This is the last post in a 6 post series on the Compaq Portable 386 Computer. In this section we take a look at installing MS-DOS and using FDISK after using the diagnostic diskette. You can jump to:

  1. First Impressions
  2. The Gas Plasma Screen
  3. Booting Up & Opening Up
  4. The Floppy Drive
  5. The Hard Disk
  6. Installing MS-DOS

Now we’ve configured the hard disk / CF Card correctly, the next step is to install MSDOS.

I won’t go into too much detail on how to install MS-DOS here, but you can find some straight forward instructions here.

First make sure you have setup the hard disk / CF card properly by installing the cables and providing power. Turn on the computer with the Compaq Portable Diagnostic Diskette in the floppy drive. If you are using a 5 1/2 inch floppy drive, you will need to create the diagnostic disk using a 360K disk. If you are using a 3.25 inch disks, then you will need to use the 720k version. Boot into the Compaq Diagnostics program to make sure you have setup the hard drive correctly.

Now you have 2 choices in terms of what MS-DOS you can install – I recommend installing MS-DOS 6.22 for general use with the computer, but you can also install the original Compaq MS-DOS 3.31 that came with the computer from factory. Get the Compaq MS-DOS 3.31 disk image files here.

In my opinion, it was actually worthwhile to install the original MS-DOS just to poke around – the Compaq MS-DOS does offer some unique features that allow you to manipulate how text is displayed, but at the end of the day I found MS-DOS 6.22 more familiar and user friendly.

The cool thing if you use Compaq MS-DOS, you get this amazing retro COMPAQ logo from the 80’s at boot.

After confirming the hard disks are correctly setup, restart the computer and insert a MS-DOS boot disk or MS-DOS install disk – if all went well in previous steps, the computer should boot from this disk, then automatically run MSDOS setup. If you don’t have a setup disk and just used a MS-DOS boot disk, the computer should at least boot to command prompt, showing A:/>.

I recommend exiting MS-DOS setup to check that the hard disks / compact flash cards are configured correctly. Exit the setup program (press F3) and type FDISK at the command prompt and press enter – if all is well the FDISK program should load and give you a series of choices – press “4” to view the existing disk, partitions and logical drives. You can then exit the program and restart MS-DOS setup, or follow the commands in FDISK to create your MSDOS partition(s) first (in case you want to setup multiple partitions or adjust their sizes), then resume MS-DOS setup.

Once you have successfully installed MS-DOS, boot again from your dos boot disk, and then type FDISK /MBR at the command prompt – this adds the master boot record to your disk allowing your computer to boot from the CF card / hard disk directly. It seems this step is necessary even after MS-DOS installation, else you won’t get a hard disk command prompt. After executing FDISK/MBR, restart the computer once more. You should now be able to boot your Compaq Portable 386 to its hard disk MS-DOS prompt without needing floppies.

That’s it! As you can tell, restoring the Compaq Portable 386 is relatively straightforward if you’re even mildly tech savvy- the components are pretty robust, and due to the price of the computer at the time, they were built to last.

In my next series I will show how I transformed my Compaq Portable 386 from an entry level 386, to a 80 MIPS, overclocked, Windows 95 “screamer” (thats right, I said Windows 95!)

Installing MS-DOS

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