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Compaq Armada M300

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Hi Atari IO Friends!!


In one of my YouTube videos (I think) I mentioned having an old Compaq laptop that I was wanting to get going someday.  After reading RickR's post on his classic laptop I got inspired to try to get mine going again.  The sole reason was to just see if it could be done.  Keep in mind that this laptop was found on Shopgoodwill for $5 about six years ago and came with no power supply and no hard drive.  


So where did I get the power supply and hard drive?  I was given not too long ago a Compaq Presario laptop that was suppose to be running Windows XP as its operating system.  When I got it someone tried to put Ubuntu on it.  Unfortunately Ubuntu did not like the system at all and wouldn't even boot past the Ubuntu title screen.  Another issue with it was something that I never could figure out.  Any slight pressure by picking it up or resting palms on the palm rest area would cause the machine to simply lock up.  After a while that got really annoying and I feared that something would eventually short out.  And it's a shame, too, because the machine is in great physical condition.  Maybe someday I will take a crack at trying to figure out what is going on.



[Compaq Presario Laptop]


So, in order to get the Armada up and running I would need a power supply, hard drive, a copy of Windows 98, drivers for any installed hardware, and a bit of luck and some old school know-how.  First things first...a power supply and hard drive.  


After some doing some thinking I developed a brain storm...I looked at the power supply used on the Presario.  To my surprise it matched what the Armada required.  I plugged it in and VIOLA!!  The computer came on as soon as I pressed the power button.  Then I thought some more...what if the hard drive in the Presario was what the Armada required also?  They are pretty much from about the same time period...only a year or two separate them.  Out came the screwdriver and the screw hiding the Presario's hard drive.  To my surprise the hard drive was also what the Armada required.  Yep...you guessed it, in the Armada went the hard drive.


Now comes the really hard part...finding Windows 98 SE (what the system originally had on it) and a Windows 98 Boot Disk.  For those not familiar with how this works or installing a Windows OS, modern Windows OSes basically set everything up for you automatically.  All you have to do is pretty much point and click on what storage device (hard drive or SSD) you want Windows to go on.  Before XP, however, hard drives had to be partitioned and formatted manually by use of command prompt utilities before they could even be seen by the computer.  The two files that do this are known as FDISK and FORMAT respectively.  And with Windows 98 the for-sure way to get those, and to get a computer to boot up just enough to perform those tasks, is with a floppy disk known as a boot disk.  On Windows 95/98 the boot disk also provides CD-ROM support to a point.


I found a website called AllBootDisks that provided a self-executing image of the original Windows 98 SE boot disk...so I downloaded it and made me a temporary boot disk.  Now that that was done I needed Windows 98 SE itself.  A bit of a disclaimer here:  I don't, in any way shape or form, promote piracy of any commercially made for-profit software of any kind, period.  Whether it's homebrew or not.  Only freeware, shareware, public domain software should ever be considered legal to obtain freely.  But, in my case, I needed Windows 98 SE and since that was what was originally on it, and the fact that the computer still had a product key sticker, that is what I went after.  I never could find any Armada M300 restoration discs online anywhere.


I did find a great resource for older OSes in ISO image formats.  A website called WinWorld has almost every old-school operating system you could ever need.  Everything from MS-DOS, Atari DOS, Windows, Apple, and more are there.  That is where I found Windows 98 SE.  Yea, I know, I contradicted myself.  As old as some of these computers are, and knowing that their original restoration discs are most likely lost somehow, this is about the only option that is available for restoring these old computers.  And Windows 7 can burn ISO images without needing any extra software.


Power, a hard drive, a boot disk, and Windows 98 SE in hand means the fun part begins.  It took about an hour alone to partition and format the hard drive (a 27 GB hard drive) and another 30 minutes or so for Windows 98 to install.  Talk about bringing back old memories.  Once Windows was done doing its thing I did the next step...making sure all the correct drivers were installed.  Nope.  As expected Windows 98 did not have the proper drivers for the video card and nothing for the sound card.  It had resorted to a standard video driver and ignored the sound completely.  So off to find the drivers for the computer.


To my surprise HP actually still has the drivers for this laptop available.  Why is that a surprise?  This computer was made before HP acquired ownership of Compaq.  All I needed to do was get the two drivers that were missing.  After installing them the system was finally complete and fully functional.  It was ready for me to do whatever I wanted to do with it.


Now that I have it up and running I don't know exactly what to do with it.  I mean I have some older PC games on CD that simply don't play on Windows 7 or Vista systems at all or without issues.  The few that I have tried also don't seem to like the Armada well either.  It does have a ATI Rage Pro mobile graphics processor but it is not capable of performing 3D graphics at all.  Not exactly sure why they stripped it down other than maybe to save on power requirements.  


