Myth #1:
Win ME requires a Pentium class machine.

Dispelling Upgrade Myths and the Not So Ugly, Naked Truth of Win ME
By Fred E. Kagel, Dir.

Myth #2:
Win ME requires a minimum CPU of 150 Mhz, and you really can't do anything with ME with less than 300 - 400 Mhz.

Myth #3:
You need 64 - 128 MB of RAM for ME.

Myth #4:
You must upgrade to the latest audio, video, sound card, and CD-ROM drivers before upgrading to ME.

Myth #5:
You can' t run DOS apps in ME.

Myths #6 - #10:
If you can't meet requirements #1 - #4, then you surely can't run Office 2000 on that old bugger.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Times10!!!

Windows 98 v3
To all who dare slay the upgrade dragon, you must first conquer the myths.

I have just upgraded to Win ME on an AMD 586-133 Mhz machine with 32 MB RAM, a non-IDE 2X Panasonic CD connected to a "no-name" SB16 compatible soundcard, and with a crappy SIS video card.

Yes, Virginia, it can be done! And it works just fine; no worse than before, and actually, Microsoft Office 2000 seems optimized to run more efficiently on ME even though O2K arrived on the scene first.

First of all, why bother? "If it ain't broke, ...." Well, in this case, it was broken. The machine had been around the Windows neighborhood for some time: 95 and 98 both worked just fine, but SE never quite lived up to its name. Reinstalls, System File Checker, tweaking never quite fixed missing icons, missing file associations and relatively sluggish Office 97 performance.

What if your system is already plodding along? Still consider the upgrade for the same reason we have been sheepishly uttering since 96, "Greater Performance and Greater Stability." And we will still be at the mercy of Microsoft to repeat the same mantra probably until around 20 something. I agree with the critics who claim that we are paying for what really amounts to an SR, albeit a major SR in the case of ME. But consider the alternative, the real cost of developing and improving software. Would you be willing to lease software and the operating system with an annual maintenance contract, which is the way it used to be done or pay as you go and just call it an upgrade? In the end it really doesn't matter --- there ain't no free lunch.

Now for the how. My first attempt was simply to take a hard drive with ME on it from another machine and swap it in the box, but no can do. I knew the registry would crap out, but it was worse than that. Boot up indicated disk I/O error. Jumpers were set properly, BIOS detected drive okay, LBA was appropriately set to LBA off (540 MB drive), FDISK was a normal FAT16, partition was active, and the initial boot up screen indicated that the drive was assigned a letter. Still, no valid drive was accessible. So, I was at a dead-end. My guess was that either the Master Boot Record (MBR) or the operating system apparently made the hard drive somewhat system dependent well before the registry kicked in.

Next, I put the original drive back in the system as the master and connected the ME drive as the slave. All worked fine --- the ME slave was recognized. So I thought about cloning the slave over to the master. However, I wasn't quite ready to abandon the existing SE Master drive in case the procedure failed.

So basically, I kept the half-alive/half-dead SE drive in the system, and deleted as much of the Windows folder as possible to make room for ME. Fortunately, Windows will not allow you to delete files which are running, so even if you attempt to delete all of the Windows' folder files, you will be forced to skip over those active files. In any case, I planned to keep all of the files in the System folder until the upgrade was complete. That way, all of my drivers and old registry would stay pat. At some point, I would have to run Regclean to clean up the registry, but that was another issue.

Next, I ran E:\SETUP /NM directly from Windows! The /NM switch bypasses the required 150 Mhz minimum. I previously reported that this was an undocumented switch but not confirmed by my testing. Well, now I can happily confirm that ME never even gave the 133 Mhz machine a second thought! Running setup directly from Windows allowed me to access my CD-ROM. Otherwise, I would have used a startup boot disk with the CD-ROM DOS drivers on it. I feared that if I hung up in DOS, I would lose access to the CD-ROM altogether.

Running setup directly from Windows, however, has two disadvantages:
1) You cannot do a custom install --- that option never pops up.
2) You cannot do a clean install to a new folder--- because Windows is running and is considering the install as an upgrade over the existing Windows.

The advantage of upgrading from Windows is to keep CD-ROM Windows drivers intact, and it works! By the way, I did try both the Win 98 and ME startup disks, and they both failed to recognize my ferkachta CD-ROM.

The question of upgrading my CD-ROM driver was a non-issue. I don't think there was a snowball's chance in hell of finding one. They don't make the drives that way anymore. Admittedly, I didn't even try to find one. Yes, I know, I could have picked up a 40X or a 50X for a song and did so for ten bucks recently, but you know, I hate to throw away working hardware.

The upgrade took over an hour, and in the last two minutes, my heart skipped a beat as I got an error message that Windows may not work properly. Some VXD for some device was complaining. This was the same message that I had been getting from SE. I believe that the "proprietary" SB16 card was causing the error message. I pressed OK, my only choice, and away went the message. Up came ME. Whew!

A check of System Devices showed that I still needed to either reinstall or upgrade the video driver, but I was accustomed to that from my experiences with the other ME upgrades that I have done on Pentiums with built-in AGP video. While ME complained about the existing driver, it happily listed a dozen alternatives. While several worked, the only one that did away with the error messages was the one that came with the card. This is an important point, for although drivers which were dated more recently were available and were automatically installed by ME, the early boot warning they generate, that "your display adapter is not configured correctly," became an annoyance beacon. The older original drivers worked and yielded no error messages. Thank you, ME.

I ran MSConfig and deleted all non-essential startups. I also disabled PC Health and State Manager on this particular machine. If the system went, so be it --- no biggie on this machine. Incidentally, by removing the startups, the registry got cleaned up a little. ME has a nasty habit of bringing old startups out of the woodwork during its installation, so this cleanup is both useful and necessary.

The real surprise came after I installed Office 2000. All office apps worked flawlessly and with some noticeably improved snappiness --- especially after a little caching kicked in.

Obviously, if you have a Pentium class machine you can take full advantage of ME's multimedia features, but if you use your computer for typical home/office/Internet apps, a lesser machine need not be MEless! I will, however, definitely up the RAM!

Oh, I almost forgot about DOS apps. This machine doesn't run any, but I do have another ME machine running a DOS-based database. Most databases need, what are called, file handlers to process read/writes to the hard disk. In DOS, there is a command, Files = nn, which is placed in the Config.Sys.

By default, ME limits open file handlers to 32, which was insufficient for the database. ME also does away with Config.Sys. The solution was to edit the [386Enh] section of the System.Ini file with the following:


That did the trick!

I realize that one exception doesn't make a rule, but I'm a 60s kind of guy, living at a time when rules were made to be broken. Windows ME can be installed in a less than high speed, centa-MegaRAM machine, and more importantly, can actually improve the performance of your older machine.

[Copyrighted 2001, Fred E. Kagel, Freehold Computer Training Center. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to republish in non-profit publications provided this notice appears in its entirety.]

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