Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Building a Fresh New Win95 Machine

Copyright (C) 1996 By Steve Litt: Steve Litt's email address
Steve Litt is the documentor of the Universal Troubleshooting Process and
author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist and Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.

LEGAL NOTE: I have done my best to make this document complete and accurate. However, any hardware or software installation carries the possibility of problems, including possible data loss and possible irreparable hardware damage. I take no responsibility for any problems you might encounter as a result of your use of this document, including errors and omissions in this document. If you cannot accept this, do not use this document.
This document is copyrighted, but I hereby give you permission to print a paper copy for yourself, to refer to while your computer is taken apart. Be sure to print the sub pages also.
THE FAQ: Some people are lucky enough to have a smooth Win95 upgrade. Others have nightmares where ancient and evil commands from config.sys, autoexec and system.ini reach out and eat their programs and data. I myself am a big believer in installing Win95 from scratch (that means no .ini files, and rudimentary config.sys and autoexec.bat). Note also sometimes you don't have a choice, like when you're building a brand new machine. Here's how I do it:

Prepare for the Installation
Build the Machine
Install Rudimentary DOS
Install Windows 95
Compress Your Drives (if desired)
Install Your Parallel Iomega Zip Drive
Restore Your Data
Install Your Windows Software
Install Peripherals One at a Time
Smart Up Your BIOS

Prepare for the Installation

To improve load times, this article now has a page of its own.

Build the Machine

To improve load times, this article now has a page of its own.

Install Rudimentary DOS

To improve load times, this article now has a page of its own.

Install Windows 95

To improve load times, this article now has a page of its own.

Compress Your Drives (if desired)

This is an optional step, but given the increasing size of computer programs today I'd recommend it. Compressing your disk (at least the drives containing programs) typically doubles your disk space. It's also a great test for your motherboard, CPU and BIOS. It exercises your computer's capabilities and compatibility heavily.

If you'll be using Microsoft Plus!, install it first to get the enhanced compression it offers. If the installation fails, troubleshoot using the techniques in the section on Installing Windows 95, including "dumbing down" the BIOS settings. If you've been following the instructions in this document, and repeated attempts to install Microsoft Plus! fail, suspect hardware. Consult the store that sold you the motherboard. When you've successfully installed Microsoft Plus! (if you're going to install it at all), continue.

Click Start, then Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools, then Drivespace. In the Drivespace program, select the C: drive from the list, then click Drive on the menu bar, the click Compress from the dropdown. Then just follow the instructions to compress the drive.

If you get file errors, especially more than 1 or 2, it usually indicates a fundamental problem. Because you've installed only a motherboard and a video card, and because you've installed no software except for operating systems, suspect hardware. If you haven't already, follow the instructions in the footnote section Dumbing Down Your BIOS.

If compressing the drive produced file errors, especially if some of them weren't "useless" files like .WAV's or .TXT's, you've probably corrupted your operating system. It may not show up now, but it might show up later, like when you install that new program your career depends on. Do the right thing now. After "Dumbing down" Your BIOS, go back to the Install Rudimentary DOS section, reformat your drives and re-install all software.

[ If All Else Fails ]
Take heart -- Once you can get Win95 to compress its drives error free, you've probably got a reliable computer with a reliable operating system.

Install Your Parallel Iomega Zip Drive

To improve load times, this article now has a page of its own.

Restore Your Data

If you backed up onto floppies, simply restore with the same program. If you backed up to a Zip drive, restore using the same program. I would HIGHLY recommend that you dedicate one logical drive (an entire physical drive would be even better) to contain your data and nothing but your data. This will make future backups much easier, and prevent "old configuration garbage" from sneaking back when you re-install an operating system from scratch.

If you've chosen to use tape backup to back up your old data, keep in mind it might not restore on Windows 95. With tape backups, do not format or otherwise molest your old disk until you've successfully restored to your new disk, and then successfully backed up the result onto another tape or other media using a Windows 95 aware backup program (not MS Backup that comes with Wind95 -- it can corrupt file dates).

