.) Otherwise I'm trying to keep it period-correct from 2003, when I last did anything with it. The SSD upgrade itself took a lot of trial and error getting a combination of a drive and adapter that would work with my motherboard, and this is the only drive I found that would do it, of the ones I had.

The boot method I was using was just a combination of Win98's and WinXP's own bootloaders. The system would initially boot to XP's bootloader, which would allow me to choose "DOS" or "Windows XP", and if I chose DOS, I would then get the Win98 bootloader that would allow me to choose either Win98 or "Previous version of DOS", which took me to DOS 6.22. This worked because both DOS and Win98 were on the same 2GB FAT16 partition, with XP on its own NTFS partition spanning the rest of the drive. It wasn't the most elegant thing in the world but it was ok.

Everything then seemed to be working relatively well although I'd been working on it off and on since that initial push to try to smooth some things out and get everything running the best it could. One of the things I noticed pretty quickly is that the SSD just didn't feel any faster than the HDD I'd previously used, and I realized it had reverted to PIO mode in XP (which is permanent once it happens). I could uninstall the drive and let XP rediscover it and then it'd be in UDMA5 for one boot before reverting to PIO again.

This was very noticeable, not a small thing. In UDMA, it would boot XP in about 10 seconds, sounds would play smoothly and games and other things would run without hiccups. In PIO mode, the boot time increased to about a minute and everything would hitch and hiccup constantly. I read up on this and found a blog post describing why this happens and a way to force XP to more or less stay in UDMA mode, and this seemed to work. In retrospect, I probably should have seen this as a red flag, since the PIO mode reversion is caused by Windows seeing multiple I/O errors during transfer (it's only six, and they're cumulative by default, so I didn't think much of it at the time, but the fact that it was happening after just one boot should probably have told me something).

I spent a bunch of time the past couple days getting XP back on the internet, which I hadn't originally planned to do, and then installing every update from Legacy Update - this alone took hours, even on SP3! I then hooked the SSD up to my modern computer and both aligned the drive and trimmed it. I also upgraded my old SB Live! 5.1 Digital to an Audigy 2 ZS (still 2003! Probably the latest card I could get within that constraint) and set up a switchbox for my two sound cards - the Audigy that I'm using for WinXP gaming and the SB16 that's for DOS and probably Win98, as well as using the game port on it for every OS (the Audigy doesn't have one built in, though it does have a header if I wanted to add one).

I tested out some games on XP on the Audigy and the SB16 game port, which I didn't even realize I'd never actually set up before, and it all seemed to be working. I then decided to head over to DOS to try some things out there, and that's when the crap hit the fan.

Booting DOS hung the computer. IIRC, I could still boot into Win98 but even after doing so, selecting "previous version of DOS" from the bootloader would hang every time. I used a DOS boot disk to see what was happening and I saw something I've seen before in a similar situation - a bunch of system files had been renamed *.dos (instead of .sys or .com) and others were *.w40. Windows actually renames these files when you switch back and forth between OS's, but the directory was such a mess that it was hard to tell which "mode" it even thought it was in. Also, there are several hidden files it does similar things to, switching them around as you dual boot, but I'm not sure I even know what all of them are and I haven't found a good, concise list of them anywhere.

On the other computer I have that this happened on, I was able to eventually just rename all the correct files properly and get the system to boot again. But I tried that this time and it only seemed to make things progressively worse. I just ended up with more and more command.coms, command.w40's, command.dos's, command.bak's, etc. for every system file until I just totally lost track of what was what. I had 4 or 5 copies of every system file and I didn't have any idea which was the "right" one of most of them.

