How to install DOS 3.1 from 5-1/4 floppies onto Hard Drive of original PC XT clone?

  • Does anyone know the installation procedure to install DOS 3.1 from 5-1/4 floppies to the hard drive of an original PC XT clone? I cannot seem to find the installation procedure anywhere on the internet. The procedure would start with inserting the floppy in the a: drive. Then what happens when the PC recognizes this is the first DOS disk. I see no install procedure on the files of this disk, so there must be some actions that happen automatically and prompt you. I know you have to do an Fdisk first and make the primary DOS partition, then I remember DOS tells you it's going to format the drive, but then how do you get the DOS OS on the drive and all the other files on the DOS floppies on there?

  • Using the "diskcopy" program, running under DOS on a Win 98 PC with a 1.2 MB 5-1/4" floppy connected, I was able to get the Disk1.img file of DOS to be read and ready to be written, but the error message came back that the same size media was not in the floppy drive. I guess the program wants to see a 360 KB floppy in the drive!!! Has anyone actually written the DOS 3.1 img file back to a 5-1/4" floppy and tried installing it on a real PC XT to see if it actually works? I thought I would be able to find some original DOS 3.1 5-1/4" floppies on ebay and easily reinstall DOS, but I can find none, anywhere!!!

    I would be very grateful, and would be happy to pay for someone's time and postage to make me a set of 5-1/4" floppies with DOS 3.1 on it, or DR DOS 3.1, or 3.3, and mail them to me in the USA so I can get my PC XT going. (I cannot even seem to get a bootable floppy made and accepted by the XT. When I formatted a 5-1/4" floppy with a system track on it from the WIn 98 PC, it was not accepted by the said "invalid operating system or something like that". HELP!:fp:

  • Dear Mike!

    I assume you have used the "diskcopy" from FreeDOS, which I have send to you like:

    Diskcopy c:\disk1.img b: ?

    I have only tried with a real 360kb Disk Drive and 360kb media.

    I think, a 1.2MB Floppy using 360kb Media (Double sided/double density, not high density, that's important) will work as well.

    Have you checked if the DCF program works with the image?

    I can send you the floppy disks during the next weekend, no problem....

    Don't worry, a few years ago I experienced the same frustrating issues before I found this forum :)

    When you have the DOS Disks and the machine is booting, the most annoying part is over... except you have battery leakage, dry capacitors, dead ram chips, empty Eproms, bad solder joints, wrong voltages or ripple on the voltages, bad hard drives..... :)

    Best regards


  • My PC XT is now able to read the DOS 3.3 5-1/4 floppys (THANK YOU STEPHAN) on the 1.2 MB drive, and it runs DOS from the A drive.

    I am able to read the C drive (which is 30 years old) and I can see the file names and directories on it, but it will not boot from this C drive, and it has read errors (as told by DOS) when I try to enter directories and see the contents. (After 30 years, I guess this should be expected!!!)


    1. Should I delete the primary DOS partition, then create a new primary DOS partition, then Format C, to clean up the drive?

    2. How do I Install DOS onto the C Drive after Formatting it? I know you need to transfer the system files on so it is bootable, but I have no instructions.

    Later DOS versions had an install disk or install program built in, but this does not.

  • In order to make your harddisk bootable, you should do a normal formatting first:

    A>format c: /v /s

    Then copy all the files from the MS-DOS Master Disk to the harddrive:

    A>copy *.* c:

    In case there are any errors on your harddrive, a so-called low-level-formatting would be prerequisite.

    What type of harddisk (model/number/name) are you having got?

  • The drive is a Seagate ST-238R. I appears to still run after 30 years in storage! Unfortunately, it will not boot and seems to have many read errors now. Data bits must have evaporated - but after 30 years, can you blame them!!??

    I can read the directories on the drive (now that the system can be booted off the A drive) however when I try to run programs, the drive starts to go after the files, but returns the message "Read Error" after the programs will not run. I am able to actually copy some batch files to the floppy A drive, so the hard drive is basically working, but must be filled with corrupted sectors now.

    There is no way to save the drive data now, correct? I cannot just install a new boot track - I must format and then to do the /s to install the system.

    (Its a shame to loose all the good things on the drive - but there is no way to save them now, right?)

  • IMHO ... a low-level-formatting of the harddrive could solve the problem easily. Anyway ... it doesn't matter, if the harddrive is going to be LLF again. I did it that way quite a few times. After that, the harddisk is working fine and there are no boot problems anymore.

