Category Archives: Computer

Adding a Hard Drive to a Dell Inspiron 5485

Introduction

This laptop comes with an onboard M2 SATA drive that has a 256GB capacity, with the provision of adding a SATA hard disk internally. Whilst you could add another SSD, I decided to reuse an old HDD I had around for some extra storage.

To prepare, make sure you have the hard disk ready that you would like to install and the SATA cable. The thickness of the SATA drive is important, as you will see later I made the mistake of installing a thicker HDD than the bay is designed for. I would also check and make sure the SATA cable is already shipped inside your laptop, since I assumed I had to purchase one separately.

Opening Up

This was a bit tricky, you have to unscrew the screws, the top three being fastened into place and are non-removable. What this means is that you unscrew then as normal but they do not come out of the case, rather they stay to prevent them from falling out.

Once the screws have been removed or loosened, you will need to pry around the edges of the laptop with either a credit or debit card or a thin plastic tip to loosen it. You may need to pry to get it to loosen, be gentle and apply even gradual pressure.

Removing the caddy

Once opened you will locate the area where the HHD will be installed, alongside the battery that will need to be removed and the socket where the SATA cable will connect to

Removing the battery

The SATA cable will need to route under the internal battery, so we have to temporary remove it, or in my case move it so we can access the area underneath There enough space where you can just place the battery on top of the motherboard whilst you install the SATA cable.

Adding the Hard Drive

Dell have provided a hard disk caddy where the drive can be installed, simply unscrew it (for screws) to take it out.

Unfortunately at this point is where I made my first mistake, since I assumed Dell did not provided you with the SATA cable and had to be purchased separated. Imagine my surprise when I took out the HDD enclosure and saw the SATA cable nestled between the plastic cover, meaning I now have two SATA cables. Well that’s £18 wasted…

Then again at least I have one spare incase anything was to happen to it. I’m pretty sure the Dell service manual mentioned you had to buy the came separately, or maybe that only applies to certain markets?

Now it is time to screw in the HDD, which is where I ran into the second issue. I noticed the SATA cable wouldn’t reach, At first I thought I had installed the HDD the wrong way round since the connector wasn’t aligning up but from looking at the hole underneath the HDD bay it seemed to fit. Upon closer inspection it seemed the hard drive I was trying to install was too tall for the enclosure and I had installed it upside down. When the hard drive is too THICC for the laptop…

Thankfully I had another hard drive lying around, a HGST that was pulled from my old PS4 when I upgraded its hard disk. This hard drive was thin enough that it would fit inside the bay.

Reassembling

A quick power on test before reassembly to ensure I didn’t fuck anything up. The laptop booted and the HDD was recognised in its BIOS EFI (Still trying to get used to that)

Windows For Workgroups 3.11 Beta (Build 70)

Install

MS-DOS (6.0) must be installed first before Windows 3.11 can be installed. At this point Windows was still reliant on MS-DOS, but were regarded as two separate products.

After install and some graphics drivers. By default Windows will use VGA mode which restricts you to 640×480 and 16 colours. Windows Sound System is not included in this build but can be installed and was required to use the Windows Sound System Soundcard.

Applications

  • Microsoft Anti-Virus: They had their own Anti-Virus application, before Windows security essentials, Defender or Windows Live OneCare. Different drivers can be scanned manually on request.
  • Smartdrive: Disk caching application
  • Undelete: As the concept of the recycle bin did not exist until Windows 95, Microsoft Undelete was offered instead which could restore files deleted by the user that had not been overwritten

Accessories

  • Write: Predecessor to Wordpad, for when you don’t have Microsoft Office installed
  • Paintbrush: Paint
  • Notepad: Text editing application
  • Recorder: Used to record keyboard and mouse commands, useful for automation.
  • Calculator: On screen calculator
  • Clock: Displays the time in both analogue (Face) and digital format
  • Character Map: Insert and remap any characters that are not supported by the users keyboard
  • Media Player: Plays WAV and MIDI sound files supported by the users soundcard
  • Sound Recorder: Records sound from the line input to a WAV file

Control Panel

Control Panel remains unchanged from Windows For Workgroups 3.1

Drivers

Some drivers that may be useful to users of PCem, depending on the machines they are emulating

AVGA2 Driver

The Commodore PC I was using used a Acumos graphics accelerator onboard and integrated to its motherboard, which was based on a Cirrus Logic CL-GD5402. Installing a driver lets you access further resolutions and colour modes that the graphics chip supports.

