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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CD-ROM troubleshooting under Windows 9x

Occasionally, a PC’s CD or DVD-ROM drive will stop responding for no known good reason. Sometimes the problem is hardware–a CD-ROM drive, being a mechanical component, can fail–but as often as not, it seems, the problem is software rather than hardware.*
Troubleshooting an IDE CD-ROM drive that quit working is pretty much the same under Windows 95, Windows 95B, Windows 95OSR2.1, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, and Windows Me, whether you have a Compaq, Dell, eMachine, eMachines, Gateway, HP, IBM, Micron, Packard Bell, Sony, or clone PC.**

In an effort to avoid tech support calls about DOS games, most computer manufacturers load DOS-mode CD-ROM drivers in a file called config.sys. This reduces tech support calls but increases the chances of software failure by about a million percent. Open My Computer, navigate to Drive C, and locate the file config.sys. (It might just say “config”.) Rename it to something else.

Don’t reboot yet. Often, this will solve the problem in and of itself, but frequently there’s another problem on Windows 9x boxes.

Sometimes Windows has trouble deciding whether to use the driver specified in config.sys or its own built in driver, so it’ll bluescreen. Then, the next time you boot, it adds a key to the registry that disables the CD-ROM drive entirely and makes the rest of the computer run about as fast as a Studebaker.

Nice of it, eh? To check this, click Start, then Run, and type regedit. Double click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, then navigate to System\CurrentControlSet\Services\VxD\IOS. You’ll probably see a value named “NoIDE.” Right click on it and select Delete. Reboot. Your drive will likely come back to life.

If neither of these things work, you can determine for certain if the problem is hardware or software through a couple of methods. If your manufacturer gave you a restore CD, try booting off it. Hold down the shift key while it tries to boot in order to prevent it from doing anything nasty to your system–you just want to see if it boots up. If it doesn’t boot, you’ve got a hardware problem. Replace the drive. If it does boot, either try the above directions again, or you’ve got a problem I’ve never heard of.

If you don’t have a system restore CD, you can accomplish basically the same thing with a DOS boot disk. You can get one of those from bootdisk.com. Boot off the disk, pay attention to what drive letter the CD-ROM got (usually D: but it can vary), insert a data CD, and type the command DIR D: (substitute the drive letter that came up if it’s something other than D:). If you get an error message, you’ve got a hardware problem. Replace the drive.

Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP are immune to the problems I described here. If the drive quits working under one of those operating systems, either your drive lens is dirty or you’ve got a bad drive. Cleaning kits are hard to find and overpriced. As I write, an Artec 56X IDE CD-ROM drive costs $19 at Newegg.com, so outright replacement doesn’t cost much more than cleaning.

* Yes, I realize this is yet another boring troubleshooting entry. Having nothing interesting to say today, I’m writing entries that I know will get me Googlejuice down the road. Analysis of my early stuff and of some of the comments on this site has made me realize there are still some gaps in the Farquhar back-catalog.

** Yes, this is another paragraph written with the express design of getting hits from Google. If you can think of any search term I might have possibly left out, well, that’s what the comments are for.

Disadvantages of Windows 3.1

Note: I wrote this way back in 2003, so my advice as far as replacing Windows 3.1 is a bit dated, but the strengths and weaknesses remain valid. If you’re thinking of a new computer, please don’t run anything older than Windows 7.

I found a search in my log analysis for “disadvantages of windows 3.1,” which I found interesting. I can talk about that.
Someone asked for it, and I aim to please. So let’s head down memory lane.

In all fairness, let’s talk about what’s good about it first. The main thing is that it’ll run–or at least load and execute–on pretty much anything, as long as it’s old. It’s anything but ideal on a 286, but it’ll execute. And on a 386DX, plain old Windows 3.1 is reasonably zippy if you cut down the number of fonts it has, only load a few applications, and install 16 MB of RAM in it. On a 486 or a low-end Pentium, it’s plenty fast.

Windows 3.1 freeware doesn’t have much in the way of strings attached–no need to worry about spyware. That’s a good thing.

Fine. Now for the hatchet job. To be completely honest, I didn’t like Windows 3.1 in 1993 and 1994 when it was what everyone was using. I ran it for a few months and then went out and bought OS/2 and never looked back. So you’re getting a perspective from someone who’s been willing for a long, long time to run anything other than Windows 3.1. But I’ll do my best to be fair.

You may have trouble running it on newer hardware. Let’s face it, it came on the market 10 years ago and not many people use it anymore. There’s not a lot of demand for drivers, so it can be hard to find a modern video card with Windows 3.1 drivers. And not only does Windows 3.1 have spotty capability with new hardware, it’s very limited in its ability to take advantage of anything made since 1995 or so.

