Compaq LTE 5150: Adventures in Tri-booting

My plans for setting up a Retro Lab are finally coming to fruition, and this article is being written live on my tablet as I set up the first computer as I want it to be!

The computer in question is a portable computer from the Compaq LTE 5000 series, the 5150. (No relation to the IBM PC.) Released in September 1995, it features a Pentium professor at 100 MHz, 40 MB RAM, a quad-speed TEAC CD drive, an 11.3″ CSTN panel, Infrared, and an upgraded 6 GB IBM TravelStar hard disk drive.

Additionally, I own the MultiBay ISA docking station. This adds a high-quality 2.1 channel speaker system, NE2000 Ethernet adaptor, and SVGA connector. I plan on using an external monitor for games. However, the portability of this machine means I can take the Retro Lab on the road!

The plan.

My plan for this computer is to tri-boot MS-DOS with Windows 3.1, Windows NT 3.51, and OS/2 Warp.

A 2 GB C: drive will have DOS and 3.1. A 2 GB D: drive will have OS/2. The remaining space will contain NT.

Implementing the plan.

My LTE 5150 does not have a working floppy disk drive, and it was released before the “El Torito” standard allowed for booting from CDs. This means it can only boot from the hard disk. How to install an OS, then, if it means the disk needs to be erased?

My solution: put the hard disk in another computer, set it up, then put it back in the LTE!

MS-DOS 6.22 set up running on an Athlon XP

I chose my Compaq Presario 2100 for installation tasks. It has a USB floppy disk drive that the BIOS is capable of emulating as a built-in one. DOS doesn’t even know the difference.

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 with standard VGA and EtherLink III drivers (the PCMCIA card I have) was simple to install from MSDN CD.

I have long read the NT should always be installed before OS/2, so that was next. Booting MS-DOS, I inserted the Windows NT Workstation CD-ROM and ran WINNT /B /X. This ensures that Windows NT copies boot files to the hard disk drive, removing the need for floppy disks. Once the file copy process was complete, I swapped the drive back in to the LTE 5150 so that Windows NT Setup would detect the proper hardware.

The plan goes awry.

I selected the E: partition and told Windows NT to format the drive. While formatting the drive, the display suddenly developed lines and streaks in it. This is disaster #1:

Display with black vertical lines.

It copied the files successfully though, so the computer restarted to load up NT and then… disaster #2:

Boot loader signature AA55 not found (DC23 found)

I removed the CPU cover from the laptop and ensured the display connections were tight. Turned on the system while open and it was still not working properly. I asked my Mum, an electronics expert in her own right, if she had any ideas. She suggested messing with the grounding wire which worked. The display is restored to normal working order!

Unfortunately, the boot loader signature error persisted. I decided to use the NT disk setup to remove the D: and E: partitions and recreate them. This made it worse – now setup reported that “Drive C: cannot be examined”, and the computer presented a boot loop, booting directly into NT setup when rebooting. This is because $LDR$ has replaced NTLDR. This meant putting the hard disk drive back in the Athlon XP for some work involving boot floppies and CDs…

A simple SYS A: C: from a DOS floppy was enough to repair it enough to be bootable.

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With my holiday break having just hours remaining, I gave up on NT and OS/2. I likely won’t be able to have any time for deep dives again until the Memorial Day weekend in May, so I need to make my time count.

I still have plenty of things I want to do with Windows 3.1, so I am going to just be happy with that.

Installing the audio drivers proved the most difficult. The SoftPAQ (SP2307) really wants to be installed from floppy. Extracting the files to the hard drive didn’t work at first. It turns out that what is needed is to extract the files from disk one to \ESS_1 directory and disk two to \ESS_2. Then running CPQINST from \ESS_1 worked for me.

Lotus Organizer 2.1 running on the Compaq LTE 5150

I already have Lotus Organizer, Corel DRAW 5, and Quicken SE installed. There are some games I plan on installing, including some of my fav Sierra titles, a few Trails (Oregon Trail, Yukon Trail, Amazon Trail – all CD editions!), and perhaps a Carmen Sandiego or two.