AVGA2 Driver – Vetusware

Windows Sound System

This build of Windows did not ship with Windows sound system drivers but can be installed.

WinWorldPC – WSS and SoundBlaster drivers

ntl CR2 EPG (2001 – Bromley)

Bromley areas (former Cable&Wireless) were running this guide up until 2002, where it was replaced by Bromley CR3

Not all customers in Bromley were running this version of software, ex-Videotron customers were stuck on CR1 software due to the poor network conditions that meant the area could not support two way communication, meaning no interactive or broadband support. They received a rebranded version of CR1 but without the Liberate browser.

Now and Next bar, surprisingly its transparent

Viewing program information

Main TV Guide home screen

Main TV guide EPG, channels can be filtered according to their genre, and programmes can be filtered by the day and time slot.

Subject search, similar to the A-Z listings, allows you to find a program based on its genre

Ordering PPV events

The settings area, where favourite channels can be managed, and the picture output preferences can be changed

Interactive home screen, since this was a web page loaded from the server, it could be updated independently from the EPG. Interactive services were non functional in ex-Videotron areas (parts of London)

BBCi home screen, looks similar to the Kingston version

TV Email, each customer could have a selected amount of email address to use, and could be accessed from the TV service.

TV Internet, was the main interactive portal for other services hosted on the ntl platform

See more interactive

Vs Telewest

Telewest software looks to be an earlier build from Dec 2000, whilst the ntl is a later build from Jun 2001. notable differences is the support of subtitles

Vs Cable & Wireless

Windows 2000 (Build 1671)

NT 5 was to be known as Windows 2000, the successor and replacement for Windows NT4. Designed to be an enterprise focused operating system with the consumer counterpart being Windows 98, and later Windows ME. Both of which use an updated Windows Explorer shell with a webpage like interface.

Install

The first stage of the install is where you select the volume to install NT5 on, and you are given a choice of which peripherals your computer will use. The install disk is bootable so providing your BIOS supports CD booting, you don’t need a boot floppy disk

Second Stage Install

The second stage of the install details with personalization and uses a graphical interface which appears different in the final release. Windows will ask for both the User and the company/organization name. From here you can specify any additional components that need to be installed.

The login screen, very similar to NT4

Windows NT5 BSOD

BSOD already and we haven’t got to the desktop yet. This is typically a bad sign and searching online didn’t yield much. Still we can boot in safe VGA mode without any issues.

Windows NT5 Desktop

I first tried to remedy this by removing any additional devices from PCem, the sound and network card was removed, along with the 3DFX Voodoo card. This still resulted in a BSOD

Epox P55-VA BIOS

Eventually I found somewhat of a resolution, which was to disable the motherboards onboard USB controller, which isn’t much use within PCem. Early motherboard that came with USB onboard were very primitive, and sometimes completely buggy. This combined with a beta operating system can spell trouble so its best to disable this. Funnily enough there is support for USB and 1394 devices in this build.

Windows NT 5 Desktop

The actual desktop which enabled active desktop by default. Everything has a webpage like interface with folders and buttons being links, by default you only need to click a folder one to select it.

This build did pickup and install a few device drivers by itself, but did not pickup the soundcard since I had disabled it on the account of the BSOD earlier.

This is an early form of device manager that is used to display a list of hardware devices that interact with your computer. There are a few quirks in this build, with some random error dialog boxes popping up that seems to relate to the management console.

Windows NT5 My Computer

The My Computer window, with an early sidebar design. Also note the navigation bar design and spacing

Installing the drivers

3DFX

This isn’t part of the operating system, but I figured I could show part of the 3DFX interface since I had intended to try running glide games on an old NT based operating system. Despite running the 3DFX install utility, games would refuse to detect the accelerator card, and looking in device manager indicated it had a problem loading the driver for the device.