    Essentially, it's just to figure out which LLF program routine to use. There are some implemented controller based LLF routines on the one hand and some floppydisk-based LLF programs on the other hand.

    Seagate ST-238R ... which Harddisk Controller are you using?

  • It looks like a Western Digital. The sticker says: WD1002A-27X,, F300 REV.X0, 10941872

    I remember installing this drive and board over 30 years ago when I bought that XT! I remember using the DEBUG routine at some Hex address to install it and do the original LLF on the drive. I have been reading about this, and I have heard good and bad about doing this LLF again. Some articles say if you do another LLF the drive will never run again - but I don't believe that. Some information says you have to enter the addresses of the bad sectors listed on the sticker of the drive itself (and I do see these bad sectors marked on the label on my drive.)

    I guess I should try the regular format with the /s first to see if that fixes everything and I can boot again?

  • I tried doing a high level format drive first, just doing the format c:/v/s.

    It started the process, showing heads and cylinders, but it stopped and gave a message about an error then stopped formatting. I think because there is a low level problem with the drive.

    Then I started the LLF process as per your instructions above, but it asked about "Dynamic Format Y/N". I said YES, but then it started asking lots of questions about many parameters. So, I powered down and stopped. Please see the attached photo showing the questions.

    What happens if I say NO to the Dynamic format?

  • If you want a easy solution, you could use ontrack disk manager. Some 3.x version would fit.

    You can select the drive type, enter the bad track list if there is one provided with the disk, and everything else can be done automatically.

    You also could use SpinRite to do a new LL-Format without loosing the data on the drive in most cases.

  • Thanks for suggesting SpinRite. Unfortunately, it looks like it will only run on IDE drives (not RLL like this old one). Also, I would have to get the software transferred to 5-1/4 floppies to run it - which is a huge task in itself!!!

  • Thanks! I just checked it out and downloaded it. It is an .IMZ file. Now the very hard part is getting the program installed on a 5-1/4 floppy so I can run it in the XT. This is the very hard part, and there is no easy way to do it.

  • I would unpack the image and extract the files, then transfer them to the XT via nullmodem cable.

    Or, if you have a second, slightly more modern PC with a 3,5" drive, you could hook up the XT's drive to it as second drive and write the floppy there.

  • Looks like I will have to do a Low Level Format on this drive. I used the Norton Utilities (running from the floppy drive) to scan the drive, and also install the Norton Utilities on the Hard drive itself. Unfortunately, even reading the newly installed programs is not consistent - the drive still returns a message of "Drive Read Failure, Abort, Fail Retry". This tells me something is really wrong at a very low level, since this was a very freshly written file. Possibly a head not working. I tried to save the data on this drive, but it looks like it will not be recoverable, even with SpinRite (as I have been reading about what it can possibly do - and I appears it will never be able to fully fix the files).

    Any last advice before I try to run the DEBUG low level format routine - with Dynamic Formatting NOT SELECTED (maybe this one will work, since I do not know the parameters that the Dynamic Version is asking for.)

  • Without "Dynamic Formatting" the controller assumes a standard 20/30MB hard drive (615cyl/4hd).

    It might be better to do a web search for the correct drive parameters (cylinders/heads).

  • The drive I have DOES have these default 615 cylinder by 4 heads. The other parameters, as you can see in the screen shots of my screen, starting write cylinder, precomp, etc., cannot be found anywhere on the internet - I've been looking.

  • After low level formatting the drive twice, and doing an FDISK partition, and then a high level format with /s system installation, twice, unfortunately, the drive will not do a full formatting (it says format failure at the end). However, the drive is accessible as the C drive, and I can write files to it. Only 3 of the 4 heads seem to be working, head 4 never appears during the format cycle. I can live with this, because the XT can be booted from the floppy drive, and then I can read files from the Hard Drive after I write new ones there.

    When I did the high level format, I was asked by DOS if I wanted a Virtual Format, I said Yes, then it asked how many cylinders for the format, I entered 615, but the formatting continued up until cylinder 902, where it finally ended by saying "Format Failure".

    Any comments or advice? I can live with this, but it would be nice to have a drive that would actually boot and run DOS.

  • "Virtual Formatting" is used to cut the drive into two (or more) virtual drives. Older DOS versions did not support more than one partition per drive, so the only way to make use of larger hard drives is by using the "Virtual Formatting", then the drive controller presents the two slices to DOS as if they were two physical drives.

    Normally you wouldn't want that.