Over the past month, I have been blessed with being in the right place at the right time to acquire a significant amount of really cool computers (and other technology) for the Retro Lab.
Between the collection I already had and these new “hauls”, I now have a lot of computers. I was, ahem, encouraged to stop using the closets in my flat to store them and finally obtained a storage locker for the computers I’m not using. It’s close to home, so I can swap between what I want to work on virtually at will.
Now I am thinking about ways to track all of the machines I have. One idea I’ve had is to use FileMaker Pro for the Power Macintosh to track the Macs, and FoxPro to track the PCs. One of my best friends, Horst, suggested I could even use ODBC to potentially connect the two.
This led me to all sorts of ideas regarding ways to safely and securely run some server services on older systems and software. One of my acquisitions was a Tyan 440LX-based server board with dual Pentium II processors. I’m thinking this would be a fun computer to use for NT. I have a legitimate boxed copy of BackOffice Server 2.5 that would be perfect for it, even!
Connecting this system to the Internet, though, would present a challenge if I want to have any modicum of security – so I’ve thought it out. And this is my plan for an eventual “Retro Cloud”.
Being a cybersecurity professional, my first thought was to completely isolate it on the network. I can set up a VLAN on my primary router, and connect that VLAN to a dedicated secondary router. That secondary router would have total isolation from my present network, so the “Retro Cloud” would have its own subnet and no way to touch any other system. This makes it safer to have an outbound connection. I’ll be able to explore Gopherspace, download updates via FTP, and all that good stuff.
Next, I’m thinking that it would make a lot of sense to have updated, secure software to proxy inbound connections. Apache and Postfix can hand sanitised requests to IIS and Exchange without exposing their old, potentially vulnerable protocol handlers directly to the Internet.
And finally, as long as everything on the NT system is public knowledge anyway – don’t (re)use any important passwords on it, don’t have private data stored on it – the risk is minimal even if an attacker were able to gain access despite these protections.
I’m still in the planning stages with this project, so I would love to hear further comments. Has anyone else set up a retro server build and had success securing it? Are there other cool projects that I may not have even thought of yet? Share your comments with me below!
I have a 2 TB USB SSD for my photo library, and I wondered: would it work on my PowerBook G3 Pismo with Mac OS 9? Let’s find out!
Here’s a quick, fun anecdote from the Retro Lab. I bought a Sandisk Extreme 2 TB USB NVMe drive on Black Friday. (Actually, I bought it the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.) My intention is to use it for storing my entire photo library.
I primarily intend to have it connected to my M1 MacBook Pro, but it comes with a USB-C to USB-A adaptor, and states it is compatible with “any computer with a USB port”. I decided to put that statement to the test with my trusty Pismo.
This computer was the top of the line for the year 2000, including a 500 MHz CPU and Mac OS 9. I tried to do some searches online to see the maximum volume size that Mac OS 9 can support. Most of my searches simply showed “more than 200 GB”. Okay, then!
I booted the Pismo and connected the drive to the rear USB port. Lo and behold, there really was no step 2: it showed up immediately in the Finder.
It makes me happy that if I ever feel the desire to fire up Kai’s Power Goo again, I can do so with any photo in my library. Have fun, everyone!
It has been a while since I have written an article about retrocomputing. In some ways, it feels weird to refer to Windows 2000 as retrocomputing. I used Windows 2000 as my go-to operating system for the majority of high school, well after Windows XP was released. And yet, it is now 22 years old.
I have a special affinity for Windows 2000 in my heart. It’s the last version of Windows that has the true “classic” UI. Windows XP and later do have “Windows Classic” themes, but they are still obviously tweaked. It is new enough to run some software considered modern yet old enough to run many of the software designed for older Windows versions. The NTVDM still supports 16-bit Windows 3.x apps, and I’ve had success running DOS applications on it as well.
But none of that can compare to the true reason I find Windows 2000 so comfortable. Weeks before my grandfather died in 2001, he took me to his new office to show me where he worked. He had a Windows 2000 workstation and let me unlock it and open some of his files. It was the first time I used a computer running Windows 2000, and the last time I used a computer with him.
The Athlon: An introduction
I have a Compaq Presario 2100 laptop. It is a surprising workhorse. I bought one new, in 2003, and had it for many years – but I gave it away to a friend who needed a computer in 2010. In 2019, I needed a 32-bit x86 system for testing Qt 5 and Firefox for Adélie, so I found a Presario 2100 on eBay in good condition for a good price. It ran Adélie for a while, with Windows XP Professional in dual-boot.
This individual specimen has a 2.1 GHz Athlon XP, 1 GB RAM, and a 250 GB WD Blue disk. It’s a perky little laptop, with enough oomph to play some great games (SimCity 4! Midtown Madness 2!) and chomp through small builds. The Presario 2100 is actually one of the systems I did OS development on back in the day, and I ran everything from NetBSD to Solaris to Windows Server on it at one point or another.
