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Part 1: The Setup


RetroSonicHero

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Windows NT 4.0 is very interesting, but equally confusing.

 

Researching what parts were required to get the most out of this operating system while remaining period-correct was a time consuming process. Again, when we're working with a topic this niche, it's very difficult to find any pertinent information. Who documented CAD workstations in the 90s? Very few, as it would seem. Depending on who you are, the project would stop here. For me? This makes it that much more interesting. It's like a mythical being or MacGuffin; it exists, but hardly anyone has thought to research it.

 

These are the specs we're going to be looking at - they're subject to change:

  • Intel VS440FX (Socket 8 Motherboard)
  • Single Pentium Pro Clocked at 150Mhz
    • this is a modest estimate based on my preliminary test bench results. If my host computer can handle higher clock rates, this will be upgraded in a similar manner to a real workstation of that era.
  • Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold 28 MB
    • I know, it seems like an odd choice for an NT focused build, as it's a card known for its DOS and early 9x performance. I have my reasons, which I'll get into later.
  • Matrox Millennium II 8 MB
    • This card was revered because of its excellent 2D acceleration and support for very high resolutions up to 1600x1200, and even 1920x1200 in operating systems such as Windows 2000.
    • It absolutely has 3D capabilities, but they aren't stellar by any means, even for its time. For 3D CAD/rendering, its doable but not ideal. However, gaming is entirely hit and miss, even when keeping the limitations of NT in mind with its lackluster DirectX support.
    • The card supports up to 16 MB, but NT 4 apparently has problems with this.
  • 512 MB of RAM
    • The maximum supported by this motherboard. I wanted to go with 1 GB, and had previously on my testbench running an Asus board of the same era. However, I ran into problems with emulation speed that I've attributed were most likely due to its far more complex design. Regardless, I imagine I'll have a hard time actually using all this RAM even if I went out of my way to. The operating system only idles at around 20-32 MB based on my previous testing.
  • 24X CD-ROM
  • Dual 3.5 inch 1.44 MB Floppy Drives
  • 18 GB IDE 5400 RPM Hard Disk

 

That just about sums up the specs I've decided on for now. We'll look at any potential upgrades later on after running some benchmarks. I've also considered running Raid 0 on this emulated machine, but I think I'll instead save that for a later NT Server project. 18 GB should still go a long way.

 

Here are the various tasks that will be pitted against the machine:

  • Video Production/Editing
  • Audio Production/Editing
  • Music Production
  • 2D & 3D CAD
  • OpenGL Gaming
  • Game Making
  • Microsoft Office 97 Pro
  • Internet Browsing

 

It's a decently extensive list, but my research suggests this machine will be up to the task. What's honestly been the most difficult part of this project thus far is finding software. A lot of these products, especially those created for enterprise level 3D rendering & urban planning, have simply been lost to time. Many of them haven't been archived, unfortunately. This is really a huge part in why I've begun this project, as I want to draw attention to a forgotten era of computer-aided-design. One that was extremely important in regards to productions such as "Toy Story" - the first fully 3D animated feature-length film. Will that happen because of my efforts? Only time will tell..

 

Regardless, my next entry will focus on the installation process of the operating system, and some basic information you should know if you ever decide to work with NT 4. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

PXL_20240708_060749419.RAW-01.COVER - Copy.jpg

Edited by RetroSonicHero

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What I recall from that time (although I was working at IBM, so we used OS/2), but NT was primarily a server OS.  Sure there were MS shops which forced users to use NT Workstation, but I think Win 95/98 was equally common.  (Active Directory, the usual reason for running the "business OS", wasn't around until Win2K.)

 

IMHO if you really want to have the NT experience you need a dual processor system.

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3 hours ago, EricBall said:

What I recall from that time (although I was working at IBM, so we used OS/2), but NT was primarily a server OS.  Sure there were MS shops which forced users to use NT Workstation, but I think Win 95/98 was equally common.  (Active Directory, the usual reason for running the "business OS", wasn't around until Win2K.)

 

IMHO if you really want to have the NT experience you need a dual processor system.

Multiprocessing is definitely a long term goal of mine. I'll look into it once I have a bigger house (and more disposable income). If I could build a machine like this physically, that'd be a dream come true.

Thank you for your insight. 95/98 being common in the workforce makes sense considering how much malware was circulating at the time that was targeting workgroup computers - the vast majority only worked on 9x and were not NT compatible. Although they certainly did exist.

Edited by RetroSonicHero
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