I decided to just "sys c:" from the DOS install disk. That got me into DOS but nuked my bootloaders. It just booted straight to DOS. Now, there was a time when I probably would have known exactly what to do in this case, but 20+ years on, I feel like I've forgotten more than I still know, but I still know enough to get myself in more trouble. I tried editing the bootloader files from DOS but ended up getting confused again while setting and resetting the file attributes that would let me do that, so when the system started hanging again, I knew I'd probably messed something up but had no idea what. And again, these days it can be really hard to find good info on this stuff online - most of my searches actually brought me here, but I could never find, for example, what specific attributes need to be set for each DOS or Windows system file I was trying to rename or edit. (Just renaming stuff also required removing and resetting attributes.)

Feeling like I was just digging myself a deeper hole, I decided I'd just start over with Win98 and DOS. I was confident that XP's data was all there and just running setup or something would probably fix its bootloader, but I had no idea what to do with Win98 and DOS other than just doing clean installs of both. (I probably could have "repaired" Win98, but that never worked for me in the old days so I don't usually even try it anymore.) And I didn't have a lot of stuff on either one, so that was ok. I figured I may as well take the opportunity to switch to using the Plop bootloader, since this was the second time Win98's own bootloader messed me up in this same way and with Plop I could then have Win98 on its own FAT32 partition.

I hooked my SSD back up to my modern system and ran MiniTools Partition Wizard to resize the WinXP drive a little bit and create a new FAT32 partition for Win98. I then installed Plop so I could install each OS without them seeing each other, still figuring I'd just worry about XP later. I tried setting up each partition and profile in Plop, and DOS installed ok, but when I went to install Win98, it complained bitterly that the drive wasn't set up right. I checked the partition info in Plop and it looked odd... the Win98 partition was marked as NTFS, even though I set it to FAT32. I went back to my modern PC to try to fix this, which took a couple tries (I know nothing of partition ID's anymore), but eventually Win98 decided it would try to format the disk. I had set the other partitions to "cleared" (hidden) in Plop, so I figured it would format the 8GB partition I gave it, but I realized immediately after starting the format that it was taking a suspiciously long time to even get to 1%.

About 2 hours later it was finished, and sure enough, it had partitioned and formatted the entire drive for itself. Now, I know there's such a thing as data recovery, but I just had a few games and a bunch of system updates on WinXP, so while I was pretty annoyed at the idea of repeating all that work, it actually seemed easier than trying to figure out how to restore all the data and partitions that Win98 had just wiped out. So at this point, I decided I was just going to reset the entire drive and start completely over.

Through a whole bunch more trial and error, things not installing right, not being seen correctly, not being set up correctly after installing, etc. I realized one key thing: you have to install Plop *immediately* after partitioning and formatting a drive. If you do that, it sets up the partitions correctly and all you need to worry about are the profiles. Otherwise, Plop gets confused, then I get confused, then it's impossible to even know what partition's what and they always seem to be set with the wrong ID. Once I started doing this (and mind you, I reset the drive about 5 more times in the meantime), I was then able to get Windows XP to install, though another key thing I learned is that you have to install XP, then rewrite the bootloader (since XP overwrites it), then *reinstall XP*. That's the only way I was able to actually get into it with Plop installed; otherwise it gave me the dreaded "missing/corrupted hal.dll" error, and the only talk about this on the Plop web site is for if you're installing Plop into the XP bootloader itself, not the MBR as I was. But my workaround seemed to work, it was just a lot of (probably unnecessary) extra effort.

From there, DOS seemed to install fine, although it also complained about drive errors at first. I did something, I don't remember what, and then it stopped complaining and installed.

Win98, though, just will not install. It sporadically complains about drive errors or drive setup, but occasionally *tries* to install and then gives me a "serious drive error" about halfway through. I've tried using XP to create the partition and format it, and it always says it's an incompatible format and tries to format itself. Sometimes the format is successful, but then I get the error during installation.

However, on about my 5th or 6th XP boot tonight, I noticed it seemed to be back in PIO mode because it was booting super slow, and then it finally crashed. I haven't been able to boot into it since, even in safe mode. So XP's now crapped out again too. And my computer has started occasionally not detecting my SSD during POST... it hangs on drive detection. I did probably boot it about 100 times in the past few days, but I'd hope no piece of hardware would crap out that fast.