More importantly, modern operating systems give full pre-emptive multitasking, or in the case of Windows 95/98/ME, at least something that vaguely resembles it. Under pre-emptive multitasking, the OS decides what applications get CPU time and how much. In Win3.1’s cooperative multitasking, the apps just have a knock-down, drag-out fight for CPU time. If you send an application to the background, it’ll get some work done, but not as much as it would under a newer OS.

My biggest beef with Windows 3.1 was its crashes. If you just run an app or maybe two all the time, it works reasonably well. But I’m the kind of guy who always has three or four or twelve apps open–the first multitasking systems I ever used, Unix and AmigaOS, had no problem doing that–and if you try that with Windows 3.1 for very long, you’ll see a lot of blue screens.

I wasn’t a fan of the Windows 3.1 Program Manager interface. I’m not in love with the Explorer interface of newer versions either, but it’s easier to use and faster to navigate than Progman was.

And although its software selection is pretty good, I guess Windows 3.1 now falls victim to the same argument I heard time and time again against my preferred alternative operating systems: What, don’t you like software? Sometimes Windows 3.1’s available offerings are adequate and sometimes they aren’t: Microsoft Office 6.0 is certainly adequate for 99% of all people’s needs. If you dig deep enough (I found a copy here), you can find Internet Explorer 5.0 for Windows 3.1. It’s not the best browser in the world but it’s the best one you’ll find for Win3.1 and it may be good enough for you. Sticking with Windows 3.1 limits you to a much smaller selection of software than newer operating systems. At this point, ironically, even Linux, which was once notorious for its lack of software that Joe Sixpack would want to use, now has a better selection of mainstream software than Windows 3.1 had.

At this point in time it’s hard to recommend Windows 3.1. PCs capable of running Windows 95 adequately are very, very cheap (I see 133 MHz Pentium computers sell for $35 when people are willing to mess with them, and a 66 MHz 486 will run Windows 95 decently and just about anyone who works in the computer field can find one of those to give you for free if you ask nicely enough), and although support for Windows 95 is starting to dry up, it’s much easier to find hardware and software compatible with Win95 than it is for Windows 3.1. Windows 98 is better still, but I definitely recommend a 200 MHz Pentium and more than 32 MB of RAM for Win98. Still, that’s doable.

And if you’re thinking that Windows 3.1 is adequate for you and you’re not totally strapped for cash, you might want to give the $199 Wal-Mart PCs running Lindows a look. Lindows is basically Linux with a pretty graphical user interface, and it’s perfectly fine for word processing, web browsing and e-mail. The budget Wal-Mart PC is hardly a barn burner, but it’s much faster than any computer you’re likely to be running Windows 3.1 on, and since it will be much newer, the hardware itself will also be a lot more reliable. Double check with your ISP before you buy one to make sure you can get connected (they’re probably getting used to that question by now), but if you can get connected, think about it.

Boot multiple operating systems for free

~Mail follows today’s post~

XOSL doesn’t seem to like my Promise Ultra66 controller. At least not all the time. I don’t like that. I also don’t like how XOSL installs itself in the root directory–my poor root ballooned to over 40 entries after installing it. That’ll cause some system slowdowns. I don’t like having any more than 16 entries in there if I can avoid it.

Fortunately you can install XOSL to a dedicated partition, and that looks to be the better method.

But when XOSL works, it seems to work well. It’s slick and versatile and gives you a great deal of freedom over how and where you install your OSs, as well as how many you can install (and let’s face it, with 30-gig drives selling for $99 at CompUSA, running multiple operating systems is going to get common).

And I see from Brian Bilbrey’s site that patents may accomplish what the RIAA could not. Makes me wonder why one of the RIAA members didn’t just buy Fraunhofer Institut (who owns the applicable patents on MP3) and start charging outrageous royalties immediately. That’ll kill new technologies faster than anything — just ask Rambus.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dustin D. Cook” <dcook32p@nospam.htcomp.net>
Subject: Windows Me
Dave,

Here’s my two cents on Windows Me.

I have been testing this operating system for some time now before I begin pre-installing it on new computers. We’ve run the gamut of stress tests, benchmarks, and usability tests, and we have some interesting results.

All tests were run on multiple machines with a minimum system being an AMD K6-2 500 with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo3 3000 graphics card. The best system tested was an AMD Athlon 1.0 GHz with 512 MB Mushkin PC133 2.0 memory and
a GeForce2 GTS 32MB DDR. We used the same HDD for each machine. It is a Maxtor DiamondMax 45 Plus (ATA/100, 7,200 RPM).

