How to buy a computer for Windows 98 SE | Customize a computer for WPDOS | How to install Windows 98 SE | How to prepare your hard disk | A note for skeptics | Home page
Note (2008): This page is thoroughly obsolete and contains information that dates from 2004, but I have preserved some of its content for the use of anyone who is still interested in building a Windows 98 SE computer.
With the arrival of Tame 5.0, I no longer use or recommend Windows 98 SE, and it is no longer possible to buy a new computer that can work with Windows 98. Since installing Tame 5.0, I have not felt any need to run Windows 98 SE with WordPerfect. With a flat-panel LCD monitor, Tame's graphics-based full-screen mode provides a much sharper and clearer screen than the familiar hardware-based full-screen mode on a television-style CRT monitor.
The instructions on this page are designed for people with basic knowledge of DOS techniques, such as creating directories, copying files, and using a text-editor program like DOS's own EDIT.com or similar programs. They are not designed for absolute beginners.
The ideal desktop computer for use with WPDOS uses Windows 98 Second Edition (Windows 98 SE), not Windows XP or any other Windows version, but you can no longer buy a prebuilt Windows 98 SE computer from any major manufacturer. If you want a Windows 98 SE-based computer, you will probably need to buy a used machine, or build your own from parts available on eBay or elsewhere. Look for computers with speeds of around 133 to 333 MHz for the best combination of price and speed. Additional memory and replacement video cards are easily available.
Copies of Windows 98 SE are often available from eBay and elsewhere. Make sure to buy the Full Version, not the update or upgrade CD; you can find copies of the full version of Windows 98 SE on eBay by clicking this link, but read the descriptions very carefully before bidding. Carefully follow the instructions elsewhere on this page when installing Windows 98 on a new computer.
Basic computer hardware:
Case and power supply: Any desktop computer case manufactured before around 2005 should be adequate. I prefer a plain beige case that matches my other equipment, and for a long time I used the Aopen H450a. Any power supply that can supply 350 watts or more should be adequate.
Motherboard (outdated information still useful for Windows 98SE systems): I recommend the Asus P4P800-E Deluxe motherboard, because I know from experience that it works extremely well with Windows 98 SE and comes with a CD that includes driver software for Windows 98 SE. In general, I recommend Asus-brand motherboards with Intel chipsets, because I have never had the slightest problem configuring WPDOS on an Asus motherboard with an Intel chipset, and I have built or bought almost ten systems with Asus/Intel motherboards. (Visitors to this site tell me that motherboards with AMD CPUs and their associated chipsets also work well. I have no experience with AMD-based hardware, however.) Make sure to get the software CD for your motherboard so that you can install the necessary drivers for Windows 98 SE.
Important note: Make sure that your motherboard comes with a software CD that includes drivers for Windows 98 SE. Motherboards manufactured after around 2004 will almost certainly not include drivers for Windows 98 SE.
Central processing unit: The fastest Intel CPU that you can afford, but you won't gain any significant advantages by buying anything faster than 2.4 to 3.0 GHz, and you may not be able to find a motherboard for faster processors that includes drivers for Windows 98 SE. (Many visitors to this site tell me that AMD chips now work reliably with Windows 98, and also produce less heat and noise than Intel chips; this is probably correct, but I have not tried to build an AMD-based system. I do not know whether Windows 98 SE drivers are available for current-model motherboards that use AMD processors.)
Hard disk: The largest Hitachi hard disk that you can afford (but you probably do not need more than 40 or 60 GB). I recommend Hitachi only because this brand has been consistently trouble-free in my experience; other brands should perform equally well. Do not buy a Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk unless you already have successful experience installing one and using it with Windows 98 SE; buy a standard IDE (also called ATAPI) hard disk.
Note: If you insist on buying a SATA drive, probably the only way you can install it for use as your main Windows 98 SE drive is this: install a standard IDE disk in your computer and install Windows 98 SE on it; install the Windows 98 SE drivers for your SATA hardware; use Acronis Disk Director Suite or Partition Magic (for information on these products, see another section of this page) to copy the Windows 98 SE partition from your IDE disk to your SATA disk; set up your computer to boot from the Windows 98 SE partition that you copied to the SATA disk.