Hardware Instillation

Trying to add a soundcard, and failing. A new wizard like user interface is supposed to make device hardware instillation more easier but it seems to be buggy in this build.

Disk Management

Trying to format and mount a zip disk. At first I couldn’t get Windows to mount the disk image I already had until I released these old builds of NT lack FAT32 support of which the drive was formatted as.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer 4 is bundled with the operating system and is a major component providing the functionality of Windows Explorer. Like Windows 98 it has support for active desktop and channels.

Windows NT5 Outlook Express

Outlook Express 4 that is bundled with the operating system

Private Character Editor

Not sure what this is supposed to be, some sort of character map editor? Seems to crash a lot.

Printers

Windows NT5 Printers

The printer interface has been slightly altered, using the updated Windows Explorer engine

Power Management

Windows NT5 Crash

The result of trying to change the background wallpaper when you have active desktop enabled, Windows explorer crashed

Add Program Wizard

Looks like Microsoft had also intended to simplify the program install process, like the hardware wizard this takes you through a set of questions to install new software.

Removable Devices

Windows NT5 Device Removal

Windows features a device removal option that would allow you to stop a device, ready for it to be removed. That was probably intended for USB devices

Conclusion

Whilst I had intended to do more with this operating system, I found it too be too unstable and unfinished for general use and with lack of the ability to install 3D graphics and sound drivers limited what would be installed.

PCem Specifications

Motherboard: Epox P55-VA

Processor: IDT Winchip 2A/300

Video: Phoenix S3 Trio64

Sound: SoundBlaster AWE32

Network: NE2000

3D Accelerator: 3DFX Voodoo2

A look at: Adi’s Attic

Adi was learning assistant. I’m not sure if this would be classed as a game, it does contain a few games, but Adi is not considered a game in itself. Its kind of like Microsoft BOB, only more focused at primary and secondary school students, which had a focus on Maths and English exams.

Since the game was designed to run on Windows 95, I’ve captured these from a Windows 95 install running in PCem (Fantastic emulator), emulating a Pentium Overdrive based system. The game makes use in Intel’s Indeo technology and Microsoft WinG, not DirectX. Maybe this was to allow Windows 3.1 compatibility, but Adi is a 32bit application.

adi maths english

The splash screen, appears whenever you start Adi.

adi maths english

User selection screen each user has their own profile which was meant to track their progress with the math’s and English exercises and online activity.

adi maths english

Creating a new user for the first time, here you specify the Name, DOB, School Year and then your favourite traits. This would have been viewable online to other users, since Adi had support for online virtual classrooms, which as you have probably guess are no longer online.

adi maths english

Shortly after you will be transported to his attic, and its kind of a nice looking attic. This is where different sections of the application can be accessed. You can click on certain object to open different parts of Adi. Objects you can click on are indicated by the mouse cursor, which changes when you can select an item.

Objects will randomly animate if Adi is left unattended for a while, or you can animate the objects yourself.

adi maths english

Jukebox gives two options, Music and Background Music. Music allows you to play sample music from various genres, most likely from a generic sound library. Background music lets you select ambient music like city traffic and jungle rainforest sounds.

adi maths english

A picture editor lets you freehand draw on a canvas, basically MS paint but comes with some built in clipart.

adi maths english

Adi comes with a calculator, although you might as well just use the Windows one, unless you are already in Adi and need access to a calculator and Alt+Tab isn’t an option.

adi maths english
adi maths english

A notepad like component. This supports the use of passwords for certain memo’s

Simulations

adi maths english

These were an interesting part of Adi, these are like mini-games that learn you of real world issues, and how certain actions affect things like the environment or the economy. Although a bit relaxed since these simulations lack restrictions like budget, keep in mind this is aimed at kids.

adi maths english

Investigations the effect of water and waste pollutions near a seaside, you can change various options such as how clean the beaches are, if tanks should be cleaned at sea, the pesticides used in farming and the use of water treatment plants. Reminds me of SimCity where you had to be careful of the type of industry you zone in order to keep pollution levels in your city low.