Windows Me should take home a gold medal for speed. It booted quickly, it loaded programs at blistering speeds, and it performed very well in our 3D tests. All-in-all, Windows Me is about one percent faster than Windows 98 SE. This came as something of a surprise to me. I was expecting slightly degraded performance due to the additional system overhead of Internet Explorer 5.5 and the new features of Windows Me. Either Microsoft did some serious “tweaking” to their code, or I’m missing something entirely about this operating system.

Stress tests were a different story. Occasionally, Windows Me would lock-up on us for no apparent reason. The same computer running Windows 98 SE would never falter during our tests. Actually, sometimes Windows Me would lock-up when we were not even running the tests! We replaced some hardware in the machine, but it did this on all of the test PCs. This was a big problem for us. We still haven’t officially tracked down the killer, but we think it involves the new version of Internet Explorer. We had already completed our tests before the new service pack was released, so I don’t have any data from that version. The stress tests involved opening a 25 MB Excel 2000 spreadsheet and minimizing it; open eight browser windows and loading miscellaneous things like Flash movies, several animated GIFs and PNGs, and several Java applications; having The Matrix DVD-ROM’s menu playing in WinDVD 2000; and running Unreal Tournament at 1280x1024x16bpp with our custom “movie”. Windows 98 SE performed admirably, but, as I had mentioned earlier, Windows Me couldn’t do it.

In the usability tests, we had some elderly people try out each computer. This isn’t really a test that can be easily replicated, but overall Windows Me seemed easier for them to use.

What’s my opinion on Windows Me? I think Microsoft made a fairly good product. I’m not very impressed by the lack of native DOS support. I frequently use that to diagnose customer’s computers. What do I do if I have forgotten my boot diskette? I return to the shop and grab one instead of making one right there. The stability issue is a big concern of mine. I’ll try to reproduce those results after downloading the new Internet Explorer service pack, and I’ll write back to you with those results. The speed is commendable. I appreciate the extra “oomph” that Windows Me appears to have behind it. The boot time is quite impressive!

My prize goes to Windows 98 SE. Speed is a very good thing, but when it comes at the cost of stability…we have a problem. My customers don’t want their machine freezing every time they try to open http://thesiliconunderground.editthispage.com/ . ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sincerely,

Dustin D. Cook,
A+ Campus Computers
Stephenville, Texas – USA
~~~~~

Thanks for the info!

You can add DOS support back in with a utility available at www.geocities.com/mfd4life_2000 — that was one of the first things I did after installing WinMe. As for stability, IE5.5SP1 might help. Running 98lite (www.98lite.net) to remove IE 5.5, then replacing it with IE 5.01 (or not at all) could help. I’m not at all impressed with IE5.5, so I’m inclined to speculate the blame lies at its clumsy feet.

I’ll keep experimenting with it myself. And I’m hoping my page is simple enough that it won’t crash any browsers. ๐Ÿ™‚

Forcing Windows 9x to a certain refresh rate

Manually setting the Win9x refresh rate

Occasionally a monitor will go goofy on you when Windows decides to use a weird refresh rate that the monitor won’t support. Sometimes Windows (especially Windows 95) just flat refuses to work with a really old VGA monitor because it insists on using something other than 60 Hz. Or maybe Win9x just isn’t using the highest rate your monitor supports. In NT, you can manually set the refresh rate. In 95 or 98, you have to go spelunking. Boot in safe mode, which uses boring but safe 640×480, 60 Hz. Set the resolution to something you know works. Then open Regedit and navigate to HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Class\Display.

Many installations will have multiple forks at Display, starting at 0000. The highest number is the active video card. Select it and navigate to Default\RefreshRate. It will probably be set either to -1 or 0. Change that value to 60 to get a safe 60 Hz rate.

To improve your display, change it to a rate your monitor supports at your desired resolution. Remember, refresh rate comes at the expense of resolution. Some monitors advertise obscenely high rates, but those will generally only work at 640×480. Most monitors top out at 85 Hz (at best) at usable resolutions. Check your documentation that came with your monitor if you’re not certain.

Be careful–overdriving your monitor or your video card can seriously damage one or the other, and I can’t take any responsibility for that.

I used this trick to get Windows to work with a number of really early VGA monitors. For the software I was wanting to run, they were perfectly adequate.

The Uwe Sieber Utilities

German programmer Uwe Sieber has assembled a great collection of DOS and Windows 9x utilities. I know I’ve mentioned them before, but they warrant another mention. If you need mouse and CD-ROM drivers that occupy as little memory as possible, if you need to wipe a hard disk totally clean and your disk manufacturer doesn’t provide such a utility, or if you need to analyze Windows’ bootlogs, Uwe’s place is the place to go.

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