Memory: The most memory that you can afford, up to 512 MB, but not more than 512 MB, unless you intend to create a dual-boot system that also runs Windows XP. Under Windows 98 SE, many Windows and DOS applications misbehave if more than 512 MB of physical memory is available and if you have not taken special steps to prevent such problems. The instructions elsewhere on this page will prevent all such problems with memory under Windows 98 SE. Use them carefully if you build a machine with more than 512 MB of RAM. Note that it is probably impossible to run Windows 98 SE on a computer that has more than 1 GB of RAM.
Note: The 512 MB limit in Windows 98 SE does not apply if you boot only to the plain DOS that comes with Windows 98 SE, not to the Windows desktop, icons, windows, etc.; in this situation, DOS combined with expanded or extended memory will use only the first 65 MB of the computer's memory, but any additional memory above 512 MB will not cause any problems. If you boot to the Windows desktop, icons, etc., however, the additional memory will cause problems unless you follow the instructions elsewhere on this page.
Video adapter: (This paragraph is obsolete; see the updated information on the Graphics Mode page.) Most motherboards come with built-in graphics hardware which is barely adequate for running WPDOS in graphic mode; this built-in hardware generally does not support high-resolution VESA graphics modes. If possible, install a separate video card that uses an Nvidia video chip.
CD-RW drive: (This paragraph is obsolete; any modern CD-RW drive works well.) A Plextor or Sony CD-RW drive; if possible, do not choose any brands other than these; you may want to buy a drive that includes the ability to read and write DVDs. Don't even consider any brand other than Plextor or, as a second choice, Sony.
Modem: Buy a 3Com or USR "hardware modem"; but if you have a cable or DSL internet connection, you may not need a conventional telephone-wire modem at all.
Sound card: Most bare-bones systems now include sound on the motherboard; unless you are a serious musician, you probably don't need a separate sound card. If you absolutely require a separate sound card, you probably know which one you want (I don't need one and don't know which one to buy).
Network adapter (outdated information still useful for Windows 98 SE systems): Almost all motherboards manufactured after around 2000 include adequate Ethernet networking hardware on the motherboard. If you need a separate network adapter, buy an inexpensive Netgear FA311 series Ethernet Adapter on eBay.
The monitors that I know best are no longer available, but (in 2005-6) the best-quality text screens are found in Samsung CRT monitors (not laptop-style LCD flat-panel monitors). A 17-inch model (like the Samsung DynaFlat 753DF or SyncMaster 765MB) should be enough. Before buying a flat-panel LCD monitor, read the important warnings on compatibility and text appearance elsewhere on this site.
Update (September 2006): CRT monitors are obsolete; among LCD monitors, I strongly recommend the combination of the HP L1755 17-inch model and any current Nvidia-based video hardware (to reduce the noise level of my computer, I prefer fanless video cards models to the ones with fans).
Keyboard and pointing device:
The original IBM PS/2 keyboards are unsurpassed for quality and comfort. They are readily available on eBay and from other sources, and the original manufacturing plant, now spun off from IBM under the name Unicomp (with a web site at PCKeyboard.com), sells a very similar model called The Customizer. Like the original, these models do not have the distracting Windows keys found on almost all other keyboards. I sometimes use a variation on this model sold under the name On the Ball; it includes a 25-mm trackball that I find more comfortable than a mouse.
If you prefer a separate mouse or trackball, choose whichever you find comfortable. I have never found any mouse or trackball comfortable to use over a long period. You may find additional comfort by using a separate mouse or trackball together with the trackball on a keyboard; two mice or a mouse and a trackball can be used together by attaching them both to the Y-mouse device from PI Engineering. Do not try to combine a PS/2 mouse or trackball and a USB mouse or trackball on the same Windows 98 system; WPDOS will crash when starting or exiting.
