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I have a 286 type notebook from mid '80, and it's HDD went dead. I wanted to change that drive to a 6,4GB with a trick - creating and formatting 40MB partition, but when I tried to boot up system nothing happends - I see only cursor.

BIOS only accept NONE, 20MB and 40MB options as HDD installed drive, so I'm stuck. I'm assuming that FDD also is broken - since I can read all my floppies in second PC from 2002, but not in that notebook.

I created, formated and installed MS DOS 4.1 from that modern PC.

So, my question is: how to install a bit modern HDD to work in old 286 from '84?

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How modern exactly? – Ramhound Feb 21 '14 at 16:45
Ebay actually has a 40 MB ESDI disk for the low price of only $97 ;) – MSalters Feb 21 '14 at 17:15
I'm assuming that FDD also is broken, What kind of floppy disks are you using? If you are using relatively modern disk, they are probably formatted high density (1.44MB), are you sure that drive supports that format? You may need to reformat them to 720KB. – Zoredache Feb 21 '14 at 17:45
yes, it's 1.44 MB HD floppies. But thanks Zoredache for clue! – user3235936 Feb 21 '14 at 20:52
ah, and Ramhound - HDD is from Windows98 era. – user3235936 Feb 21 '14 at 21:01
up vote 1 down vote accepted

First, the obvious:

  • Is the system set to try to boot off of the C: drive?
  • Is the hard drive formatted?
  • Is DOS installed on it?

You may need to boot from a DOS floppy, run fdisk to partition it, format to format it, and sys C: to put DOS boot files on it. You'll then need to create your CONFIG.SYS and such.

You can download a DOS 6.22 boot disk from various sources and write it to a floppy. If the FDD is bad, replace it. You can pull them free from any old machine.

If you still have problems...

BIOS only accept NONE, 20MB and 40MB options as HDD installed drive

Sounds like your BIOS only works with MFM/RLL drives and you possibly have an MFM/RLL controller in an ISA slot. If your drive is of this type, you may try low-level formatting it. You would have to start the utility from the hard drive controller using the DEBUG command from DOS, or you could possibly invoke it directly from the BIOS if your system is old enough to have one of those built in (an old Zenith 386 I once had did). You'll need to search online with the manufacturer of your hard drive to find the exact command.

If you still have problems after that, you may try to find an ISA IDE adapter, and use an IDE drive.

share|improve this answer
I doubt that card's going to fit in a notebook. – MSalters Feb 21 '14 at 17:15
Hahaha ... A 286 notebook? I believe the SOL is strong with this one, unfortunately. – LawrenceC Feb 21 '14 at 17:22
It's from 1984 ;) And manufacturer now produce cash machines. I will try format 1.44 MB HD floppy as 720 KB, put DOS on it and try to format disk. If not, I will try to low-level format. If I faild, then i should just buy CF card with IDE? Will it work? – user3235936 Feb 21 '14 at 20:52
Formatting a 1.44 MB HD floppy as 720 KB will not work. You can not read such a floppy on a 720KB drive. (Compare it to writing with a thick marker or a thin pencil. If you get rough paper (a 1MB disk) you can write 720 big letters on it. The disk uses a big marker and needs large letters for reading. If you use fine paper (a 2MB disk, often only formatted at 1.44MB) and a fine pencil then you can write 1440 thin characters on the disk or fewer (e.g. 720 THIN characters). However the old drive can not read those thin characters. – Hennes Feb 22 '14 at 16:52
So... Only CF card with adapter OR low-level format existing (larger than 40MB - 6GB disk) disk – user3235936 Feb 26 '14 at 19:31

The None-20-40 options suggest that the 286 predates IDE (it's probably ESDI). Now the most modern SATA disks still belong to the ATA family, which developed out of IDE. So hacking a SATA drive onto an 20 year old IDE controller sounds feasible, if non-trivial. But your laptop is too old for that - that's 30 years, not 20.

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My first 'IBM compatible' PC was a 80386SX-16. It came with an MFM drive and a SCSI CDROM. In other words. It could also be one of these (hopefully not MFM). – Hennes Feb 26 '14 at 19:39

I've successfully used a Compact Flash card on an old computer (not so old though, it's a Pentium MMX I've ve got here) by means of a CF-to-IDE adapter. You can get a very low capacity card and it will look to the BIOS as a hard disk with said capacity. As a plus, it is very low-noise and power-saving.

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An interesting idea if the system used IDE/PATA. – Hennes Feb 22 '14 at 16:20
Maybe there is an adapter for IDE to ESDI? – NothingsImpossible Feb 22 '14 at 16:28
Possibly. But that would need a complex device. MFM/RLL/ESDI has a controller card and dumb drive. IDE has dumb controllers (basically just an 286 AT bus to a cable convertor or AT-A tachment) and the controller is build into the drive (Integrated Drive Electronics). – Hennes Feb 22 '14 at 16:48

As one of the earlier comments mentioned, you're so out of luck. Any 6.4GB drive is going to have to be IDE or newer (like EIDE). Your 286 likely does not support EIDE; references to MFM/RLL drives are spot on.

Even if you could somehow get IDE to work, the IDE controllers of that day did not support drives that were 6.4GB. Hard drive limits mentions at least 8 barriers that existed between 20 MB and 6 GB. You're bound to bump into those. Even if you could somehow figure out how to get a drive to physically connect, your 286 is bound to have a small amount of RAM, etc. You could have a 486 and have troubles getting over 500MB, which might be solvable by using a DDO or, better yet, replacing a chip. But a 286 with 6.4GB? That's just too insane. I can appreciate the "hack value" of doing something unique and challenging, but you've got to aim lower. The technology gap you're proposing is just way too big.

Note that I'm not even talking about using 6.4GB of data. I'm saying you can't use the 6.4GB drive, even if you were thinking of only formatting a 40MB partition.

For upgrading the disk space on a 286, offhand my best guess for your best bet would be to see if you can use a parallel port ZIP drive (100 MB) or SyQuest EZ-Drive (135 MB). Or use a network card to access files remotely, though that may be a substantial challenge (probably easier than getting a 6.4GB drive read on that old hardware, though). I dunno if it might be faster, though: parallel ports weren't known to be a super fast way of accessing disks, but then again, MFM/RLL drives weren't known for their speed. MFM/RLL drives also weren't known for their reliability

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A parallel port might at best get you 1 Mbit/s, with maybe 500-700 kbit/s a more realistic goal. Even hard drives of that era could do considerably better. I remember reading a review of a serial-port-interconnect hardware/software combination at the time (the serial port could manage maybe 1/10 to 1/5 at best of the parallel port's speed, but generally wasn't tied up by a printer and even on low-end systems allowed bidirectional communication; remember when EPP was a new thing?) remarking that it made "using the other computer's hard disk not feel worse than a slow floppy disk drive". – Michael Kjörling May 23 at 12:20

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