The first game I have tried are Microsoft's Train Simulator which didn't display text properly and it was completely hard to make out what the text said.  Might need to change the graphics settings...who knows.  I also tried the original SimCity for Windows which played very well.  I also tried SimTheme Park but had issues with some of the introduction videos.  I tried to play Luxor 2 which said it did support Windows 98 systems but wouldn't load at all once installed.  I did get a DOS game to play called Transport Tycoon which I had not seen in decades.  It was nice to play it again.  I still want to try my Age of Empires II if I can ever find the disc as I am not sure where I put it.  



[Compaq Armada After Windows Install]



[specs as reported by DirectX by going to RUN and typing DXDIAG]


This laptop really looks hardly used at all.  It does have the docking bay where most of the connections and external drives (floppy and optical) are located.  It also has one USB port but most likely not of the USB 2.0 variant.  Some old school ports are here like a serial and parallel port.  Once removed from the docking station the system is stuck with whatever is on the hard drive and inserted in the PC card slot.  And...the battery holds a charge!  I got 2 hours of use out of it before having to charge it again.


That's it for now.  Any suggestions on what to do with it or any abandoned software I can find for it games or otherwise I would like to know about it. 




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My laptop works great, but it has a strange issue with pressure being applied anywhere on the frame of the laptop, so I have to be careful when typing about resting my hands.   It will basically act like I clicked the mouse, which will then make whatever text I'm typing to start appearing in random places.  (wherever the cursor happens to be)

"For you - Rowsdower from the 70 - have been appointed Omnivisioner of the Game Grid."  ~ Atari Adventure Square

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There is an annoying issue with the sound card on this laptop. In game music plays fine but any sound effects seem to disappear after a while. What game is being played does not seem to matter. Also, support settings for DOS games does not work. All DOS games report a DMA conflict. Tried other settings but nothing works. Again I get music but no sounds. I now remember why I disliked sound blaster clones so much.

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Grrr...this laptop has a sound card that was the starts of the clones that didn't perform well, as expected, as needed, or all of the above.  Jumper settings...those should have stayed around where the consumer, and computer enthusiast, literally had to move jumpers to set the card so it wouldn't conflict with anything.  Apparently the sound card's settings on this laptop are the only ones that are not conflicting with anything yet are not right for the standards that DOS games were use to offering.  And finding information online has not been any success at all.  Changing the settings either conflicts with the printer port and changing them to the other optional setting conflicts with the serial ports.  


On a positive side I have been able to play my original Age of Empires again but, again, sometimes the sound effects are there and sometimes they are not.  All too common the sounds will be there at the starts of a game and then disappear in the middle of the game.  I have not tried any of the NFS PC games I have to see how well they perform and I never found my AoE 2 yet.  Not sure what happened to it.  I do have Shadow Warrior installed but without the sound effects the game can get boring quick as the sounds are what make that game the most enjoyable for me.  I missed these games...I just didn't know I missed them until now.  

Just a pointer for those wanting to revamp an old PC to play old PC games:  If it the system was designed around the Windows 98 era (or XP for that matter) and you are trying to get DOS on it and drivers for the sound card that may be included chances are there are no DOS drivers available for those sound cards.  As is the case with this Armada M300 the sound card is on-board meaning it is actually on the motherboard and not a separate card and requires Windows drivers to activate all abilities of the card including DOS support.  The only sure way to get sounds to work 100%, in my experience, and I'm sure others will share their experiences once I post this, is to find an original Sound Blaster by Creative Labs, preferably in an ISA format.  There is are PCI formats available as well that will work if your computer doesn't have the ISA slots but those were designed with Windows in mind and not DOS so you may be forced to depend on Windows drivers for your DOS needs.  But, at all costs, avoid ESS sound cards unless you happen to find that one that works for both Windows and DOS environments.


My experiences with the ESS Maestro in this computer is the same experience I had with another ESS I tried on my 386 in the early 1990's...not good and problematic.  Do yourself a favor, save yourself a headache, stick with a real Sound Blaster.  They are worth every penny you spend on one...just don't take out another mortgage on your property to get it.

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 Do yourself a favor, save yourself a headache, stick with a real Sound Blaster.  They are worth every penny you spend on one...just don't take out another mortgage on your property to get it.


True now and true back then.  It was worth the extra cost to get a real Soundblaster for compatibility sake.  Creative used to be a very high quality brand.  It's kind of sad how the best brands kind of got lost as computers became more simplified.  Creative Labs, 3dfx, Diamond, etc. 


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