The only quirk I’ve noticed – which will be relevant later in this article – is that when booting Linux, the battery needs to be removed. It doesn’t hold a charge, and the kernel’s ACPI module is angry and deadlocks if the battery is present during initialization.
Installing the Windows 2000.
I inserted my Windows 2000 CD and proceeded through installation. It took over two hours to perform the “hardware detection” phase, which struck me as odd. About 20 minutes in, I turned the system off and back on as I was hoping that would help it along.
The GUI was slow and nearly unresponsive. It took multiple seconds to draw simple controls. And installation, in all, took almost four days to complete. When restarting, it was very slow to boot as well. I was concerned there may be a fault somewhere – perhaps the CPU was failing. However, Windows XP still worked fine.
I used the debug logging facility of NTLDR and found it slowed when ACPI.SYS was loaded. I removed the battery and rebooted Windows 2000. It was instantaneous. As it turns out, the Windows 2000 ACPI driver was having the same issue as Linux. After upgrading to SP4, I was able to boot with the battery inserted without issue, so the issue has been worked around in a patch.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
The next step was installing the drivers for all of the hardware. The modem, network adaptor, and display adaptor were simple and worked just fine.
I installed the official Broadcom wireless drivers from HP’s Web site. It worked, but only supported WEP and WPA networks. My network is, of course, WPA2. I found this fantastic backport of the Vista driver to older Windows versions. I installed it, and then installed the Boingo Wireless client for a front-end. To my surprise, the laptop works flawlessly joined to a VLAN on my dd-wrt powered Linksys WRT3200ACM. This allows me access to some internal resources on my network – most importantly, a micro HTTP server on my laptop where I can stage patches and file downloads from the Internet.
At some point, I do think it would be an interesting project to set up a proxy server and allow the laptop limited access to the real Internet. It will require a lot of research to ensure full security.
And now for the fun!
So far, some of the productivity software I’ve installed includes Office 97, Office 2000, Visio 2002, Liquid Motion, and Crystal Reports. In fact, this blog article has been written entirely on the Athlon in Word 2000.
For development, I’ve installed Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise including Visual J++ 6.0. I have some SDKs and tools that I would like to add, but I haven’t found a lot of time yet. Some of the tools available in the Platform SDK may start to be useful to me soon. I am definitely having strong ideas for software to write targeting these older platforms.
Games I’ve had success with include Hasbro’s Yahtzee, Chessmaster 7000, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Hoyle Solitaire from Sierra On-Line also runs flawlessly despite being a 16-bit game for 3.1 and even warning during setup that “Windows NT has not been tested”. The only game that gave me issue was Slingo. It crashes on startup, before the intro screen, and running the included DXDIAG gives a DirectDraw error.
This has been a blast to set up and I have been enjoying running this laptop again with the software from yesteryear.
This project has been everything that I had no longer felt with my other projects. Personal accomplishment, inspiration for future projects and ideas, and surprisingly, a significant amount of fun!
I am looking forward to writing some projects to enhance the retrocomputing experience for the community at large. Here’s to the future, with one paw still in the past.
I decided to drag it out last night and see how it was going. Maybe it could be better after a rest…?
It had a new bug check, STOP 0xc0000218. The SOFTWARE registry hive, where Windows 2000 keeps its HKLM\Software keys, is now apparently corrupted. This is significantly worse than before, when it was randomly having Kmode exceptions during use.
I asked one of my retrocomputing buddies that knows a lot about older Windows versions — my mother — who suggested booting to Safe Mode and trying to defragment. Safe Mode runs only on the SYSTEM hive, so the SOFTWARE corruption isn’t an issue. Apparently sometimes Windows can get very angry if the SOFTWARE hive is fragmented, because it has to load entire sectors in the boot environment.
Safe Mode was not quite the joy I had hoped for.
I tried to boot the Windows 98 partition, wondering if perhaps it could at least serve as a sentinel of any hardware issues.
It claimed various system files were no longer present. It still seemed to work, other than some networking functions. I used ScanDisk, which found no errors in the FAT nor surface errors. Onward to the memory diagnostic. I used a Vista-era Windows Memory Diagnostics boot CD that I had laying around from 2008 and ran two passes of the basic test and a single pass of the extended test.
No errors were found. Unfortunately, this leaves me in an unenviable place: from all I can tell, the hardware is fine, but multiple operating systems are failing to boot properly. Additionally, the computer refused to boot Windows install media at all.
At some point, I will pull my Windows XP laptop out and try to use WinDbg to find out what I can from the bug check screen. Hopefully I can remember how to do that. Until then, Erin (the Armada) will unfortunately remain unusable.