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I recently bought a computer from a local computer store that sells referbished/cheap PCs. I'm trying to set it up to play old DOS games I have on 5.25 and 3.5 inch floppies (DOS versions).

The PC includes the following:

motherboard with BIOS support for both 5.25 and 3.5 drives
5.25 and 3.5 floppy disk drives
Windows 98 SE set to boot directly to DOS (altered MSDOS.SYS file)

I'm able to format 5.25 floppies just fine and verified that I can copy DOS files to/from these floppies I create myself. However, when I put in an old DOS game (Pool of Radiance is shown below), the disk contents as displayed by DOS look wrong, and aren't accessible:

This is what the disk directory looks like, trying to read a 5.25 copy of Pool of Radiance

I realize there could be a number of things wrong with my setup, but I'm not sure where to start fixing things. My first thought is that the DOS version that comes with Windows 98 SE isn't a true DOS stand-alone OS, and I'm going to have to obtain a copy of DOS 6.0 or 6.22 if I want to get these old games to work.

Is this the best place to start to get this system operable?

Thanks for your help.

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Win98SE's DOS is fine, I've used it for the same purpose myself. If in doubt try using FreeDOS. If possible I'd recommend you access the floppies from Windows (9x is fine) to confirm that the contents aren't corrupted, as suggested below. –  Karan May 12 '13 at 22:05
    
Have you tried swapping out the drive cable? The drive itself? –  Nicholas May 14 '13 at 20:22
1  
It's possible that the game is a stand-alone one, intended to run on a "bare" box. Have you tried booting with the diskette in place? –  Daniel R Hicks May 15 '13 at 1:56

4 Answers 4

Most likely the old floppies have gotten corrupted with age. One thing you can try is using the tool SpinRite on it, it is designed for hard drives but it works great for floppies too.

From a twitter conversion I had with the creator of SpinRite

@sggrc I emailed sales and got no response, does spinrite work on floppy disks?


re: SpinRite and diskettes -- a BIG Yes! It's extremely effective with floppies. But use v5 which is better. You get it too!

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I thought of that too as a possibility, but I've tried about 4-5 different games at this point and I'm getting the same result. I think it's unlikely they are all corrupted in the exact same way, don't you? –  dvanaria May 12 '13 at 18:37
    
That does seem odd that they all fail the same way, If you boot with windows what does it show when you open the A: drive? –  Scott Chamberlain May 13 '13 at 20:59

Hacking an old system is fun and educational. If you're enjoying fiddling with this old piece of junk, by all means keep at it.

But if you just want to play retro games, there are easier ways. Open source emulation software has gotten astonishingly good. DOSBOX and ScummVM are two prime examples. You'll find it easier to download old games from abandonware sites than to recover them from disks that have probably degaussed. All in all an easier, more enjoyable gaming experience.

At least, that's how I play retro games. You should do whatever's the most fun for you.

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I was gonna recommend DOSBox as well, but considering he's already bought a PC just for this... Anyway, DB is fantastic but still lacking for some games (best to check their compatibility charts first), so tinkering with junk is not just fun but sometimes still the best way to get some of those old programs to work. :) –  Karan May 15 '13 at 18:41
    
@Karan In terms of compatibility, emulation is actually more likely to work than a random PC DOS-era PC. DOSBox emulates various sound and video cards that a physical PC might not have installed. And high-level emulators like ScrummVM are a re-implementation of the virtual machines used by the original game designers, eliminating a lot of platform dependencies. There might well be games out there that can only work on the original hardware, but I couldn't identify them. Those compatibility lists are simply those games that have been tested. –  Isaac Rabinovitch May 15 '13 at 22:58
    
See the compat lists - some games are broken/barely runnable, and there are lots of untested games too. As you might know old DOS programs (especially but not just games) used many undocumented or h/w specific tweaks or even bugs that sometimes just haven't been implemented yet in any emulator. DB and SVM have their place and I'm not pulling them down, far from it. However sometimes you just have to use appropriate hardware to deal with quirky programs whose devs squeezed every last bit of performance using weird tricks. Plus "true" oldskool gaming requires an old PC; it's a lot more fun! :D –  Karan May 15 '13 at 23:55

If you're using this old computer strictly for playing old DOS games, I'd recommend using an older version of DOS to format the hard drive and boot from. I've been playing around a LOT with DOS in the last few days after finding a stash of old documents that I had burned to CD back in '96 (when blank CDs were $20/ea here). In my quest to find software that would actually open up these old WordPerfect and WordStar docs, I came across quite a few abandonware sites.

Here's where you can find old DOS installs: http://wdl1.winworldpc.com/Abandonware%20Operating%20Systems/PC/DOS/

There are lots of places that you can find all of the old games that have been abandoned as well. I've had a great time. :-)

Unlike you, I didn't build an old system in order to use these files. I actually just brought all of my old desktops (6 of them!) to the recycle depot last month. I installed DOSBox. Works great on my brand spanking new Windows 8 machine. Now I can use all the old DOS programs and when I need an old version of Windows, I have Windows 3.11 running under it. ;-)

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I had the same thing happen to me once and what I found was that the head on the floppy drive on the PC I was using wasn't aligned correctly. The drive still worked, and allows you to format and copy etc. new disks, and they work in that drive,(giving you the false sense that the floppy drive is ok). Try swapping the drive out for another one, or buy a new drive. If after that the disks still won't work they are probably bad.

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