Taming Windows 95/98/98SE/ME Out of Memory Errors

The symptom: If you install more than 512 MB of RAM in a system running Windows 9x (that’s any version of Windows 95, 98, 98SE, or ME), you get weird out of memory errors.

The culprit is a bug in Windows 9x’s disk cache. The solution is to limit the cache to use 512MB of memory, or less, which is a good thing to do anyway. Here’s how.

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My phone’s micro SD card made Windows Disk Manager hang, but I fixed it

The micro SD card in my Android phone (a Samsung Galaxy S 4G, if that helps) quit working suddenly, and I finally got around to investigating it on Friday. I ended up having to solve two problems to do it, though.

Let’s start with Windows 7’s Disk Manager hanging at the message that says “Connecting to Virtual Disk Service.”

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Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 with USB media

I wasn’t in any hurry to switch to Windows 7, but when several places put the Windows 7 family pack on sale for $125 or thereabouts, I figured I’d better get it. The normal price on three upgrades is $100-$110 a pop. And you know how it goes. Once you get something, you really don’t want it to just sit on the shelf. Why let the software collect dust while I wait for 64-bit Firefox to arrive?

So I want to install it off USB. It’s easy, right? Well, it’s easy if you’re running Vista. But the instructions floating around for making bootable Windows 7 installation USB media don’t work if you’re running XP. At least they didn’t work from any of my XP machines. Read more

A Linux-based GPL\’ed disk partition table recovery program

It seems like I’m recommending the program MBRwork to someone at least once a month. I recommended it two or three times just last week. But there are a couple of things I don’t like about it. One, it’s DOS. Creating DOS boot floppies isn’t as easy as it used to be. And two, it’s proprietary, so it could theoretically disappear any minute.

But similar tools exist for Linux.The most highly regarded is gpart (guess partition), which just happens to be included on the BG-Rescue Linux two-floppy rescue system. Download BG-Rescue Linux and burn the ISO image to a CD, or download the two-floppy version and write it to two floppies, and keep it in your toolbox. Or, of course, they’re on Knoppix.

When a partition table vanishes, or, a more likely scenario, a system quits booting mysteriously, you can boot BG-Rescue Linux and run gpart. You can also check FAT/FAT32 filesystems with dosfsck and NTFS partitions with ntfsfix.

Need to undelete some files in an emergency? You can even undelete files from NTFS partitions with ntfsundelete.

Clearly, skills with a handful of Unix utilities are very useful even in a strictly Windows shop.

Looks like I should explore these tools a bit more in-depth this week.

Ghost won\’t let me use my monster hard drive!

Here’s a familiar problem, I’m sure.

You need to back up your laptop, so you buy a monster (200+ GB) USB or Firewire hard drive. And then you can’t use it in Symantec/Norton Ghost, for one of two reasons:

1. You can’t format a FAT32 partition bigger than 32 gigabytes.
2. Ghost chokes when it tries to make a file larger than 4 gigabytes.These are limits of the operating system, not Ghost. But there are workarounds.

To format a FAT32 drive bigger than 32 gigs, you need a DOS boot disk. If you don’t have a Windows 95OSR2 or Windows 98 DOS boot disk handy, you might try bootdisk.com, or download the latest version of FreeDOS, which now supports FAT32.

You’ll have to use good old FDISK and FORMAT, which is clunkier than Windows XP’s computer management, but at least it’s possible.

Ghost can choke when the image file exceeds 4 gigabytes in size because FAT32 won’t let you make a file larger than that. It’s a limit of the FAT32 file system. The workaround there is to split up the image. Pass Ghost the -SPAN -SPLIT=4095 parameters when you launch it to get around that problem.

Need to squeeze a little more on that floppy?

I’ve been experimenting again with bootdisks and the FreeDOS project came to mind.

Boot floppies are getting rarer but they’re still hard to avoid completely. I think FreeDOS is worth a look for a variety of reasons.Its system files take up half the space of Win9x’s DOS. That extra 100K on the disk can make the difference between your tools fitting on a floppy or not.

FreeDOS supports FAT32. There’s an unofficial DR-DOS fork that does as well, but the licensing terms of FreeDOS are a whole lot more clear.

The FreeDOS FORMAT.EXE can overformat disks. If you use more than 80 tracks, the disks have problems in some machines, but a 1.68 megabyte disk using extra sectors per track should be OK. Concerned about overformatting disks? The Amiga’s default high-density disk format was 1.76 megabytes. That extra 240K can make a big difference, especially when coupled with that 100K you’ve already saved. The syntax to make a bootable 1.68 meg disk: FORMAT A: /F:1680 /S

The syntax for a 1.74 meg disk: FORMAT A: /F:1743 /S

The FreeDOS command interpreter includes command history, so you don’t need to make space on the disk or in low memory for DOSKEY.

Using FreeDOS and its 1.68 meg floppy, I was able to squeeze Ghost 8.1 (a 1.3 meg monster) onto a boot floppy and still have 197,632 bytes free to play with. With that kind of space left, if need be, one could format the disk with FreeDOS, then SYS it under Win9x and run MS-DOS 7 on it.

If you still need to squeeze a little more space, get the freeware FDFormat, which can also format oversized floppies and lets you reduce the root directory down to 16 entries from the default 224, which gives you a few more kilobytes of usable space. If you need to put more than 16 files on the disk, create a subdirectory and put your files in the subdirectory. The syntax would be FDFORMAT /D16 /F168 /S. Substitute /F172 for a bigger disk. To increase the performance of the floppy (who doesn’t want the slowpoke floppy to be a bit faster?) add the /X:2 /Y:3 options. A boot disk formatted this way yields 1,595,904 free bytes with the FreeDOS boot files installed.

That’s enough space to be almost useful for something again. You’ll at least be able to fit more on Bart’s modular disks or Brad’s network boot disk.

Shrinking Windows 2000 and XP

Seeing as this used to be my big topic, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s now possible to remove Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and other components from Windows 2000 and XP using software from litepc.com.
I haven’t tested it, so I don’t know how much difference it makes, performance-wise. It made a large difference in Windows 98–removing IE caused system speedups of anywhere from 10 to 25 percent, which is more than you gain by upgrading your CPU a speed grade or two. This was mostly due to two factors: reduced memory consumption and inefficiencies in the FAT/FAT32 file systems. It’s been known for about 20 years that performance starts to degrade dramatically once you have more than 100 files in a program or operating system’s subdirectory (Microsoft even said as much in the DOS 5.0 manual).

Since most people run XP and 2000 with NTFS, and since systems with half a gig of memory or more are becoming commonplace, I don’t know if removing IE will make as much difference in this day and age. It certainly makes sense from a security standpoint though–rip out IE, Media Player and Outlook Express and replace them with third-party apps, and you’ve just eliminated most of the programs whose security holes affect desktop PCs. It comes at the expense of compatibility though. Some programs utilize Outlook Express and IE components–although some programs will install the missing DLLs.

But for special-purpose PCs, or other PCs that aren’t running any software that uses those programs, or PCs that are strapped for disk space, it makes sense to give it a shot.

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