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Windows 95 Hijinks

The Backstory

Some years ago I picked up on old PC from eBay for $20 with a few to check whether it worked (it was listed as not working), see if I could fix it, and hopefully shift it on. What I didn't count on at the time was an onslaught of nostalgic feelings for old PCs. Beige boxes have never been that exciting, and the evolution of PC so gradual (apart from a few notable moments[1]) that I didn't think there was anything to miss. At the time the machine was running Windows 95 with a fair bit of cruft, and I wanted to play around with DOS once more, so I imaged the disk and set about installing DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1.

Seven Years Later

Screenshot showing the created date of one of the registry files as

With the machine setup again after a (long) house move, I wondered once more about the original install and what was on it. I'm not 100% sure of it's original install date, but as you can see one of the registry files was created onthe 28th of July, 1997 which is a nice round 26 years and 26 days ago. There are older file dates on there but I suspect those I could have just used a virtual machine, which I did back when I took the original image, but that didn't seem like much fun, so I opened up the box and installed an IDE->Compact Flash adapter that has a PCI bracket allowing for easy swapping of the CF card.

I located the original image I made that's been sitting untouched on my harddrive for seven years and dd'd it to a 2GB CF card I bought years ago but had never used. I hit the power button and got pretty much what I expected, the bog standard 9x era "Invalid System Disk" message.

More searching ensued and I located a Windows 95 boot disk image - I had one on a floppy already but it was for a different version of Windows 95 (B) and didn't seem to work with the unknown install that was on the CF card. Once I'd managed to boot from the disk I used sys a: c: to make that partition bootable.

Crossed fingers, a power cycle and Windows 95 started to boot, but unfortunately hit a BSOD (0xOD at 0117:00007DBD, helpful!).

Debugging the BSOD

I rebooted and Windows automatically booted into Safe Mode, which was a good start. While in there I removed the old graphics card and sound card from the device manager. I honestly can't recall if the machine had a separate sound card before but I'd put in an AWE32 during my DOS experiments to relive my youth, and I'd also dropped in an S3 Virge graphics card along with an Orchic Righteous 3D (3dfx Voodoo) that I've owned since new. Given the hardware was totally different it wasn't that surprising Windows failed, so I restarted again and thought I might get lucky. Unfortunately, I got another BSOD.

More online search about debugging boot-up BSODs brought me to a thread from 2004 on Tom's Hardware[2](] which had a good list of ideas to try.

The first step was removing some startup programs, but I had no joy.

The second step was removing more hardware devices, but again, no joy.

The third step was Commenting out the contents of config.sys & autoexec.bat - no joy, but this time none was expected as they were pretty innocuous.

The fourth step was to remove system.ini and win.ini, replacing the former with a copy of System.cb, with a few additions detailed in the Tom's Hardware post: MUCH JOY!

Making Windows Happy

Booting to a desktop was a great step but it was time for the next quest: find all the relevant drivers for the new[3] hardware in the machine, first stop being to deal with the mouse which was now non-functional.

I removed the mouse via Device Manager, then launched the Add new Hardware Wizard, which found a few things:

Yet another reboot and the mouse started working, though the drivers seemingly installed for the S3 card didn't do anything and it still showed as not working, with lovely 16 colour desktop. I installed some drivers from the library and that satisfied Device Manager, but opening Display settings still popped up a dialog indicating an issue with the video card, and wouldn't allow for higher resolutions or colour depths. Looking at the Device Manager again I noticed it waas still showing a Cirrus Logic video device (onboard VGA), so opted to remove that completely. After doing so, higher resolutions worked but choosing 24-bit colour prompted a reboot. The OS started up and annoyingly re-installed the Cirrus Logic drivers and triggered another reboot, but after starting the dithered background colour of the desktop was finally gone. I don't know why an onboard chipset that's not being used has an effect like this, but hey, it works now.

The ISA network card didn't appear under the Device Manager, and it took some searching online to kick-start some old memories and finally I got it going after visiting the Network control panel and adding a new adapter in there. Amusingly, at least in 2023, after adding the adapter Windows automatically installed a couple of network protocols, but didn't install TCP/IP by default. I couldn't remember the IRQ or address range for the card, and my wild guess was incorrect, but after quickly booting back into my DOS install and firing up the packet driver there I was sorted. I put in the correct IRQ and address range, rebooted, and sure enough, running winipcfg showed it had correctly receieved an IP address from my DHCP server.

Next Step: Investigations...

Screenshot showing some of the files in the root of the main partition

That's everything to date, I'm going to poke around with it a bit now to see what's installed etc. and check that everything is functioning as expected. More to come on that later. There's plenty of crud in the root of the drive as can be seen in the screenshot above[4], probably data files from a game or similar but time will (hopefully) tell. Somewhat disappointingly, the warez directory is empty.

  1. Those that leap immediately to mind are the introduction of graphics accelerators and seeing the Voodoo run for the first time, the not-long-after introduction of Hardware T&L with the GeForce 256 card, and then the move to SSDs from HDDs ↩︎

  2. [Read Bill Starbuck's excellent post here] ↩︎

  3. Yes, it's all close to 30 years old, but it was new to that particular install of Windows 95 ↩︎

  4. You may not notice this simply reading the page, but both screenshots are .bmp files because I saved the screenshots in MS Paint on the 95 box and couldn't be bothered to reformat them. Yes, I know there are plugins that can do that for me automagically. ↩︎