Friday, January 03, 2014

FreeDOS and USB Flashdrive on Asus EEE PC Netbook

On attempting to get the USB flashdrive to work on my netbook, I read several websites about various drivers the most useful articles being:

  1. DOS USB Drivers (At BootDisk: a useful site for information about booting DOS and/or windows from CD's,to fix problems)
  2. Yes, there are USB drivers for DOS... (From FreeDOS site itself)
  3. Run USB devices under DOS! (TechSpot Forum: From memory where I actually got the drivers from, most other sites had dud links.)
  4. Bret Johnson (A collection of programs for working with USB's at DOS, and extensive documentation of USB technology. Though no quick guide, or example Autoexec.bat and config.sys files.)
  5. USB Made Simple (For those interested in the electronics)

I started out with what appeared to be the simplest and most common appoach of using the seemingly universal Panasonic drivers. It didn't seem to work, but then too many other variables to get a clear check on things. So I decided to take the plunge and start reading Bret Johnson's 186 page document, plus randomly typing commands into DOS with the help switch option, or simply running and waiting for the complaint, then go read the instructions. Actually no real instructions. I opted for putting the following at the end of my autoexec.bat file:


I'm not sure if USBUHCI should be in config.sys. It seemed to work but not consistently. First boot and my drive was E: and a second boot and drive was F:, boot again and back to E: and so forth. However messing with USBHOSTS and DRIVES, I decided I was probably wasting my time.

Wasting my time, because I was starting to get the impression that none of the drivers were actually doing anything. One of the problems is that when the netbook boots most of the information it displays flies off the screen fairly quickly. However, just before disappears off the screen do get to see that it finds either the USB flashdrive or the extrenal USB CD ROM drive if plugged in. I can boot the computer from either.

Actually that was a problem. A while back I downloaded FreeDOS and burnt the ISO file to CD. This time round I downloaded the FreeDOS ISO file and used Rufus to create a bootable USB flashdrive. Problem was that even though can boot from the flashdrive, the installation expects a A: floppy disk drive: so doesn't install. The result I installed the older version of FreeDOS from the CD. Didn't have that problem with Ubuntu, I installed from the flashdrive.

Any case I can boot the flashdrive and work from it. So using my MS Windows XP machine I created a new bootable FreeDOS stick using Rufus, with minimum requirements. That booted and provided access to the two DOS partitions on my harddrive: further more it didn't complain about the partition, as I described in earlier post. This I guess is because the memory stick, was now the C: and the partitions were D: and E:. So it appears it could be a boot sector problem.

Booting from the flashdrive (I prefer memory stick, mainly because I thought flashdrive was one specific brand), I got a nice clean display of all the drives recognised when FreeDOS booted: not cluttered by error messages.

So my next exercise was to disable the autoexcec.bat and config.sys files on my harddrive and boot from the harddisk. Didn't seem much of a problem, as I don't know what most of the rubbish in these files is for anyhow: I'm guessing mostly only of use by those who want to play old DOS games. So all up not having my display cluttered with error messages about stuff I don't have nor need was a good thing. The system thus booted ok, with just the message about the bad partition.

Next thing was to plug in a non-bootable memory stick, and reboot from the harddisk. As expected the computer found the memory stick. Since my harddisk is partitioned I was expecting the harddisk to be C: and D: drives. However the memory stick became the D: drive and the second harddisk partition the E: drive.

Still its something I can work with. As to why it was not apparent in the first place, I guess that is because the memory stick I was using, was set up to be bootable, therefore I removed it from the drive when booting from the harddisk. The flashdrive /memory stick needs to be plugged in at boot time for the computer to find it.

Having to plug the memory stick in, at bootup is not a problem for me: I only have simple uses for a fast operating system. For some people it may be a problem, and the computers ability to find the flashdrives may be a problem if using drivers, Bret Johnson's document provides some trouble shooting guidelines if have such problem. Its how I decided that may be I didn't need any drivers and I was potentially wasting my time trying to get such to work. {With approach adopted I don't need any third party drivers, and therefore no licensing issues.}

I started out using an old 128Mbyte flashdrive, then I setup a 2Gbyte flashdrive to boot to FreeDOS. Given my intended use of FreeDOS either of these flashdrives is plenty big enough to work from without need to setup the computer harddisk.