The Need For Speed- by Jon Cochran

I hope everyone is having a good summer, and I certainly hope you're not all glued to your computers and missing out on the great weather we've been having. Well, this month I promised I'd talk hard drives, and so I will. But just as an aside, I'd first like to talk about buying a new system, which is what I've just done.

It happened like this: My Kingston Turbochip had finally arrived (which is really an AMD 586/133) and I installed it into my trusty PS/1. And nothing happened. So I made sure the chip was installed correctly, turned the system back on, and more nothing. At this point I was a bit frustrated, so I called Kingston who informed me I needed a BIOS upgrade from IBM. I called IBM, got the upgrade (free) and in 5 days was ready to rock again. I installed the BIOS and Turbochip and more nothing. So I gave up. Threw in the towel. Whipped out the checkbook and went shopping.

[By the way, I don't want to cast any doubts on the Kingston Turbochip. I've heard tons of success stories with it, and it just seems that my system is too old to support it. The company I bought the chip from, Spectrum Trading, was very nice and took the chip back with no restocking fee.]

Right away, I knew I would need a CPU, motherboard, and video card. Finding out which ones and the best prices would be the difficult part. For the CPU I decided on the Cyrix 6x86/133 because of its great performance and nice price. Getting the CPU was a headache of the largest magnitude however. I decided to get the whole package locally (so I could return it locally if there were any problems) and there are more computer dealers around the Princeton area than 7 Elevens.

Nobody sold the Cyrix chip. The only place who could get it for me, Clancy Paul (who will build a system to your specifications and even get a part if they don't carry it and you want it) wouldn't sell me a Cyrix chip (so much for that custom building story). I finally stumbled onto a place in East Windsor who sold me the CPU, motherboard, mini-tower, and a video card (Trident 9880 with 2MB of vram, MPEG, and EnDive support (!) for US$92) for US$450. Not a bad deal compared to some of the other prices I've seen locally, or even through the mail.


So now on to hard drives. Upgrading your hard drive is one of the most important upgrades you can make at the moment, because it seems Merlin is going to be quite the space hog, and with prices as they are, a new drive can be oh-so-cheap. Just 2 or so years ago a 540MB hard drive could easily cost US$300. Today at Best Buy they've got a 1.2GB hard drive for US$199. And you can even get a 2.5GB hard drive for US$349. Who would have ever thought they'd be this cheap?

Once you've bought your new hard drive you're probably going to install it. A word of warning before you do: Not all computers are going to support that massive new hard drive. Most later 486 systems and almost any pentium system will, but the majority of early and mid-life 486 systems won't. Most of these systems are limited by BIOS restrictions to hard drives of 1024 cylinders and under (roughly 520MB). Which isn't to say you can't use that hard drive, it just takes a bit more planning and care.

To install a hard drive on a system that won't support it, you have a number of options. The cheapest and easiest way is to use Ontrac disk manager (supplied with all Western Digital drives). Ontrac is OS/2 friendly (unlike other products supplied with other hard drives) and its dynamic drive overlay works nicely with OS/2 and will allow you to see the full capacity of the drive. I really recommend this method, and haven't run into any problems with it yet.

The other way to do it is to buy a BIOS extender card. One of these cards will plug into any available ISA slot, and effectively upgrades your BIOS to an EIDE BIOS. One word of warning with this method, make sure you can selectively shadow ROM, or your performance will go down drastically (you have to shadow the extender card's ROM in RAM). I really don't see any reason to go this route, as it's a bit of a headache.

The last method available is to just install the drive, boot off your handy OS/2 boot diskettes and run FDISK. OS/2 can see the full capacity of an IDE hard drive, even if the BIOS doesn't support it, and will let you use the full capacity of the drive once OS/2 has booted. All this is accomplished with the magic of HPFS. So, in order to go this route, make sure your first partition is under 508MB and the second partition can be the rest of the capacity of the hard drive (as long as it is HPFS). The reason for the size restriction on the first partition is that OS/2 uses the computer's BIOS to boot (at least the beginning stages of booting) and if a critical file is located over the 508MB boundary, the BIOS won't find it and the system won't boot. Fair warning!

For those who don't want to reinstall OS/2 and all their applications on their new drive, you can take the relatively easy way out of it and clone your installation. It's easy, and only takes a few minutes. Here's how you do it, in easy to follow steps.

  1. Set up your old hard drive as the master (if it isn't already) and your new drive as a slave to the old one.
  2. Boot OS/2. Your old drive should be C: and your new drive should be D:. Have more than one partition on the old drive? You're gonna have to substitute drive letters then, so follow along closely.
  3. Open an OS/2 command window and type XCOPY C:*.* /S /E /H /T /R /O /V (Actually, before you do this, type XCOPY /? to make sure all those options are correct. Who knows what a different version of XCOPY might do with those prompts!)
  4. Wait for the operation to finish.
  5. Take out both hard drives. Make the new one the master. Install it. Make the old one a paperweight. Put it on some papers. Boot your computer with the new drive. It won't. No problem. Boot from your OS/2 boot disks. (Aren't they handy? Glad you made them, I'm sure.)
  6. Run FDISK from the disks. Make sure the hard drive is set to bootable. Then from a command prompt run SYSINSTX C:
  7. You're ready. Enjoy

Well that was fairly painless. Next month, I believe it's going to be a nice multimedia primer and review. Until then, go to the beach or something!


Jon Cochran is a full time student at Rider University majoring in History/Secondary Education. He hopes (or at least his parents do) to graduate soon.

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