Once your data is restored, I'd recommend immediately backing it up (not onto the same media as your old data). Keep both the last backup of your old system and your first backup of your new system for at least a year in case anything got lost without your noticing.

Install Your Windows Software

First install a virus checker, and run it. Then install any Microsoft software. It's been my observation that, after Microsoft installations, other programs such as WordPerfect and Borland products, often develop problems. You can interpret this any way you want to, but I'd recommend installing Microsoft products first, then your products from competing vendors. I haven't seen the other vendors installations trash the Microsoft products.

Install Peripherals One at a Time

Additional CD-ROMS or Removable drives

Install one at a time, following manufacturers instructions. If anything goes wrong, take them out again and see if the symptom goes away. Troubleshoot as necessary.


I recommend an internal modem because a serial cable is one more thing that can go wrong. However, a lot of people like the fact that you can see the lights and reset an external modem. The choice is yours. Either way, configure the modem as COM 2, 02F8-02FF, IRQ 3. If you use an internal modem, you'll go into BIOS setup and either disable the motherboard's second built-in serial port, or reconfigure it as COM 3.

Then configure all your communications software and Win95 Dial Up Networking. This can be complicated, so I'd recommend you call your Internet Service Provider for instructions. If there are problems, let them help you. Once you're online you'll feel much better because you can get technical information from the Web.

Sound Card

Traditionally the most challenging peripheral to install. I'd recommend buying a name-brand to minimize uncertainty, then try to have Windows 95 detect it as new hardware. If there are problems, use the Windows 95 Help diagnostics to step you through conflicts.

Network Cards

This is beyond the scope of this document. Refer this task to your Network Administrator.
[ If All Else Fails ]

"Smart Up" Your BIOS

If you "dumbed down" your BIOS setup, your performance will suffer. Obviously, some element of the "fast" BIOS settings didn't agree with your setup, but which one. To start, enable primary and secondary cache, but leave everything else uncached and unshadowed. This gives maximum performance gain with minimum risk of problems. Test thoroughly with all software. Then, once a week, enable one more cache or shadow, and see if problems occur during the week. If so, back that change out. After a few weeks, you'll have an optimally configured, but reliable, system.


These are link destinations in the original HTML, but on paper they're footnotes.






Copy a:\autoexec.bat c:\autoexec.bat
Copy a:\config.sys c:\config.sys
XCopy a:\win31\*.* c:\win31\*.* /s
XCopy a:\dos\*.* c:\dos\*.* /s

"Dumbing Down" Your BIOS

Some BIOS settings, especially Caching and Shadowing, can cause problems. Reboot the system, go into BIOS setup, and look for a "safe defaults" setting. If any kind of "safe defaults" setting is available, choose it. After doing that, re-detect all your drives. Shut off ALL caching and shadowing, including:
Disable Internal (L1) cache
Disable External (L2) cache
Disable Caching of system BIOS
Set Caching and shadowing of the video ROM to disabled.
Disable all caching and shadowing of memory locations C000-FFFF

Don't worry about performance -- later you can turn most of the caching and shadowing on, 1 by 1, to gain back most of your performance while keeping any offending settings disabled.

Static Electricity Precautions

I know -- we've all seen computer technicians casually touch boards without grounding themselves, put boards anywhere, and even walk across carpeting holding boards and place them down on metal. But they have plenty of replacement boards if they "blow" this one. They don't have to drive all the way back to the store and argue whose fault it is.

You want to follow precautions. Always place boards on their static-proof bags. Turn off the computer's power switch, but leave the computer plugged into a grounded outlet so its chassis is grounded. Ground yourself on the computer's chassis before touching a board. Don't let your clothing rub against any boards. Try to handle boards by the edges. Don't walk with boards. If you must walk with a board, put it in its static-proof bag.

Always turn off the computer (with the power switch, not the power cord) before connecting or disconnecting anything, whether inside the computer (such as IDE cables or peripheral boards) or out (such as mice and printer cables).

Remember, if a professional technician blows out a board it costs him 5 minutes to put in a replacement. If you blow a board, it might cost you a day.

[ If All Else Fails ]

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Copyright (C)1996 by Steve Litt. -- Legal