Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Ancient History and Ancient Hardware repurposed with NetBSD 4.0, almost

For some odd reason I decided to power on my old Gateway 2000 486DX/33 and do something with it. It hadn't been on since Wednesday, May 25th, 2005, if I can believe the BIOS date. (I was pleasantly surprised the settings hadn't gotten corrupted.) Up to the point I turned it off it was acting as a mail server backup for my personal system, and was running Sendmail, Dovecot, a greylisting milter, and Emacs. A little before that it had actually been one of the MPL DNS servers.

Anyway, it had Windows 95 on the original 200MB IDE hard drive and FreeBSD 4.10 on the 2GB Quantum XP32275S Atlas II. It came with Windows 95 of course when I bought it, but I ran SLS Linux on it originally, if I remember correctly, because 386BSD wouldn't install, and later MCC Interim Linux, and eventually FreeBSD. When my wife got me the SCSI controler and CD-ROM I was so thrilled because now I wouldn't get dragging home OS distributions on floppy any more! Once I got the 2GB hard drive I put Windows 95 back on the 200MB drive for my wife and for the occastional work-related Windows 95 excursion. It had 16MB originally, but I scrounged 4MB more of RAM for it very late on, when it was a DNS server.

I wanted to get a more recent OS on it, but remembering how FreeBSD 4.10 was a pretty tight fight there at the end, I decided I'd put NetBSD on it. (NetBSD documentation says it still should be possible to run in 4MB.) I used NetBSD for a while for my main box at home, but I was never satisfied that I'd mastered it as well as FreeBSD, and I thought this would be good way to put the old 486 to work. Luckily I was albe to find an 3c509B card to get it on the network, because it turned out the 3.5” floppy and the CD-ROM drive were both non-functional. (As I worked with the machine I remembered the floppy had been bad when I'd turned it off, but the CD-ROM had been working.) I gathered some confirmation information and then started trying to figure out how I was going to get NetBSD on it. Luckily the FreeBSD 4.10 install was still working and I was able to extract the NetBSD bootloader from base.tgz, copy it and the netbsd-install kernel over the network with FreeBSD, mount the old 200MB Windows 95/MS-DOS disk under FreeBSD, and copy the files over there, then boot into MS-DOS with F8 when Windows 95 started to boot, run through the prompting for each line in the config files and answering “NO”, and then run dosboot netbsd-install.

The installation was successful, but unfortunately the boot process failed.

As I recall, I've had problems in the past getting boot loaders to boot off this drive. I'll have to revisit it when I have some more time.

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