Whilst this was engaging as a kid, its too sandbox, having something like a budget would be more realistic, i.e having cleaner batches reduced pollution but costs more since you would need to install bins and people to help clean the beaches up.

adi maths english

Set to emulate a random shithole in Africa, this investigates the effects on the savanna by local residents. A balance will need to be found to prevent the savanna from becoming dry, whilst keeping the residents happy and satisfied. Adding power and water infrastructure helps but again does not take into account the cost of such infrastructure.

adi maths english

The effect of pollution on a small valley/village, you have to balance the output of factory’s at the expense of the village health and the pollution of the environment.

The balance of nature, this explorers the relationship of Rabbits and Fox’s with human hunting, and how nature is a delicate cycle.

How a company works

adi maths english

A simulation of capitalism, you have to balance sales and market share with R&D in order to guarantee growth.

adi maths english

How a country gets developed, you choose what the type of war the country is currently in, the health and education of the population which has an effect on the population amount, farming and international investments.

Other Activities

adi maths english

The Solar System

adi maths english

Information relating to the solar system, from a time when Pluto was still a planet

Astronomy

Shows different consolations about Greek mythology

The Space Conquest

A timeline of different event from both the Russian and American space programs

Endangered Species

Animals that are at risk of being endangered, and animals that have already become extinct.

The Water Cycle

How H2O works

Online

There was an online component of Adi, where you could meet other users online and access chatroom and virtual classrooms. Unfortunately the online servers are no longer online.

adi maths english

Videos

Further Information

VIVENDI GAMES (UK) LIMITED – Overview (free company information from Companies House) (company-information.service.gov.uk)

Untitled (globalnet.co.uk)

Dell Optiplex GX1 PSU

Dell Optiplex GX1

A SSF (Small Form Factor) desktop class PC powered by the Pentium 2 processor.

Internal view of the GX1 showing the replacement PSU with adaptor

Power Supply replacement

The power supply in this desktop was well over 20 years old, and was in dire need for replacement, since the system had issues remaining stable after adding two PCI cards. Unfortunately with these old Dell Optiplex machines, changing or upgrading the PSU is not an easy task since Dell opted to use a different pinout for their ATX connector, alongside a proprietary connector than provided 3V to the mainboard. Using a regular AT power supply will damage the mainboard since the wiring is completely different, therefore an adaptor is required for a PSU replacement.

6 Pin Dell P10 AUX Connector Adapter (atxpowersupplies.com)

One downside to this adaptor is that it adds additional slack to the ATX main power cable, which was already long to begin with, this means I had to tie up the excess cable and shove it under the CD drive.

There are various other Dell models which use this type of power supply wiring, generally models from the Pentium 2 and 3 era. The website linked has a list of affected models that use this type of power supply.

Seriously! Don’t use a regular ATX power supply without this adaptor!

Operating Systems

The Optiplex GX1 had a range of officially supported operating systems to use;

Windows 98

The go to operating system for PC retro gaming. Whilst its not the most stable operating system in the world, its widespread support and popularity and to an extent charm means it deserves an install. The GX1 has native support for 98, and most likely came preloaded on most shipped systems for this model.

Windows NT 4.0

The GX1 had full driver support for NT4, since it was designed as a business class system to be used in offices, however with limited DirectX support, the games we can run on NT4 is a lot more limited comparted to 98.

IBM OS/2

The GX1 has official drivers for OS/2 Warp 4, I’ve not tried installing on this system, however I am interesting in getting it running on the system since I have only used OS/2 on virtual machines or PCem.

Red Hat 6.2

One of the officially supported GNU/Linux distro, at least going by the Dell driver support page, which offered official downloads for the GX1. I’ve not tried installing Red Hat on this system (yet)

PCI Expansion

This system has 2 PCI slots and 2 ISA slots, a maximum of three cards can be installed because the middle slot is shared between the PCI and ISA

USB 2.0

USB 2.0 4 Port 480Mbps High Speed VIA HUB PCI Controller Card Adapter PCI

A must have upgrade since the USB bus on this system is limited to the 1.1 standard, and maxes out as 12Mbps. VIA still provide Windows 98 drivers for their cards. Plus the 4 extra USB connectors are useful.

