“Swiss army knife” of a data center engineer vs. vintage devices

“Swiss army knife” of a data center engineer vs. vintage devices

Khabri already has an article about the Zalman ZM-VE500, written by a data center system engineer. This is one of the few devices that contains an emulator of an optical drive and allows you to have a collection of ISO images of operating systems at hand. But it can make some unpleasant surprises for fans of retrocomputing. Details – under the cat.

What is the problem?

The authors of the device honestly warn that Windows support is only for versions 2000 and older. If you try to install some kind of Windows 98, you will encounter a problem. The failure occurs during the installation of the driver for the CD drive. The system reports that the CD drive is not found, and then the download stops. The same behavior is typical for official distributions of Windows 95/98/98SE/Me and builds based on them. A few weeks ago, while preparing an article about the Compaq TC1000, we accidentally discovered a way around this limitation and now we can share it.

Downloading the installer for older operating systems such as Windows 98 consists of several stages. First, MS-DOS starts up, which in the process loads basic drivers like HIMEM.SYS to access RAM outside the main area (a wonderful 640Kb, clearly not enough). After that, an attempt is made to load the driver for the CD drive, which will be required for initial access to the installer.

Some ATAPI CD-ROM drivers are included in the standard distribution, but these are designed to work with IDE and SCSI bus devices. Since MS-DOS is not officially supported, it is useless to search for drivers on the manufacturer’s website. There was still some hope that any universal driver would do. Unfortunately, most older builds like Reanimator 2001 only contained some OAKCDROM.SYS that Zalman didn’t work with.

Among the collections we got the famous Hiren’s BootCD version 15.2. Having chosen to boot into DOS, we were surprised to find that the system calmly loaded some driver, spitting out the inscription Loading CDROM Driver 9F0800CD1, and gave the drive an X. Since Hiren’s BootCD creates a Ramdrive, it was safe to unmount it from the virtual drive and replace it with any other. So it was possible to successfully start the installation of Windows 98. Only two questions remained: which driver was suitable and how to extract it separately?

Disassemble Hiren’s BootCD

The author of this excellent compilation used the 7-Zip archiver very actively to save disk space as much as possible. A certain Koshchii the Immortal came out: ISO image > 7z archive > IMG image > 7z archive > drivers. Among the large collection of DOS drivers, a good dozen sys-files were found, each of which could be the same solution that allows you to use Zalman in DOS.

To get the files from the image, we used the simplest option: attached the ISO image to a virtual machine with an installed operating system, booted from it and threw the DRIVERS.7Z archive on the virtual HDD for further unpacking and study. Alternatively, you could extract the contents of the 7z archive and mount the IMG image to a floppy drive in VirtualBox or PCem.

We went through each of the drivers found and found that usbcd2.sys is suitable for Zalman ZM-VE500 [TEAC USB CD-ROM Device Driver]. Now that we know for sure that it works, let’s talk about how easy it is to create your own bootable ISO image with basic system files and this driver. Here, its authors have done most of the work for us by providing a basic set of files with a simple build script.

Download the bootcd.zip archive and unpack it into any convenient folder. Inside will be three directories (CD, Floppy, Tools), build script Build-ISO.cmd and documentation in readme.txt. We go to the directory Floppy and throw it there usbcd2.sys. We open CONFIG.SYS using any text editor, such as Notepad++, and replace the line




Save the file, return to the higher folder and run the assembly script Build-ISO.cmd:

We see that everything was successful and close this window. The compiler does exactly two things: first, he uses the help bfi.exe creates an IMA floppy image from the Floppy directory, making it a bootable file boot.datand then the utility mkisofs.exe creates a CD-ROM image with the El Torito file system (Phoenix/IBM Bootable CD-ROM Format specification), including the previously assembled floppy disk image. Now in the folder bootcd there is a freshly baked ISO image with the name BootCD.iso.

Note that in some instructions meets, that in addition to this driver, usbaspi.sys should be added. If this works normally in the virtual machine, then in the case of the Zalman ZM-VE500, when connecting to real devices after successful device recognition, errors such as The following files are missing or corrupted: COMMAND.COM.

We throw it into the directory _ISO on Zalman, switch the box to virtual drive mode, connect to the computer and mount the image. In the boot menu, select Dos:

USB CD-ROM Device driver Version 1.04
   Device name                            : CDDRIVER
ZALMAN  Virtual CD 3E40
Driver install successful

MSCDEX Version 2.25
Copyright © Microsoft Corp. 1986-1995. All rights reserved.
            Drive X: = Driver CDDRIVER unit 0

*** XMS RAMdisk v1.91 (FU - 08/98): Installed as drive R:.

CuteMouse v1.9.1 alpha 1 [FreeDOS]
Installed at PS/2 port

On the basis of this image, you can now make your own installations of old operating systems, including FDISK to manage partitions on the hard disk, FORMAT to format them, and additional drivers required for specific hardware. Unfortunately, we have no way to test the functionality of this solution on the previous versions of the Zalman and IODD boxes, but we can assume that it will work there as well.

Separately, it is worth noting that the Zalman VE500 lacks the emulation of Floppy disks, which could significantly simplify the life of fans of old iron. This is especially true for installing OS/2, for example. The initial boot there is assumed to be from three floppies, and then reading from the CD is performed. In this regard, boxes from IODD are much more convenient, as they support VHD, VMDK and IMA formats in addition to ISO.

Instead of imprisonment

Of course, such a box is only one way to ensure the installation of an operating system on retro devices without a CD drive. You can try to create a flash drive with Ventoy or make a simple PXE server based on Verkot Serva. There is also a more exotic option – to turn an old rooted Android phone into a drive emulator using DriveDroid, but it does not always work correctly.

It is clear that for modern computers, optical media are a thing of the past, and now the only option is to use flash drives as boot devices. But for old devices without a CD drive, emulation was and remains the most convenient way to install the OS or perform a backup.

Tell us about your experience using boxes from Zalman and IODD. Which of them is the most convenient and why? We are waiting for you in the comments.

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