Preparing the Hard Disk

Remember that handy boot disk you had prepared?  Pop that in the floppy drive and get yourself to a DOS prompt.  If your system won't boot off of the disk you will want to go back and double check your settings in the BIOS setup and repeat this procedure.

At the DOS prompt run FDISK from your boot disk to begin partitioning your Hard Disk.  FDISK is included on all Windows 9x boot disks and is often available as an option with most other boot disks you can create, the file is also present in the WINDOWS\COMMAND directory on a Win9x computer as well as the DOS directory on DOS\3.11 systems.  If you're installing Windows NT you can simply boot off of the floppies that came with your installation package and you'll be able to partition your HDD from within the setup.  Although Windows 98 allows you to do the same, you may want to pre-partition your drives before installing if you plan on partitioning the drive into two or more sections. 

The first message you should see from FDISK, provided you're installing Windows 95 OSR2.1 or later, will be a prompt asking you if you would like to enable Large Disk Support.  Large Disk Support is nothing more than a simplified description of FAT32, if you plan on creating a partition larger than 2GB you must enable this option.  With the current size of Hard Drives it is best to enable FAT32, however if you absolutely must use FAT16 you will want to leave the option set to 'No' and continue on with the procedure.  The recommended setting is enabling FAT32 as it does optimize disk usage efficiency and can free up considerable amounts of space on larger partitions due to its allowance for smaller clusters (4KB vs 16KB - 32KB) for 2GB partitions. 

From within the FDISK utility you will want to select your primary fixed disk and choose to create a Primary DOS Partition.   You will be questioned as to whether or not you want the partition to use the maximum amount of available fixed disk space, set this to 'No' if you would like to partition your hard drive into more than one part (i.e. multiple drive letters for the same drive volume).  If not, then you can simply select 'Yes' and move on with the process.  FDISK will ask you to define how much space this volume should be allocated, you can either type in the size in Megabytes or as a percentage of the total disk space available.  Keep in mind that this will be your 'C: Drive' and will contain your operating system software and generally drivers, etc...  It is bad practice to keep all of your programs on the drive your Operating System is installed, so you don't have to worry about not leaving enough space for Windows to play around in.   The general rule of thumb is to give about 2 - 3GB of space to Windows, which will provide it with ample room for whatever it may need it for, anything more would be overkill however keep in mind that you don't want to drop below the 1GB line.  After finishing that up, you can proceed to the next step, which is setting up any other partition(s) on your fixed disks.

You will want to follow the same procedure as above, with a little twist.  First, you select the fixed disk you wish to perform the partitioning on but this time, instead of creating a Primary DOS Partition, you want to create an Extended DOS Partition.  When asked if you would like to use all available space for your Extended DOS Partition you will want to answer 'Yes' this time, even if you intend on creating more than one partition.  An Extended DOS Partition is the area of your HDD other than your Primary DOS Partition and can be re-partitioned into sub-drives called Logical DOS Partitions.  After creating an Extended DOS Partition FDISK will automatically take you to a screen that will allow you to create Logical DOS Partitions in the Extended Partition you just created.  The process from here on is identical to what you did when you created the Primary DOS Partition, not a big deal.   After creating all of your partitions you will want to exit FDISK and reboot the computer, CTRL + ALT + DEL should do the trick, there is no need to power down the system.

Now you're ready to format your drive.   Once again, with your boot disk in the drive, get to the DOS prompt and execute the format command, 'FORMAT C:', and hit the enter key.  You will only need to do this on your C: Drive, once you have Windows setup on your computer you can format the rest of the drives from within the OS which will be considerably faster than doing it from a DOS prompt.  The format shouldn't take too much time, although with larger disks it can sometimes seem like an eternity, especially if you can't wait to get your system up and running to play a little Quake 2.  Patience is the greatest virtue here, but you're almost to the point when you can begin to enjoy the computer.  Once the format is complete you have a number of options for setting up your Operating System software on the computer.

Installing the Operating System

Choose whatever method you would like to begin installing the Operating System software, the easiest method would be to copy the installation files from another hard drive to your newly formatted drive, however you shouldn't have a single problem installing the OS directly from the original CD or installation disks.  The only reason it is recommended to copy the files to your HDD first and then perform an install is because you will avoid having to load any CD-ROM drivers not to mention the speed of the install will be increased considerably.   Plus, it is always a good thing to have a copy of the OS installation files on your HDD just in case.  The installation files for Win9x are located on the CD-ROM under the directory Win95 or Win98 depending on your version of Windows. 

Installing the OS should be pretty straight forward, there are relatively few errors you can run into here provided that all of your hardware works well together and your memory timings in your BIOS aren't too aggressive for your memory.  It is good habit to create a boot disk using your newly installed OS if you are asked to unless you happen to have another working computer laying around the house.  The reason for this is so that you can be sure that you have an up-to-date, virus free, boot disk available for use if the need arises.

A typical installation of your OS should be all that you need, however take the time to look at the optional components that aren't installed by default, you might actually find something you like.  Just don't go overboard with installing useless components on your system, regardless of the size of your HDD, if you see something you know you're not going to use, by all means, don't install it.

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  • kevinmcan - Wednesday, June 15, 2022 - link

    Wonderful tips on how to build a computer "cheap and cheerful."

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