Some older motherboards can be picky in regards to the USB chipset used, apparently VIA chipsets are considered more problematic compared to NEC ones, due to the way IRQ’s are handled and reserved with different chipsets.

Which USB 2.0 cards for old motherboards \ VOGONS

Firewire 1394

Firewire 1394a Dual Port – PCI Full Height Card | eBay

Surprisingly Windows 98 supported 1394 Firewire/iLink cards, and drivers for 98 exist for this card. By adding a 1394 card, this become one of the faster interfaces on the PC, the other being the USB 2.0 PCi card. The onboard ethernet maxes out as 100Mbps.

Spare ISA Slot

Not sure what to put here, a modem? Gameport card? (useful since I have a Microsoft Sidewinder that has a Gameport)

Compact Flash Card

Could be used in the slave IDE channel with the correct adaptor, in order to add additional storage, or to install another operating system like one of the many supported OS.

Specifications

OptiPlex GX1 Midsize Managed PC Systems Reference and Installation Guide (dell.com)

Graphics

ATI Rage II – This is the main graphics adaptor built onto the mainboard. Internally it uses the AGP bus and has 4MB of VRAM with the ability to upgrade to 8MB via onboard memory upgrade.

The graphics processor, with the VRAM to the right along with the VRAM expansion slot. The white IDE looking connector to the top right is the ATI video connector and is meant to connect to an ATI MPEG2 decoder.

This graphics card support the ATI CIF 3D API, which was ATI’s graphics library used with some early 3D titles before the widespread adoption of DirectX. Games such as Wipeout, Tomb Raider used this API. This API was only supported on Windows 95 and 98, it had no support for Windows NT, also later ATI drivers versions remove the CIF support.

Chipset

Intel 82440BX

Memory

There are 3 SDRAM slots available, with one slot populated with a 64MB module, and an extra 64MB module was added to the GX1 to bring the memory up to 128MB. According to the Dell documentation, the system can handle a maximum of 768MB of memory.

Desktop

ATi RAGE utility, showing information about the onboard graphics

wipEout

Oh my… lets try a different resolution

Ah that’s better, Wipeout running at 640×480

South Park

South Park had a PC port, in addition to the console PSone and N64 releases, running in a higher resolutions with Anti-Aliasing

Driver

ATI CIF

I plan on looking at further ATI CIF powered games, in addition to Wipeout listed above (Driver/South Park are DirectX games)

A full list of CIF supporting games is available here

Trying to install Linux Mandrake 7

Linux Manrake

So I’ve been trying to install and use old Linux distros, mainly to look at the possibility to get older Linux games to work, like Simcity 3000 and Unreal Tournament 2004, all of which run into issues when attempting to play on modern Linux operating systems. First thing I tried was to use a virtual machine to run install the OS into.

VirtualBox

mandrake linux install

Not sure if this is an error or if it’s just because the hard disk just uninitialised

linux mandrake install

Why would I enable hard drive optimisations when it could cause data corruption?

linux mandrake logon

So far so good, were at the login screen

mandrake linux dpms

Oh…

Might be because we don’t have any graphics drivers for the virtual graphics card. At least you would expect a failsafe graphics driver

On VMware

Like on Virtualbox we are able to install as normal, but when it comes to booting the OS,

It seems to have issues detecting the hard disk. Since by default VMWare uses an IDE drive for these old Linux operating systems I though we could try SCSI instead. Unfortunately I was unable to get the installer to detect the SCSI controller.

On PCem

I had better luck using Pcem v17, which actually emulates older PC hardware, rather than using a virtual environment. This has its benefits regarding compatibility but at the expense of performance. Not only must you emulate a slower x86 CPU (In our case an AMD K6 or Pentium, but your host CPU must be able to emulate that older CPU in addition to the video card, chipset and any other peripherals Pcem is emulating. Since Pcem is a single threaded application, having a CPU with a high IPC is beneficial, which is something my AMD FX processor is not well known for. Also depending on the motherboard you emulate in Pcem you may not be able to boot off the CD-ROM directly. Thankfully there was a Linux boot floppy that could be used instead.

