Snow day time travel: 1998

This past week I had a snow day, so I decided to stay at home and rebuild my first Windows ’98 machine.

The 90’s were a time of positive change and growth for me. I started the 90’s as a single college student using an Amiga computer. In the mid-1990’s, I got married and was running OS/2 Warp 3 on a computer I built myself based on the PCI54ITS motherboard in a Genesis mid tower case. This was a Socket 7 motherboard with a Pentium CPU running at 200 Mhz. By the time 1998 rolled around, the writing was on the wall; OS/2 was going to go the way of the Amiga, and Windows ’95 brought with it a whole new experience in gaming, and my interest in gaming was renewed with games like Command and Conquer: Red Alert, Heretic, and Duke Nukem 3D. Games like Quake 3 and Half Life demonstrated that Windows was really the only way to go. USB was going to be the new standard for devices, which was not yet supported with OS/2 but was with Windows ’98. The fact that I could get StarOffice 5, a free full office suite on par with Microsoft Office I had been using with OS/2 Warp 3, for Windows ’98 sealed the deal. Since I had a legitimate licensed copy of Windows 3.1, I bought the Windows ’98 “Upgrade” when it went on sale at Costco, along with Westwood Classic’s Command and Conquer: Red Alert and Tiberian Sun game pack.

Me in May 1999 doing baby duty. I was (and still am) a trackball guy.

My motherboard of choice for my Windows ’98 build was the TMC AI5VG+, a super socket 7 motherboard with the AMD K62-450 processor. This was a unique motherboard that kept one foot in the past, and another in the future: With two ISA slots, two 72 pin SIMM slots, legacy serial, parallel, and keyboard ports, and AT power supply connectors, it was backwards compatible with everything I already owned. With 3 168 pin DIMM slots, 1 AGP slot, 4 PCI slots, two USB connectors (one powered, one not powered), and ATX power supply connectors, it was ready for the future. With a bus speed of up to 100 Mhz, it could really perform.

Check out those legacy slots.

I went with the AMD K62 processor partly because it offered great overall performance (especially with their 3DNow technology), and also partly because I could piss off Mac snobs who sneered at people who bought “WinTel.” When I had a Pentium processor, I was running OS/2; now that I was running Windows, I had an AMD processor. I knew the PC world was much bigger than Windows and Intel, and so when a Mac snob tried to tell me that I was a sheep for buying just another “Wintel” machine, I could inform them that I actually built the computer myself, and while it ran Windows, there was no Intel under the hood, it was AMD. Then I’d advise them to lay off the Kool-Aid for a while as I explained the benefits of the PC’s open architecture as their eyes glazed over. Good times.

The original warranty sticker on my motherboard

Over the past 21 years, this computer became my first personal web server, running Apache on Red Hat Linux, and then became something for my son to play around with. At some point, the keyboard connector became unreliable and it got tucked away in the basement for storage. That beautiful Genesis mid-tower case rusted out after spending years in a basement and suffering from a flood, but the motherboard and components survived; meanwhile, I had a ‘386 in a cheap mini tower case from that era living in the garage, where the motherboard was destroyed from a battery leak, but the case and power supply held up fine. I decided to use that case for this week’s build.

Fixing the keyboard connector

I started by reflowing the solder on the motherboard connector so that my keyboard would work reliably. I then replaced the CMOS battery and used rubbing alcohol to clean the contacts on the memory chips and expansion cards. I kept my big, beautiful monitor all these years; it has a real Sony Trinitron tube. I also decided to use my compact Model M keyboard with this, as well as a proper trackball.

I found a 4 gigabyte hard drive that works well, though I may consider upgrading that in the future. With both 5.25″ and 3.5″ disk drives, along with an iomega zip drive and CD-ROM, this system will make it easy to transfer old files to modern USB solid state solutions. It’s maxed out with 256MB of RAM. The video card is an unexpanded ATI Rage Pro, though I may consider swapping that out for the ATI all in wonder if I get a case with better cooling and a better power supply.

While most people today would install Windows ’98 SE, I never owned a license for that, because, after all the updates, Windows ’98 was the same thing as Windows ’98 SE. After this, I bought a laptop that had Windows ME, and, contrary to criticisms, ran and performed very well. My next build after that was a Windows XP machine with a boxed copy of Windows XP upgrade, but that’s a story for another day.

1600×1200 resolution, HD in the 90’s!

I decided to start with my 15th anniversary collection from Interplay. This set includes Battle Chess, Beat the House 95, Castles II: Siege & Conquest, Conquest of the New World Deluxe, Descent, Dragon Wars, Fallout, M.A.X., Norse by Norsewest, Redneck Rampage, Shattered Steel, Solitaire Deluxe Windows, Stonekeep, Virtual Pool, and Whiplash. I also have a ton of other games, all of which will probably fill up that hard drive fairly quickly.

Now, I know what you must be thinking; why go through all that trouble, when virtualization is so good? We have DOSBox and VirtualBox for both Windows and Linux, and some of these games, like Command and Conquer Red Alert, install and run fine for free very easily. To that I say, I agree one hundred percent. In many respects, virtualization is better than the real thing. However, it was a snow day, and I had this stuff stored away for all these years for just such an occasion to travel back to 1998 for the day with the real hardware, and for the nostalgia trip, it was worth it.

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