Overall, this laptop has been a blast to play with, but I am disappointed that I couldn’t get NT going.

Et tu, OS/2?

As a footnote: It looks like it isn’t a good idea to install OS/2 on a donor computer (like the Athlon XP), and I don’t believe it can be installed without booting off the floppies. Therefore, it is likely to be physically impossible to install.

How I imaged a stack of old IDE / PATA hard drives quickly, and planning out retrocomputing storage

The Retro Lab needs a lot of storage for a lot of computers. Luckily, I have a cache of IDE drives that have been pulled from various systems over the years. However, I’ve never taken backups or images of any of them.

When I was acquiring parts for my Talos build, I ended up finding a combination PATA and SATA USB enclosure at Wholesale Computer Supply for a low price. I never ended up using it, until this weekend!

iMicro 3.5" USB HDD Enclosure

Inside the box, we find cabling that lets you choose which type of disk to connect.

PATA cabling attached to the inside of the enclosure.

I went ahead and skipped putting the cover back on the enclosure since it was safe on my desk. I connected the enclosure to my Talos. For each disk to image, I attached it, turned the enclosure on, and then imaged using the dd command. Once it was done, turn off the enclosure, disconnect, and repeat for the next.

Five of the disks I imaged, next to the (empty) enclosure.

Only one disk out of eight is exhibiting any sign of degradation; one of the Seagate Barracuda 20 GB disks is throwing I/O errors when reading the last few sectors. I recall that in September 2001, I had an identical model drive do the same thing. The 2001 drive lasted long enough to back up most of the data but within 3 days it was dead. I will not be using the disk I just imaged in the Retro Lab for fear it will do the same.

I found some interesting Power Mac data on one of the drives, and a nearly fresh copy of Windows 98 with a few personal files from 2000-2001 on another. It was pretty interesting to see that some of these drives haven’t even been powered up since the Bush administration yet they seem to work just fine.

To be safe, I will be implementing a sort of backup system for the Retro Lab. I’m going to have a network share on a Windows NT Server to save copies of important data, and then mirror the share to “modern” storage on a weekly basis. It will actually be pretty interesting to see what sort of backup solutions I can find to set this up for NT 4.

The Retro Lab is Go!

This past weekend I tirelessly cleaned and organised and moved everything around and I am very proud to present The Retro Lab!

Pretty much everything needs to be set up, installed, and configured, but it’s all here and over the next few weeks I look forward to documenting my progress doing these installs.

Until then, happy hacking everyone 🙂

The Retro Lab: Diggings around the fox den

I was cleaning out a desk and its cubbies in preparation for setting up the Retro Lab and I found some pretty interesting discs. I’ll be taking better photos, or possibly even making hi-res scans with the SCSI ScanJet, later. But I couldn’t keep these to myself.

A CD-R of pre-musl Alpine Linux, burned for my home lab’s Xen hypervisor ca 2012. This would have been my second Alpine deployment, after the Pentium II/300 that allowed me to contribute the initial Django port to aports.
InstallShield’s CDSource. This has demos and information about all InstallShield products. This may be worth sending to the Internet Archive.
Back of the InstallShield CDSource sleeve detailing what it has.
Sun Solutions CD: Volume 2, 2000. I told everyone I’ve been using Solaris forever! This has a lot of tools related to Solaris and Java development, and tries hard to sell you on Sun’s Developer Connection Program. There are actually two CDs. Also probably worth imaging and sending to IA.
Back of the Sun Solutions CD sleeve.

And now, for what is likely the single most important CD in my life. The CD that enabled me to learn about this little project called Linux.

Red Hat Linux 5.0, Codename Hurricane. Date: 11/10/97 (written 1/12/98)

There are many more historic relics in this pile, but I should go to sleep. Have a great weekend, everyone!