The first install went by without a hitch, but when it came to booting the OS it would immediately reboot and would continue to reboot by getting stuck in a boot loop. I fixed this by changing the CPU from a Cyrix to an AMD K6.

The next issue I ran into was with this screen, where it would get stuck at a terminal looking screen with that penguin, where the screen would blink every second. I wasn’t sure what was causing this initially however after changing graphics card in PCem (from a Cirrus Logic 5432? to an ATI Mach, this triggered the Kudzu utility which is used to install system drivers, kind of like the add new hardware wizard in Windows.

Once I selected the correct graphics card, the system rebooted and loaded up the login screen. This helped me understand what was going on previously, either Mandrake did not have the correct driver support for the cirrus logic or PCem is not able to emulate the VGA card properly in Linux. Either way Mandrake was trying to load the X Window system but was failing each time, hence why it was ‘blinking’, the X window system was loading and then crashing.

Unfortunately the speed issues caused a problem with this approach, since PCem would frequently go under 100%, which is the percentage of the speed being emulated by it. Anytime it goes under 100% means the emulator has to slow down in order to catch up. I ended up changing the CPU from an AMD K6 166Mhz to a Pentium 75Mhz, which is below the specification needed for Simcity 3000 and way below what’s needed for Unreal Tournament 2004.

Still at least I was able to boot into a desktop, I guess it’s time for a host CPU upgrade.

Windows Neptune Adventures

Neptune was the supposed successor to Windows 98 and was to be the introduction of the NT kernel for home users.

It’s mostly the same as the Windows 2000 install, makes sense considering both were being developed at the same time, and have a lot in common in terms of visual elements.

When you first login you are presented with this dialog box. You can enter your name or just close it. It does not seem to make a difference.

One issue with this build the the Still Image Service which is faulty in this build and causes a minute hang at startup. This can be disabled without any consequence though the Service management panel (Start, Run, Services.msc)

Once disabled the system will startup and login without any delays or freezing.

Windows Media Player 7, very identical to the Windows ME version

Activity Zones

Windows Explorer has had a slightly new design bringing it closer to the 2000 interface.

Viewing the activity zones in Internet Explorer

Setting the Activity Zones as an Active Desktop background. This may have been the intended use. A lot of the items listed on the activity zone were integrated onto the Windows XP start menu. Shortcuts to the Documents, Music and photos appear here also appears on the XP start menu. E-Mail and Internet shortcuts also appears on the XP start menu where they would show the default respective applications at the top of the stat menu. So one could assume the activity centres made their way somewhat by being embedded in the Start menu.

Customising the desktop activity centre

Alternative background theme

The login screen, the Ctrl+Alt+Del style screen still exists and can be re-enabled.

Unreal Tournament

Unreal Tournament runs somewhat, the mouse aiming is broken partially due to the way Virtual-box captures the mouse, might see if this works better in PCem or 86box instead.

Sadly Neptune did not have a bright future and was scrapped in favour of Windows ME, which was identical to 98 with a few refinements and bringing Windows explorer design inline with 2000. It wouldn’t be until the release of Windows XP (Whistler) when home users would get to take advantage of Windows NT.

Dell XPS Gen 5

Upgrading a 2005 dream PC

Dell’s XPS line of systems had always caught my attention, that and the Alienware Area51s/Auroras of the time had eye catching designs that stood out from the rest. I wanted an older gaming system purely for the games that were released in the era of Windows XP, from 2001 – 2006. Whilst most of these games can be maxed out on many modern systems, sadly compatibility issues are starting to occur when playing these old titles, and as Microsoft continue to update Windows 10, these issue’s are starting to become more apparent.

So I figured why not buy an older high end system and modernize it. By modernize I meant installing additions like an SSD and a USB3 card to make the system ore convenient to use whilst still keeping the original core hardware.

