Vintage PC Notes

These are some scattered notes about vintage PC configuration and maintenance, mostly related to a Dell OptiPlex GX1 (Pentium III CPU) that I adopted from work. Subject to change, no warranty, etc, etc.


Windows 98SE: Installation

To install Windows 98, you need both the installation CD, and a boot disk. The boot environment lets you partition and format the hard drive. After this, you can run SETUP.EXE on the CD-ROM drive from this environment to start the installation.

Amazingly, Microsoft still has an extensive TechNet article outlining the Win98 install steps online.

If you need a floppy disk drive to create the boot floppy, external USB 3.5″ drives are still available if you look for them.


Windows 98SE: Start in DOS Mode

See here:


IDE (Parallel ATA) Hard Drives

One ribbon cable supports two drives, and one drive needs to be designated the Master, and the other the Slave. I don’t think there’s any speed or priority difference between the two, it’s just a way to enumerate resources. Alternately, they can both be set to Cable Select mode, in which case the BIOS will figure out enumeration on its own, but both drives and the BIOS must support this setting.

The ribbon cable connector which is furthest away from the others is for the motherboard. It shouldn’t matter which of the two remaining connectors is used for the master or slave — the jumpers define which is which.

Master/Slave/Cable Select has to be configured by hand on each drive to match what the corresponding settings are in the motherboard BIOS. Unfortunately, the jumper settings vary by manufacturer and drive model. If there is not a clear diagram on the drive label indicating which pins are for which setting, look for any kind of jumper layout indicator on the drive stickers, such as “J50”. In this case, the J50 setting for Master is to stick the jumper on the two far-left pins.

Floppy disk drives

Floppies usually have their own ribbon / bus with fewer lines and a small twist on one end. The twisted end connects to the drive.


CD-ROM / DVD-ROM drives

CD/DVD readers have an additional audio passthrough port to the motherboard for passing CD Audio.


RAM DIMM / SODIMM Identification

See here:


Dell OptiPlex GX1 – Slowdown and Speedup keyboard shortcut

This PC has a nice “turbo key” style speed shortcut. Hit CTRL + ALT + \ or CTRL + ALT + # (varies by OptiPlex model) to toggle between a slow mode and normal operating speed.

This can be done at any time in DOS, and in Windows if you have a DOS Prompt in focus or full-screen (Real Mode). The slow mode is very slow, but it can remedy issues such as ISA Sound Blaster cards not playing audio correctly because the CPU is too fast.

Thanks to Vogons user retrofanatic for making me aware of this — the only other way to do it is to reboot and change a setting in the BIOS.


Dell OptiPlex GX1, Ubuntu Server 15: Blank display (no signal) after BIOS startup

My understanding is that old video hardware sometimes gets confused by the graphical video mode now used in the GRUB bootloader. You can try forcing GRUB to start in console mode instead.

To force console mode:

  • Use the Ubuntu installation disc to enter rescue mode. Choose the root partition and enter the terminal.
  • sudo vim /etc/default/grub
  • :colorscheme evening if you are having a hard time seeing the text.
  • Press insert to switch to Edit Mode.
  • Add nomodeset in the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT= field.
  • Uncomment the GRUB_TERMINAL=console line.
  • Save your changes — press Esc to leave edit mode, then type :wq to save and quit.
  • Back at the terminal, update the GRUB bootloader information with sudo update-grub. After this is completed, type exit to return to the rescue prompts and reboot the system.

(Sources: Ubuntu Forums – “Thread: Out of frequency, Dell Optiplex GX 1”Ask Ubuntu – “How do I set ‘nomodeset’ after I’ve already installed Ubuntu?”)