Installing Windows 98: The Final Chapter?

Back on the retro hardware this weekend. The day’s efforts had several dramatic turns, starting with a cliffhanger I had forgotten about: the machine I was trying to install Windows 98 on had stopped booting. It just went silent and lightly sprinkled the logo screen with glitches before the POST, without so much as a beep code. This development was part of the reason I stopped working on it for two months. (There are other reasons, which I hope to post about soon.) In my experience, there are only ever two causes for this sort of behavior: improperly seated components, and components damaged by static electricity. And everything had seemed pretty firmly seated before.

This time, however, I noticed that one of the little lock-in levers on the memory slots was out of position, and in fact seemed to be broken enough that it couldn’t be put into position. Shifting the memory into a different slot fixed the immediate problem. I might as well have just taken it out completely, though, because it turns out that I had more memory in that box than Windows 98 knows how to cope with. It actually complained that I didn’t have enough memory because of the overflow.

“What’s this?” you cry. “You managed to get the Windows 98 installer to the point where it was capable of making spurious objections about memory?” Yes. It’s funny how that all worked out. Basically, I discovered by chance that the rudimentary DOS that the Win98 install floppy had installed on the hard drive was capable of reading from a USB flash drive. This was particularly surprising because I didn’t think that I had been able to read from a flash drive when booting from the Win98 install floppy — but maybe, just maybe, I had never actually tried. I can’t try it now, because shortly afterwards, the floppy drive mysteriously stopped functioning. Getting old hardware working is like spinning plates sometimes. The weirdest part is that the particular flash drive I’m using isn’t recognized by Windows 98 itself. Every time I want to use it, I have to boot the machine into DOS mode. Still, this sufficed to copy the entire Win98 CD to hard disk and install it from there. And so I now have a somewhat-functioning Windows 98 machine.

Only somewhat, though, because it’s clear that I won’t actually be able to play games this way, or at least, not the emulation-resistant games I’m doing this for. Even in Windows, I still haven’t gotten it to recognize any CD drive I own. I could possibly install Galaga: Destination Earth the same way I installed Windows, by copying it over via thumb drive, but this is one of those few games that plays CD-audio music during gameplay. You just don’t see that done any more in the age of digital distribution, but it used to not be all that uncommon in the days of the games that I’m specifically building this system for. Worst yet, I haven’t been able to install drivers for the graphics card. It’s an nVidia card, and nVidia distributes drivers via installer packages that cover all their cards. The very latest such installer for Windows 98 is from December 2005. It doesn’t recognize the the card I have installed. I assume this is because it was made after 2005.

I could keep on tinkering. There’s an off-chance that one of my other disused systems has hardware that Windows 98 supports. But it’s unlikely, because this box has the very oldest hardware I still possess. I thought for sure that it would be old enough for Windows 98, but I guess I overestimated how long I’ve kept stuff. So basically it’s time to give up on this route unless I get my hands on some older, more Win98-compatible hardware. I’ve looked into purchasing an entire refurbished Win98 system, but they’re a bit more expensive than this blog can justify. As for the system I’ve been working on, maybe I’ll reinstall XP on it if I can figure out how to get past the whole “activation” nonsense.

2 Comments so far

  1. Jota on 24 Sep 2018

    I have no suggestions for the video card, but is it possible to mount an .ISO of the CD as a drive?

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 26 Sep 2018

    That’s a good idea! It should make stuff load faster, too.

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