The Operating System

Windows XP Professional

The default choice for a machine of this era and type, for the best compatibility

Windows XP Professional 64bit Edition

Yep, there was a 64bit version of Windows XP, two in fact. The system is capable of running 64bit code thanks to the Pentium 4, and the system can detect all 4GB of its ram. I did install this to use as the main operating system, but found out some games ran into compatibility issues with the 64 bit kernel.

Windows 98/ME?

I have considered this, for a dual booting purpose only. Reason being this is one of the last machines to support Windows 98, or at least have native drivers for it. In theory you could create the ultimate Windows 98 gaming PC with these specifications without breaking compatibility.

In reality, Windows 98 was on its deathbed at this time, whilst software does support it, its only basic support that the game actually starts up so that it ‘runs’, there are numerous performance issues just from the operating system itself, and many games are missing certain graphical effects. And the fact 98 was notoriously unstable compared to XP.

The drivers also have the same story, with the NVidia drivers being notoriously unoptimized. The NVidia card for example has the latest XP driver being released in 2012, compared to the Windows 98 driver being released in 2005, that 7 years of driver optimizations and progress being missed out on.

In reality if you are buying a high end pc in 2005, its incredibly unlikely you would be running Windows 98 in it, and manufactures knew that.

Linux

Or GNU/Linux if that’s more your thing, I’ve also contemplated dual booting a Linux based operating system on it from that era. Something like Ubuntu 8.04 or Red Hat purely to see what it’s like. And maybe get some old GNU/Linux games going…

Components

Processor Intel Pentium 4

Pentium 4’s weren’t my first choice of CPU back then. Truth be told they were very hot boys and had a tendency to overheat if they were not properly cooled. Dell made sure that wouldn’t happen with this monster of a heatsink with two 120mm fans.

For some reason Dell are allergic to AMD, something that still rings true today. Most of their systems use Intel chips with only a small amount of models supporting AMD chips. This is despite the fact that AMD chips of the era ran cooler and consumed less power, Dell insisted on using Pentium 4’s on small form factor PC’s like the OptiPlex SX270.

Graphics NVidia GT 6800 Ultra

GPU’s were very competitive around this era, what with the Xbox 360 and PS3 being due to launch. Whilst the 6800 is a generation behind the RSX used in the PS3, it’s ideal for maxing out games from the 2001-2006 era

Memory4GB DDR2

4GB seems a bit overkill for a system like this. Considering Dell would have shipped a 32bit operating system on it, limiting it to only 3.2GB. I guess the previous owner must had upgraded it to 64bit Vista at some point.

Looking at the SPD data in CPU-Z it seems the system left the factory with 2Gb of RAM, with the remainder being added later. I’ll probably take the excess RAM out at some point and install it in another machine, since it’s never going to be needed with Windows XP, unless I decide to run some 15 year old CAD programs on it

Sound Card: Creative Audigy

Dedicated soundcards are uncommon today, with most motherboard having onboard Realtek or Conexant audio. Still Dell shipped the system with the Creative Audigy as the sole sound card on the system, no onboard audio here. This was the last era that supported EAX effects in games that this soundcard supported.

Dell XPS Gen 5 rear panel with upgrades

Maxing out: Upgrades

Top to bottom, Wifi, Sound card, USB3 card ,SATA card

USB3 PCI Express Card

USB3 didn’t exist when Windows XP was released, and even USB2 was still in its draft stage before it started appearing on motherboard in late 2002, however many manufacturers have provided drivers for Windows XP for both 32 and 64bit editions. Having a USB3 interface will come useful when it comes to connecting external hard disks. This card also has a front panel connector which I will use with the Akasa Front panel USB3 bay.

SATA SSD

A must for any modern PC, and although there were not common back when this system was released, I had no problems installing it (a 2.5 to 3.5 adaptor is recommended) and it was detected by the BIOS and Windows XP setup. One issue is that dell insist you use these green drive brackets to mount the drive, the idea is that it’s supposed to be a tooless design so that the drive can be pulled out of the slot.

