Windows 98 Woes

It’s been a while since I’ve graced the bava with a few keystrokes, but between travel and my retro-computing mishaps, it’s been a hard road back. The travel was awesome, the building out my Windows 98 computer not so much. I’ve been knocking away at this for quite a few months, and after traveling I’ve forgotten more than I remember, so here’s an attempt to capture some of it because as of now the machine is not loading outside safe mode, so I’m in for some Windows pain in the coming days, weeks, months.

OK, a little context here, back in 2018 I picked up a Windows 98 tower as I was preparing for the 90s computer workstation installation at the OWLTEH Conference in Coventry back in the Fall of 2018. I also bought another 90s era computer in Coventry, England for the actual installation, but traveling with a tower was prohibitive, so someone at that conference must have taken that home. Anyway, as I started moving stuff out of the bava basement and into the bavastudio, the Windows 98 machine was one of the first things I wanted to play with. It’s a fun computer with tons of dos games, and a host of ROMs for both MAME and Genesis emulators (the Paperboy port for Genesis is amazing), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Whoever sold it was basically thinking of this as a retro gaming machine, and it definitely fits that bill.

But I wanted to do more, I wanted to hook this computer up to the internet, update the CD-Rom drive, get my external iOmega drives working, etc. If I only had left well enough alone!

The motherboard for this machine is a MSI MS 6195 ir3, and it has an AMD 750 chipset with 200 MHz. So relatively fast for the time, and from what I can tell without checking the details I believe it has a fair amount of RAM, but will need to confirm just how much when I take this board apart, because as of now I can’t get it to load outside of safe mode 🙁

Here is the tale of the tape:

  • First major intervention was to add a 3Com ethernet PCI card to the machine to connect the computer to the internet. I wanted to play around with some of the Protoweb stuff Taylor Jadin turned me on to. The Internet Archive proved invaluable for finding copies of old installation software.* This installation was definitely not straightforward (nothing on these old Windows machines is), but after some head banging I got this working using a combination of UltraISO file burning and Daemon Tools to virtualize a CD drive with a copy of the Windows 98 2nd Edition ISO—which seems to be mandatory for just about everything you do on Windows 98. NB: I found the Windows 98 2nd Edition disc on the Internet Archive as well!
  • On boot-up there were a few errors with .vxd extensions after getting the 3COM etherlink card installed, such as dfx.vxd. The computer still loaded fine, but I had to enter through those warnings. After a quick search I found this post that helped to get rid of most of them by reinstalling the Client for Microsoft Networks—how satisfying to find a relatively easy fix.
  • The next bit was trying to get my iOmega drives working. I bought a new male–>femal serial cable and power adapter given mine were long gone. Initially I thought all was good given the disk drive powered on, but when I tried plugging both my old iOmega drives into the serial port neither were recognized. I even bought a third online that was working to confirm, but there is something amiss with the serial port on this motherboard for sure, so I need to figure that out, or not given the next issue.
  • Moving on, for a bit now the installed CD-ROM has been acting strangely, recognizing some discs immediately, but then later on balking for those same discs that previously worked. Also, it would sometimes freeze the computer forcing a hard restart. But yesterday things got even worse after I inserted Blondie’s Parallel Lines CD into the drive, the CD-ROM just stopped responding altogether. It was a fairly cheap CD-ROM as I could tell, and there was no way to manually force open the door, so I removed the existing CD-ROM and replaced it with an ASUS model I’d been carting around with me since 2003 or so. I was pretty fired up when I saw the CD light went on (it was powering up) and the trap door opened, but that was all that worked. Turns out the CD-ROM drive was not being properly read and somehow the boot-up process was borked, and the computer only loads in safe mode. When loading the computer it quickly notes “Pri Master ..Not Detected” and “Sec Slave…Not Detected.” I think this means the primary master disk and the secondary slave disk are not being found, whereas the “Pri Slave…IDE Hard Disk” and “Sec Master..ATAPI CDROM” are being detected. So, something with the boot process got all messed up when I added the new CD-ROM, which is not discoverable in Safe Mode, so I have no clean way of running the panacea that is the Windows 98 2nd Edition disc. I think next step is exploring the BIOS or just deleting the IDE controller and rebooting…who knows?

And that is where I stand right now. I know this is more than anyone wanted to know, but I have to get this stuff recorded if I’m ever going to find my way back out of this Windows hell. The irony of all this is I have a stream at 10 AM today to show off my setup and get my computer on the Protoweb browser with Taylor, but at this rate that is just not gonna happen as planned. Woe is Windows 98.


*It’s worth noting here that in order to get the 3Com Ethernet Link working I had to wrap my head around ISO disks, and the best tools I found were UltraISO to burn the disk and then the Daemon Toolset to create/mount a virtual CD drive. I am trying to remember what version I installed, or what forum I got this from, but I am blanking, that said the following video was what got me started with UltraISO:

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2 Responses to Windows 98 Woes

  1. Charles Fulton says:

    Jim, if you haven’t already done this, I would check the master/slave jumpers on the CD-ROM. Boards of that era were less forgiving about a mismatched configuration.

    • Reverend says:

      Thanks for commenting. Those jumpers were new to me, and led me down a rabbit hole. Looks like the CD-ROM has it’s own connection to the motherboard, and is—as I understand it—a master, so I jumped it as such. Whereas the hard-drive is showing up as a slave because it is not using the end of the ribbon cable, which is odd, but that is how it was before I added the new CD-ROM, on a lark I changed the jumpers to make the hard drtive a master, and that had no effect on the error. I was trying to do that in the BIOS, but turns out that was controlled by the jumpers, so that is something learned.

      It is odd because the computer loads to safe mode, but CD-ROM is not recognized. And when it loads regular it seems to recognize the drives at boot, but then just goes to the Windows 98 screen then hangs on a cursor and hourglass against a green background continuously.

      I was thinking it was something with the disk, so did a full scan, but that came back clean, so makes me think there’s something with the boot-up. I have to get a boot loader floppy disc for windows 98 and try that, but I did get a weird bootlog.txt where things were going wrong, but searching that was generic, and leading me towards video drivers. I’ll get a copy of that text when back in the office for posterity.

      I started thinking I would try re-installing Windows 98 SE, but given I don’t have a working CD-ROM, I may be in a bit of a pickle, although I found this easy2boot option for installing Windows 98 from a USB drive—which is wild—but not sure the complexity will guarantee I don;t lose my data. I may need to remove the hard disk and see if I can make a copy before I get to deep in on this 😉

      Anyway, I might need to get another arcade cabinet to work on before I fall into this hobby too deep

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