See the recommendations for printers on this site's WPDOS 5.1 drivers page or WPDOS 6.x drivers page. Unless you need color printing, the obvious first choice is a model in the HP LaserJet 2400 series or 4200 series (with optional duplex adapter). If you need color, and you do not want to buy an expensive color laser printer, choose the most expensive HP DeskJet or Color InkJet model that you can afford. The best choice among color LaserJets is probably a color PostScript model, but I have not tested any of these.
Before you begin installing Windows 98 SE, create a bootable Windows 98 SE emergency diskette on your existing computer or on some other Windows 98 SE machine; use Start/Settings/Control Panel/Add-Remove Programs/Startup Disk. When you boot your system from this diskette, the diskette will create a RAM drive that contains (among other things) Microsoft's simple EDIT.com text editor program. If you prefer, you may want to add to the diskette an even simpler text editor like PC Magazine's TED.COM, which uses WordPerfect keystrokes (TED.COM and various patched versions are most easily available from Norman De Forest's web site).
Start up your new computer, and immediately go into the BIOS setup program (consult the motherboard manual to learn which key you need to press, typically Del or F1). Study all the menu items; change any settings that obviously need to be changed, but do not make any changes unless you understand their effects. You may or not find an item labeled something like "IDE Configuration"; if you do, select it and find an item labeled something like "Onboard IDE Operate Mode" and change the setting from "Enhanced Mode" to "Compatibility Mode." You must make this change before doing anything that will require reading a CD from DOS, Windows 95, 98, or Me.
Also in the BIOS, look for an item labeled "USB Configuration" and find an option to configure "Legacy USB Support." Change this from "Auto" or "Disabled" to "Enabled"; you can experiment with this setting later, but you will probably find that USB performance is unacceptably slow under Windows 98 unless you set "Legacy USB Support" to "Enabled."
Now, and only now, prepare your hard disk according to the instructions elsewhere on this page.
After you have prepared your hard disk, boot from your emergency Windows 98 diskette and choose the option to boot with CD-ROM support. Navigate to drive C: and create a directory named Win98 (if you prefer, you may use any large partition other than drive C:). Copy into the new Win98 directory the entire contents of the "Win98" directory on your Windows 98 SE CD. Navigate to the new Win98 directory on your hard disk and run SETUP.EXE to install Windows 98 SE.
Special instructions for computers with more than 512MB of RAM but no more than 1 GB of RAM: When the setup program offers to create an emergency diskette, say No, because you already have an emergency diskette, which should still be in your floppy drive. Leave the diskette in the drive; when Windows 98 first reboots during the installation, let your system boot from the emergency diskette, not from the hard disk; you need not select CD-ROM support when the diskette boots, although no harm will result if you do select CD-ROM support.
After the diskette boots, navigate to C:\Windows, and run EDIT.com (or whatever other editor you copied to the diskette) to edit the C:\Windows\System.ini file, as follows. Find the section in System.ini that begins with this heading [386Enh] and insert these lines immediately below the heading (the order of the lines and their exact location below the heading does not matter, but they must precede the next header that appears within square brackets):
Now find the heading [vcache] and insert these lines immediately below it:
Note that all these lines may change at a later stage, but they will work well now.
Save the System.ini file when you finish editing it; remove the emergency diskette, and reboot your system. Let the Windows 98 SE installation proceed normally. When the system is ready to reboot at the end of the installation, reinsert the emergency diskette, and let the system boot once again from the diskette. Once again, use EDIT.com (or your other editor) to edit System.ini; Windows may have changed or removed the lines that you added earlier; if so, edit the file once again to insert or restore the lines that you added earlier. This is very important. When you finish editing the file, remove the emergency diskette, reboot your computer, and let Windows start up normally. End of special instructions for computers with more than 512MB of RAM.
After Windows completes its installation of new hardware and restarts (probably more than once), install the Windows 98 SE drivers for your motherboard from the CD that came with it.
If you have an Nvidia or ATI graphic card, go to Nvidia's or ATI's web site and install the latest Windows 98 SE drivers for your video card.