In practice the clips ended up breaking since they had become brittle, and I was unable to screw in the SSD bracket since Dell designed the drive bay for it to be used with the clips so for now the drive is just resting on top of the hard drive.

SATA3 Card

This is a SATA 3 capable PCI Express card which would have been necessary for the SSD upgrade, since the onboard SATA can only support up to SATA. Whilst SATA standards are backwards compatible, it would have meant the SSD would have been bottlenecked by the onboard interface. A bonus is this card provides an eSATA port

Wifi – Broadcom

This was already installed by the previous user, or it may have been a optional factory upgrade installed by Dell. This is quite old and only support 802.11g protocol, which was standard in 2005. It also supports WPA2 and it capable of connecting to my BT Smart Hub. However I will be using the onboard Ethernet for when I connect it to the network, because Windows XP is no longer supported its not a good idea to have it connected to the internet.

Akasa Front panel USB3

Adds two front panel USB ports and also serves as a 2.5 inch bracket to mount floppy drives or memory card readers. I might add a memory card bay to it at a later date.

CD-RW Drive

Pulled from an old HP machine. The system has a spare drive bay and I had this drive laying around so why not?

Concerns

Power Supply

One of the main disadvantages of pre built Dell Systems is they tend to deviate from ATX standards, and the power supply unit used here is one example. First issue is the design, a standard ATX power supply cannot be used as a replacement unless the case is modified

SSD

Windows XP predates mainstream SSD support, and as a result does not implement TRIM. Windows did not support this until Windows 7. One advised workaround was to under partition the SSD, say to about 90%. Whilst you do loose storage capacity, since our games are stored on the hard drive this is not so much an issue.

Capacitors

This system came out during the capacitor plague, where many substandard capacitors were used that had a tendency to leak much earlier than usual. Also given that this system was on the extreme end of the power draw spectrum,

Steam

Plenty of games from this era were released on Stream, and up until 2019 you could install the client on Windows XP. However Steam dropped support for the operating system due to the Chromium Embedded Framework no longer offering support for XP either. This meant that future steam update’s would no longer be provided to Windows XP users, and sooner or later they would no longer be able to access their accounts via Steam, preventing the ability for them to play games. There are workaround’s to this that allow the client to run, but you are unable to access the Steam Store or the community features. Also I can’t imagine Valve’s being happy that modified clients are being used to access the Steam service.

Really you are better off sticking with the retail DVD or CD releases, or with GOG where games do not come with DRM and can be played without the reliance of a client.

Fans were in dire need of cleaning, managed to get most of the dust off for now
Cable management isn’t my forte but its hard to do it in this case, the power cables and SATA/data cables go in different directions
With the fans removed, hopefully those capacitors aren’t bulging
With the fans put back on, I think Dell made this case a bit too big judging by the space above
The front of the system, sadly the front panel cover for the drives is missing
XP desktop with Royale theme – Media Centre
Ah the good old days of Windows Media Player 10

Conclustion

I have to admit, the main thing fuelling this was nostalgia. having memories of booting into Windows XP brought back moments when we would sign into MSN messenger and MySpace using Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox with several toolbars installed. Sadly these service are no longer available as they was, with MSN Messenger being discontinued in favour of Skype. From a gaming standpoint, whilst it has no issues maxing out games from 2001- 2004, stuff released from 2005 (eg Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Driver Parallel Lines) onwards has a tendency to stress the hardware out, and I found myself having to downgrade the resolution in order to boost the framerate, which had me considering why not just play these games on a modern rig that can max these game out easily.

I suppose the main saving grace is compatibility, with these Pentium 4 (and Athlon) systems being the epitome of backwards compatibility. For this one in particular Dell provides drivers for Windows 98/ME, XP, and Vista, allowing you to theoretically triple boot the system for maximum compatibility without any concern with drivers. Any newer and drivers and compatibility with 98/ME becomes an issue, and anything older will have issue with Vista or 7 support

Whilst I haven’t played any game on it from 2007 onwards, I suppose you could get away with it providing you play at a lower resolution, although you might as well get a Core 2 Duo system with a GeForce 8 series or a Radeon HD200 series GPU