BIOS Schmios
October 1, 2009 1:16 PM   Subscribe

How can I get XP onto my laptop... if I only have a 3.5inch drive, and my BIOS is one version away from letting me boot by USB?

Alright, I'm stuck and I need some ideas. I've bought a cheap laptop from the state surplus auction and it seems to be working fine. Battery charges, screen looks good... but they must have wiped the entire hard-drive completely because I don't have any operating system.

I tried booting w/ a USB boot disk but it hangs on the splash screen because my BIOS has a bug in it that got removed by the next release.

I don't have immediate access to a 3.5in drive/disk to make a bootdisk but I could probably find a way to make one. Problem is I don't have a way to make my Windows XP CD install into a 3.5in disk sized file set.

What's the best step-by-step way to get from no operating system to Windows XP?
posted by ZackTM to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Is your BIOS updateable from a bootdisk (should be?)? Once that's out of the way, should be cake.
posted by jangie at 1:24 PM on October 1, 2009

Can you flash your BIOS to the latest release? What is your BIOS?

You could take the harddrive out, put it in another computer, copy the XP install files from the cd (the i386 directory) to the harddrive, put it back in the laptop and install from there... after booting from a dos boot floppy.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:25 PM on October 1, 2009

You could also consider trying to do a network install if the network card supports that...
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:25 PM on October 1, 2009

Seconding updating bios from the 3.5in drive, then usb.

Need I mention you should look into knoppix or something along those lines instead of putting xp on an old laptop.
posted by Gravitus at 1:28 PM on October 1, 2009

Whoops, sorry I forgot the specs!

Dell Latitude D600 Laptop - 1.3 Ghz, 256MB RAM, 20GB Hard drive, 2 USB Ports, and a floppy disk drive.

My bios is A05.

I have no idea how to do upgrade the bios via network install or boot disk, does anyone have any links?
posted by ZackTM at 1:30 PM on October 1, 2009

USB cd-rom is probably easiest, assuming your BIOS supports it. USB cd-rom tech is "older" than USB hard drive booting so you may be able to just do it with this BIOS version.

You might want to look into getting that updated BIOS. You can sometimes run a BIOS updater from a floppy or what jeffamaphone suggests regarding copying the disc to the drive and booting with a floppy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:31 PM on October 1, 2009

Goto Dell's site. Find your laptop. Get the BIOS. It will be an .exe file that runs both in windows and in DOS. Make a floppy boot disk and copy that .exe on there. You can make a floppy boot disk by formating it as a system disk. Dell's site will have instructions.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:33 PM on October 1, 2009

Since it's a business laptop you should be able to remote network boot over PXE. Use a tool like Ghost.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:38 PM on October 1, 2009

Here are the instructions to update bios via dos on a 3.5in floppy. Click on the instructions tab>scroll down> click on the run bios from dos environment

It seems the bios are A16 now. There was also a link to A14 and A15.

Now the fun part is hoping you have a 3.5in drive on a working computer so you can download the file and write it to a floppy. :)

Or there might be a completely easier way that has been mentioned already in thread but I like doing things the hard way. !!
posted by Gravitus at 1:39 PM on October 1, 2009

Go to, look for drivers, plug in the service tag when it asks, and specify BIOS. You'll get an option for the executable or the dell download manager. Get the executable. Be warned, when you run it, it will reboot with no warning.

Dell laptop cdrom drive should be easy to pick up on ebay or craigslist. You're gonna want a cd drive.
posted by theora55 at 4:35 PM on October 1, 2009

I think you'll need to chase down a 3.5" drive first. If you've got a buddy that is/was into making computers they might have a spare one floating around in a closet somewhere. If not, you can find new internal drives starting under $10 and USB at ~$20.
posted by 6550 at 4:38 PM on October 1, 2009

FWIW, the D-series floppy drives have USB ports on them and work fine attached to other computers. (I use mine all the time well, not really for installing Windows 3.1 in VMs on my Mac when I'm bored.) do what everyone else said about going to Dell's site to get the BIOS and then go to to download a boot disk image. run it, let it do its thing, then copy the BIOS you downloaded to the drive. run that on the laptop. and then you're done.

also, Dell is really good (or was really good, I dunno anymore) about interchangeable parts - any D-series CD or floppy drive will work in a D600, if you want to grab a CD/DVD drive for it.
posted by mrg at 5:26 PM on October 1, 2009

forgot to mention - you'll need a Type A to Mini Type B USB cable for the floppy drive if you don't have one already. (a lot of cell phones/mp3 players/etc. use that same sort of cable, so you might already.)
posted by mrg at 5:28 PM on October 1, 2009

It's worth checking to see whether the Dell repair partition is present. At some point they stopped giving out full OS cds and instead gave a boot CD that would simply start the install from the hidden drive partition. If that is present, you ought to be able to reinstall from there.

Worth a shot at any rate.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:49 PM on October 2, 2009

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