Go the Windows Control Panel, choose System, and go to the Device Manager tab. Click the plus sign next to CDROM, select your drive and choose Properties; go the Settings tab and add a checkmark next to "DMA." Ignore the warning message, and click OK. Now, in the same way, click the plus sign next to Disk drives, select your hard disk drive (probably listed as something like "Generic IDE Disk Type 47"), choose Properties, go to the Settings tab and add a checkmark next to "DMA." Reboot your computer when done. Note: These settings may be cleared if you ever boot in Windows' Safe Mode or for other unpredictable reasons; you may want to recheck these settings after you complete your installation, and again every week or so thereafter.
Microsoft has released dozens of updates that make Windows 98 SE more reliable and that solve such problems as lockups during shutdown. The simplest way to get these is to install the unofficial Windows 98 SE Service Pack compiled by Alper Coskun, which contains multiple fixes for Windows 98 SE in a single package.
Install any drivers for other hardware that may be in or attached to your computer (modem, CD-writer, scanner, etc.)
Warning: The unofficial service pack makes a Windows 98 SE system look like Windows Me. If you want to restore the original appearance of Windows 98 SE after installing the service pack, do the following before you install the unofficial service pack: first, make a copy of C:\Windows\Explorer.exe under the name Explorer.org; next, make a copy of C:\Windows\System\Shell32.dll under the name Shell32.org. Save these copies in the same directories with the original files. After installing the service pack, start up Windows 98 in MS-DOS mode (or shut down to MS-DOS mode; do not use a full-screen DOS session within Windows), and copy the original versions of these files over the patched versions installed by the service pack. Then restart Windows, right-click on the Desktop, choose Properties, go to the Appearance tab, and under Schemes, change from Windows 2000 to Windows Standard. If your desktop icons do not immediately change back to the ones you want, install Microsoft's Tweak UI utility for all versions of Windows prior to Windows XP, and go to the Repair tab and choose Rebuild Icons; or, more simply, download and install Foletto Malefico's Rebuild Icon Cache utility.
Install WordPerfect for DOS. Enjoy your new computer.
Buy a copy of either Acronis Disk Director Suite or Symantec's PartitionMagic, install it on your existing computer and create the emergency boot disk that will make the next task easier.
Note: On the whole, I prefer Acronis Disk Director Suite to Partition Magic, although both programs can perform these tasks. The Acronis product is faster and seems to be reliable.
Using the Acronis Disk Director or PartitionMagic emergency boot disk, divide your hard disk into multiple "partitions" (lettered disk "drives" that exist on a single physical hard disk). I do not recommend that you use the FDISK program that comes with DOS or Windows to partition your disk, but if you do use FDISK, do not let it format the entire physical disk as a single partition, but follow the prompts as described below. (You do, however, want to enable large disk support if you are asked about this separately.)
Using either FDISK or Acronis Disk Director or PartitionMagic to create a large drive C: for use with Windows and other applications; use FAT32 as the partition type. Then create a much smaller drive D: (again using FAT32) on which to store your data files (try to keep this partition below 2 GB to avoid potential inconveniences with WPDOS 5.1 file lists if you ever upgrade to Windows XP); you may also want to create a small (2 GB) drive E: (again using FAT32) to store WordPerfect itself and other DOS applications. You may also want to leave 20 GB or more empty space at the end of the disk in which to install Windows XP at a later time if you decide that you want to dual-boot between Windows 98 SE and Windows XP (this is what I do on my system).
Use Acronis Disk Director or PartitionMagic to format your hard disks; you do not need to make your drive C: bootable; that task will be performed automatically by the Windows 98 SE installer. Now return to the instructions for installing Windows 98 SE itself.
A few computer experts (or, more accurately, a few people who consider themselves to be experts) have insisted to me that it is absolutely impossible to build a stable Windows 98 SE system with 1 GB of RAM, a Pentium 4 CPU, and the ability to use USB 2.0 or writable DVDs. They are misinformed (and I am writing these words on exactly the kind of system that they insist can not possibly exist). The linked images portray the memory and CPU of my current Windows 98 SE system, its USB 2.0 support, and its writeable DVD software.
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