Old laptop and DOS woes

Friday, June 3rd, 2005 at 11:15 am

A few weeks ago I acquired a an old Toshiba Satellite 4090XCDT laptop that was being disposed of at work because it was both old and, more significantly, was playing up. I ended up spending a few hours this evening getting it back up and running for my sister to use.

The first issue I encountered was that I couldn’t get it to power up. After spending 15 minutes checking that the power adapter and the battery were ok I discovered a small switch. This switch is critical to what I was trying to do, turn the laptop on, as it locks the power button in place to prevent accidental usage. With the power button unlocked the laptop powered up immediately.

As the laptop had gone through the proper disposal procedures the hard drive had been wiped so my first task was to install an operating system. Windows was the only option based on the end user and also as that has all the supported drivers. Initially I considered Windows XP as the Celeron 400 CPU would tolerate it but after I found that it only had 64MB of RAM I decided to simply use the restore CD’s to install Windows 98.

This is where the major problems began to surface as sometimes the 20GB hard drive would simply not be detected and when it was I could not complete a reformat. At this point I was hoping that it was simply a faulty hard drive so I began to pull the laptop apart in order to swap the drive with another one that I had previously used in an external USB case. It was only after seperating the latop into two parts (screen and upper case, and lower case and all the other parts) I found that the hard drive is designed to be easily replaced. One screw releases a small panel on the left side and then the removal of another screw allowed the drive, in a little cage, to be slid out. After quickly reassembling the laptop before I lost any of the screws and swapping the possibly faulty 20GB drive for my 12GB drive (they both turned out to be IBM TravelStar’s) I reinsterted the restore CD and turned it on. This time all went well with it automatically formatting the drive and then copying data from the two CD’s onto the hard drive.

It was interesting to note that the first part of the restore is not to restore an operating system. Instead two disk images are copied to the hard disk and then when the system is booted for the first time (later in my process) the user must choose between Windows 95 and Windows 98. This explained by the fact that the laptop dates from not long after the release of Windows 98 and there were individual applications and/or corporate environments that would only work with Windows 95.

Once the restore from CD was complete I rebooted and got a very cryptic ‘Invalid operating system’ message, not at all like the Windows boot screen that I was expecting. Thus began the repeat booting from floppy disks in order to run such DOS programs as sys and fdisk. I even pulled the drive out and, using an adapter, plugged it into a desktop system to see it is was another laptop issue. After around thirty minutes or so of this I was running fdisk in order to delete all the partitions in an attempt to start from scratch that I spotted the warning message at the bottom of the screen saying that none of the partitions were marked as active. It was that simple. I needed to mark the primary partition as active and once that was done the drive could be booted from and I was asked whether I wanted Windows 95 or Windows 98…

The majority of the operating systems installations I have performed over the past few years have either been Windows 2000/XP or Linux. Neither of these two require you to manually set the active partition. It is either done automatically or is not required. It is funny to think about all the little bits of information that slip away when they are not used…

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