[koko] (welcome to …) eight Jurassic O.S. on 1992 Dell 486D/50

“Genghis Khan and his brother Don
Could not keep on keepin’ on”
(1971) “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – Bob Dylan



tl;dr multibooting a 1992 Dell 486D/50
   WFW3.11+Win95+Win2K+DellSVR4+NEXTSTEP+RedHat5.2+OS/2 3.0+OpenBSD2.5

(Maybe it should be tl;dw — didn’t watch — the video is long.) This post is intended to both be more accessible summary and provide details that are not in the video.

As part of prolonging JAWS, I bought a 1992 Dell 486D/50 on eBay for $99.99. Though lacking the JAWS graphics memory, EISA and some custom Dell VLSI, that machine is otherwise similar to the JAWS machine, sharing chassis, power supply, SmartVU, probably other items I’m forgetting. The seller didn’t think the 486D/50 was working but I thought I could at least use it for the chassis, etc.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve made the 486D/50 into a robust machine, capable of multi-booting all of the 1990s operating systems listed above — three major Windows versions, OS/2, two competing Unix versions, NEXTSTEP, and Linux. The video demonstrates using a Web browser in all eight environments. I could probably have used the Mosaic browser on all eight, did use Mosaic on most, but (of course) used Tim Berners-Lee original browser on NEXTSTEP, and chose to use Netscape 3 on BSD Unix and Linux.


ISA add-in cards

  • Tseng ET4000 VGA card (The built-in WD90C31 VGA chip seemed to be failing.)
  • Adaptec 1542 SCSI for CD-ROM (ATAPI CD-ROM wasn’t standardized until 1998.)
  • Microsoft Windows Sound System
  • WD 8013 Ethernet (used by Dell UNIX)
  • Intel Ether Express (used by Linux, NEXTSTEP, OpenBSD, OS/2, Windows 3.11, Windows 95)
  • 3COM EtherLink III (used by Windows 2000)


One of the biggest frustrations was coping with inherent disk limitations, but even more, unnecessary limitations that I consider bugs, especially in NEXTSTEP, NT-based Windows prior to Windows 2000, and several Linux versions.

The BIOS implementation only supports disks up to 504M, but it is possible to get IDE (EIDE) drives up to at least 4G to work, absent the operating system problems. Dell Unix and Windows 2000 were the only O.S. that didn’t seem to get confused and fail in some sense above 504M*. Red Hat 5.2 (and later Red Hat that I tried – 6.0, 7.0, 7.3, 8.0) should have been able to handle partitions above 504M, but the only way I could get it to work was with a LILO diskette (as illustrated in the video). NT 3.5 and 4 couldn’t cope above 504M the way that Win2K does.

In the machine as in the video, there is a 2.5G IDE drive, partitioned

  1. 180M primary for DOS/WFW/Win 95
  2. 170M primary for NEXTSTEP
  3. 200M primary for Dell UNIX
  4. extended
  5. 900M logical for Windows 2000
  6. remainder for Linux

In the video, 3 is active, Dell UNIX allows booting from 1 or 2, Windows 95 and 2000 facilities in 1 allow selection of DOS(WFW), Win 95 or Win 2K.

In addition, there is a 700M SCSI drive divided equally between partitions for OpenBSD and OS/2. I was hoping I could get Windows 2000 boot.ini to allow booting either of those but didn’t succeed. I considered Partition Magic, but the only licensed copy I have (5.0) disclaims Windows 2000, and later versions on the Web seemed more trouble than they were worth.

I ended up trying/using more disks than I can remember. Disks this old can and will fail at any time. I was mostly able to preserve what I was doing using Red Hat 5.2 rescue diskette dd to image things.

More on Specific Operating Systems

WFW and Win95 work pretty much as I remember. I have multiple Netscape versions that I’ve used on WFW/Win95 on other machines, and Internet Explorer versions for Win95, so presumably, those would work on this machine if/when I try them. I used to use the Sound System card with WFW on the JAWS machine, but couldn’t get the drivers to work on this machine. (The card works fine with Windows 95, producing the Jurassic Park sounds in the video.)

NEXTSTEP is really cantankerous regarding date setting — I typically end up letting it reset the date to November 1994. (OpenBSD and OS/2 also have problems in this regard, but not as severe.) I still feel like I’ve scratched the surface of understanding NEXTSTEP. I should run NEXTSTEP side by side with the PowerPC Macs I have running macOS 10.4 to understand the evolution.

Nothing remarkable about Dell UNIX per se. This install is built from Dell and Mosaic sources. I still want to do more with the Dell sources.

Perhaps I was most disappointed in the various Red Hat versions that didn’t work.

Windows 2000 requires 32M memory, so I bumped up the memory from 16M to 32M. I tried for 40M, using two of the memory sticks that came with the machine, but parity errors made me stop using those.

Of all the Free/Net/Open BSD editions, I’m most familiar with OpenBSD 3.5, so I tried it first. That didn’t work, 2.0 didn’t work, 2.5 wouldn’t install from CD, but OpenBSD 2.5 installed OK using NFS to access the files from a Fedora Linux machine.

I wanted to use OS/2 4.0 or 4.52, but couldn’t get them to work.

“Next Steps” (and one more thing, and one more thing, and …)

Though this was mostly about the 486D/50, I did some parallel things on the JAWS machine. In the process I discovered that the 200M IDE drive I used in 1992 still works and has lots of interesting stuff I want to revisit. I also found a bunch of interesting stuff on a SCSI drive I used to use. So I want to explore all of those.

And I still want to try to get a third working system with the circuit boards and 50MHz 486 I showed in the video. I have spare ISA cards and memory to go with those.

* “large” IDE disks seem to work with this machine with type 41. With the JAWS machine, type 38 seems to work.

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