Going back to my original kind of general flakiness and PIO mode reversion in XP, I'm starting to think this is now mostly a hardware issue of some kind. I have new cables on order, as well as a Startech SATA-IDE adapter (they're supposedly a little better than the generic one I have). I suppose it could also be the SSD itself, although this is the only one I have that worked at all with this system. I don't want to just keep buying random stuff without knowing if it's even the problem.

Worst case, I still have an IDE HDD I could go back to and now with all this experience setting up Plop, I'm pretty sure I could get that working pretty quick. But I'd really like to get the SSD to be reliable because when UDMA is working, it is clearly and noticeably faster. And quieter.

Again, I don't really know why I'm posting this... moral support? I guess if anyone has had a similar experience and figured it out, that would be cool to know about too. Especially if you're running a setup like this with an SSD reliably; what specific SSD are you using? I do feel like I've at least got it narrowed down to something with the I/O hardware or SSD, although I do find it a little suspicious that all of the *big* problems I'm having came after aligning the drive. I understand why you need to do this with SSD's but I didn't get actual crashes or hangs until aligning. And the failed formats and installs and stuff all happened on a clean, newly partitioned and aligned drive.

But man, it's been *days* now of trial and error and trying to troubleshoot and problem-solve this thing; I'm worn out. This is supposed to be fun! Ugh.

Reply 2 of 4, by kiacadp

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Well, I read through and while I can't give you advice on your specific issue, know that you are not alone in these kind of situations. I spent hours the other day trying to set up the display on my 486 pc. After many hours in crunch position, a lot of cussing with trial and error, playing with the jumpers and of course some back pain, got it to work: pressed the Turbo button and the damn thing was switching proper from 66 to 33 mhz. Great, I thought. Next day got all the other parts installed, few more hours there as well, boot and tested doom. All working great , shit yeah I thought! Pressed the Turbo only to realise that it was actually reversed 🫠. It would slow down on 66 Mhz and speed up 33. My back was killing me from the night before, tired anf upset, OCD kicked in of course as I couldn't leave it very well alone. Had to redo the whole thing, more back pain, etc. Yes, you are not alone! This hobby is a great one but damn it can be frustrating at times. Hope you get to fix your issue!

Reply 3 of 4, by DosFreak

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I would say keeping things simple is the key in all aspects:
Don't use non 9x DOS with 9x, specifically disk utilities that will affect LFN files.
There is really no reason to boot another DOS if you are using 95/98....you already have DOS. If for some reason you want older DOS boot it up elsewhere.

You can use bootloaders but if you constantly reload your system or play around then it's easier IMO to either disconnect the drives or tell the BIOS which one to boot from. If you do decide to use a bootloader to boot both then make an image to restore from but even if you aren't you should be making an image anyway. There's a reason MS switched to imaging with Vista.

Adapters are usually the cause of problems and where troubleshooting should start for HD issues. If you can't find a decent one try an IDE DOM, CF or SD card.

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Reply 4 of 4, by chinny22

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I also like to keep things simple

If it was me I'd forget about dos and just install Win98 and XP. You can always set it up, so you drop back to win98's version of dos. Win9x and XP can live happily together with XP's bootloader.

I've never had much luck with 98's inbuilt "boot into previous version of dos" so if your heart is set on having dos I'd go with a 3rd party boot loader, I never used any so can't make any informed recommendations.

I find it takes 2 or 3 installs of an OS to find the right driver, settings, config for a new PC. so double it if your dual booting, triple with 3 OS's etc. Of course the catch is every reinstall you end up nuking the previous OS as well.
During the testing stage I'll get win98 working just right, then move onto XP but then when I break it and need to start again I'll just do a quick install of 98 and focus on getting XP just right, once I have I'll nuke it all once again and do a proper install of 98 then proper install of XP and prey it all goes to plan.

Much better way would be to use removable hard drives per OS. Thats how many of us did it back in the early 2000's as well.