Primer on Installation, and Setup of OS/2 Warp 4

By: Walter Metcalf
Dateline: 04/14/99

OS/2 seems to be enjoying a mini baby-boom of late. It's possible that Microsoft's problems--PR, dealer, and legal--may be partly responsible, but whatever the reason it's clear from my email there are many new OS/2 users out there.

To assist these users, I will be presenting in some detail over the next few weeks the information they need to properly plan, install, and setup OS/2 Warp 4. Since a number of new technologies--both hardware and software--have been developed since Warp 4 was released in 1996, I'll also take a careful look at what the beginner needs to do to bring his or her newly installed Warp 4 system up-to-date.

This feature will follow the following outline:

  • Planning
  • Layout
  • Installation
  • Setup
  • Updating
  • Necessary tools you should add.
  • Very useful tools you should consider adding.


Unfortunately the personal computer market has been defined by marketing forces, not by quality. The result is we live in a Microsoft world, whose OSes are easily proven inferior to OS/2 ; our "world" includes hardware manufacturers: hardware is designed to work with Microsoft Windows and it may not always work with OS/2. Even the hardware division of IBM has fallen victim to this trap! OS/2 is difficult to install or run on some models of Aptivas and Thinkpads.

Logically, therefore, planning to run an OS/2 system begin as the hardware purchasing stage. You must be sure the hardware system you purchase is compatible with OS/2. This is not always an easy task.

You can purchase two types of systems: a brand computer, such as Dell or Compaq, or a PC-compatible, also known as a clone.

  1. In the first case the vendor designs the computers and selects all the component. If you're lucky you may given a choice of processor speed and memory speed. Upgrading is limited, and probably expensive. Buying a computer in this way is much like a buying a car.

  2. In the second case, you discuss with the vendor, and decide on the exact make and model of every component that goes into your new computer. Upgrading is usually as easy as buying the component and plugging it in.

You may asking yourself, "What has how I buy my computer got do with installing OS/2?" Quite a lot, actually.

  1. Brand computers

    Using the Compaq 5245 as one example, the configuration has several missing items:

    1. Proprietary ITU v.90 modem
      • many modems range from difficult to impossible to get working under OS/2

    2. Unspecified motherboard Chip set
      • Many or most chip sets badly degrade OS/2 performance if memory is greater than 64 MB.

    3. Special ATI Rage video system
    I'm not picking on Compaq--you'd find the same thing when purchasing nearly any brand  computer. Compaq at least gives you a choice of CPU manufacturer; with Dell it's Intel or nothing!

  2. PC-compatible computers

    The advantage of this method of buying a computer should be obvious by now: in your discussion with the vendor (or dealer) you can choose components that are known to work properly, even optimally, with OS/2. The disadvantage of doing is that it requires a certain amount of experience with computer systems and components. It does NOT mean, however, you have to be experienced in building your own computers. For example, I have yet to build my first computer, and am in no hurry to do so, but I have been buying computers this way for many years. I strongly believe that is the best way to buy your computer. If you can establish a relationship with a reliable dealer who at least is familiar with OS/2, it gives you the best of all possible worlds. Even if you have the experience and a good dealer relationship, your biggest challenge is determining which hardware meets your needs/desires AND is compatible with OS/2. Your dealer may be able to help, but the bulk of the load falls on your shoulders: after all it is your system!

    The question is where can you get the necessary information about the hardware devices? Fortunately, the answer breaks rather neatly into three groups:

    1. Motherboard/Chipset

      If you are not familiar with the term chipset, or don't really understand the chipset's role in the scheme of things, you need to read Chipsets: The Most Important Components in a Computer System. Reading that article by a genuine motherboard expert revolutionized the way I look at the computer. The most important practical lesson I learned is this: don't ever  buy a computer unless you know which chipset it contains, because you cannot replace it as you can with the processor! While OS/2 may  work with most of them, it will definitely work a lot better with some of them than others.

      1. The main thing to avoid are those chipsets which support only 64MB (or less) of caching, since you may well want to add more RAM later, and the result could actually degrade your performance instead of improve it! (OS/2 loads the operating system into high memory, which would be above the 64MB boundary in 96MB or above system, and therefore would not be cached.) Click here for more details on the main chipsets available today. Check for the features you need, including the CPU's you want to use.

      2. My favourite: VIA Apollo MVP series. Supports AT-series motherboard and Pentium class peripherals. Supports the new very fast Socket 7 AMD CPU's. Loaded with features. Not compatible with Pentium II and Pentium III processors.

    2. Processor (CPU)

        Three main manufacturers:

      1. Intel¹

        OS/2 works satisfactorily on all Intel processors. Pentium II are good, fast, reliable chips.

        However anyone considering the purchase of a Pentium III should be aware of the new feature (NOT a bug!) that can potentially broadcast your private information across the entire internet!

      2. AMD

        OS/2 works well on all AMD processors. The early AMD chips were clones of equivalent Intel chips, but recently AMD has become more innovative, and has been designing some powerful new socket-7 chips.

        My favourite: AMD-K6-2 series. Features MMX and 3D-Now! circuitry. Available in speeds up 450 mHz.
        AMD-K6-3 is also available.

      3. Cyrix-IBM

        Optimization techniques produce problems with certain types of programs, esp. some games.

    3. Peripherals

      Fortunately, IBM has continued to provide strong support in this area by maintaining, almost on a daily basis, a web site, called the OS/2 Device Driver Pak On-Line. This site lists all devices (i.e. peripherals incl. everything from display adapters to hard drives and scanners) for which OS/2 drivers are available, either in the OS/2 package itself, or downloadable from the internet, complete with downloadable links, and manufacturer links.

      Once you have chosen your motherboard and processor, you need to develop the habit of going there before  you purchase a peripheral to find out which ones are available that are OS/2 compatible. Doing so will save you hours of frustration later on. Another site to check is the Focus on OS/2 Device Drivers page. This page contains certain drivers not included on the Device Drivers Pak site.

      Other sources of information include your dealer and the web sites of hardware manufacturers.

      Let me repeat, and I cannot emphasize this too strongly, always  be sure there is a driver available for a hardware product before you purchase it.

  3. Pre-installed System.

    If you want the assurance of knowing all your hardware will work with OS/2, but lack the experience, inclination, or time to select each component yourself, there may be a third alternative. You may be able to find dealer familiar enough with OS/2 who will pre-install OS/2 on your new system and test the entire system under OS/2 before you get it. If you are willing to consider mail-order, here are two on-line stores that specialize in preloaded OS/2 systems:

    • Indelible Blue
    • Centauri Computers

      Purchasing a computer this way may result in considerable additional costs in shipping, customs, and support. For something as complex as a computer, I recommend you try to find a local dealer first.

    The only remaining issue is, "How much computer do you want?" OS/2 is highly scalable, meaning it will fit equally well on a very small 4 MB system² or a 512 MB system. The most expensive components of the computer itself are memory, processor, and the hard drive. Try to match what you will be doing with your computer with your budget. Here are a couple of tips:

    1. Try to balance all three of the above components. For example, don't get a huge (e.g. >= 10 GB hard drive) and slow processor. Your system will behave better if you have a faster processor and a smaller hard drive, so you'll get more "bang for your buck".

    2. Try to get a little more computer than you need right now so that you'll have room for more and bigger programs later on.

    Next time: Layout and Installation of the OS/2 System

For Further Reading:
IBM Technical Documents © IBM Corporation

Motherboard Homeworld by Billy Newsome

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