To free up some desk space so I can work from home in the right conditions during few weeks, I had to close at least one of my on-going projects. I’ve decided to go with the ultimate IO PC. As you may remember, I embarked on the adventure of building one PC that reads and writes them all! All vintage media, of course. At least, as many as possible. To do so, I’ve spent a lot of time to choose and pick the right devices and expansion cards carefully. And when you play with 20+ years old drives, that can be tricky. Especially if you remember how involved it could be to build a vintage PC. At least, compared to a modern RGB-puke covered one. I was done with the HW, and only the OS was missing. I thought that it would be a cakewalk.

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Hahaha! I could not be more wrong. I’ve picked Windows XP Pro SP3. Once the OS CD is booted, the installer copies the OS files onto a hard disk partition (primary and active). Right at the first step, I had several issues. It was a festival! I had abundant choices between bluntly dying drives, failed sectors – of course, needed to store critical files –, or only becoming unknown to the BIOS after the first reboot… Lovely. I finally had to revert to boot from a SCSI drive. This choice worked fine, but it took me some time to remember that the BIOS boot sequence must be set to SCSI and that boot support must be activated and a device selected via the controller’s configuration firmware.

Another pitfall was lurking in the dark down the installation path. And this one was vicious because I’ve checked all my HW thoroughly using a Linux based diagnostics CD. It turned out that Windows XP chocked on a component during startup. It froze with no useful feedback. No problem, here comes the safe mode. But I forgot how useless the debug messages could be. For example, instead of telling me that mup.sys was loaded and hanging on the next one, it could be better to say which driver the OS will load next.

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It took me a lot of HW shuffling, swapping, removing to find out that, in my case, the culprit was the PCMCIA floppy. After this incident, pretty much all went smoothly. Of course, no way to activate XP today as it is EOL. If you face the same issue, simply tweak the registry (delete the OOBETimer key). Finally, I’ve spent the time to test the I/O capabilities by formatting various media, and copying/checking files all over the place, including the network. It all worked fine, and this project turned out well.

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I have a few next steps: fix the CardBus floppy driver issue, connect 1394 drives, and maybe an external SCSI DLT drive. I was pleased that my bet of installing a secondary IDE controller (Adaptec Dual Channel Ultra IDE PATA ATA/133 PCI controller ASH-1233) worked. This additional controller will allow me, if needed, to add up to three more IDE PATA devices. But, more importantly, I can now move my new old IO PC and free my desktop for Monday!