Building & Optimizing an External Drive for WinXP + Gaming
September 5, 2014 11:23 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to go about building an external WinXP partition that is optimized for gaming so that I can play certain titles in their preferred environment?

I wanna be able to play the Sims2 on my tricked out iMac, but I already have Windows 7 installed, which the Sims2 is not compatible with, and Bootcamp 5.1 doesn't play nicely with WinXP. I need an external XP partition to boot into so I can get my Sims on.

What do I gotta do to make this as smooth a process as possible? I plan to install 6-8 expansion packs plus a ton of custom content in addition to the base game, and I'm desperate to have access to all that my expensive nVidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics card has to offer. In Win7 the game installs just fine but I can't go any higher than 800x600 rez and no graphics smoothing, so everything loads super fast but it's crunchy as all get out. and the whole point of the game is that it's actually rather pretty to look at, for god's sake

How should I go about accomplishing this dream? Please advise on type of drive to buy, procedures to follow, pitfalls to avoid, deities to sacrifice small quantities of cash to, etc.
posted by Hermione Granger to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The only way to boot to an external Windows session is through virtualization like VMWare or Parellels. Get an Lightning or USB3 external drive so you're not slowed down by the bus.You'll want to get more RAM for you Mac so WinXP and the game plays almost natively.

I don't play the sims, but the apps I run in VMWare on my external USB 3 drive run almost natively. Since the SIMs isn't a first person shooter, the graphics should be OK.

But I guess my real question is why not just by the Mac version of Sims 2 and play it natively? The version on the App Store is $30 and seems to come with a bunch of packs.
posted by birdherder at 12:18 AM on September 6, 2014

Regarding the issues in Windows 7 - I trust you've tried installing it in the compatibility mode for XP?

If that's not an option, and you have to go the external route after all, then your first priority would probably be transfer speed. USB2 won't cut it for acceptable performance for a boot disk, so you should probably go with a drive enclosure that uses Thunderbolt.

The key obstacle I see to your success is that Windows XP is designed to use a BIOS, while x86 versions of OSX use UEFI. As such, where normally I'd advise attempting to make an XP install with another computer, then plugging that hard drive into the iMac and trying to get Boot Camp to recognize it, I have to doubt that it would work: I suspect that the newer versions of Boot Camp lack that particular juju. One option might be to try rEFInd, which advertises the ability to load legacy BIOS bootloaders, "on UEFI PCs with suitable CSM support." Modern Macs should have some form of CSM support, but I'm still unsure of whether it will play nice with rEFInd in this particular usage scenario. Moreover, I'm not sure where to find XP-compatible Boot Camp hardware drivers any more.

Bottom line: first see if XP compatibility mode solves your problem. If not, try installing XP onto a spare hard drive using an ordinary PC. Then, put that hard drive in an enclosure, plug it into the iMac, hold alt/option at boot, and see if Boot Camp recognizes it. If that doesn't work, try rEFInd. If that still doesn't work, a virtual machine like Virtualbox may be the only way to go.
posted by fifthrider at 12:21 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unlike what berdherder suggested above, you totally can boot windows on an external drive. The windows installer itself may gripe and moan and you may have to install it to an internal drive and clone it from there, but it will work.

It isn't super duper simple though. You'll need something like rEFInd/rEFit suggested above, and you'll either need a prebuilt XP install to write out to your external drive, or to install one to the internal drive then clone the partition to an external.

I have booted all kinds of drives this way on a mac. It will work. You have to be wiling to waste several afternoons of just cocking around though.

Personally, i think you're asking the wrong question here and attacking this from the wrong angle. You want to make a small XP partition on your internal drive, put nothing but the OS on it, and put the games on the external.

Speaking from experience, the best way to do this is probably to get something like XP FLP(which is available on erm, certain websites) which installs with a VERY small footprint.

That method is what i do with my macs, and it had the added slick benefit of letting you use one drive for more than one mac, and just make different subfolders for each ones "program files" folder and associated junk.

As for what drive to use, i use the cheapest usb3 enclosure from newegg(it was maybe $9 on sale) and the cheapest 7200rpm 1tb drive at the time, which is just some hitachi. You do want a 3.5in drive if you're going with a rotating drive, and you want usb3. If i was doing it all again i'd get a ~240gb or so SSD for the $90 they seem to go for regularly now and use a 2.5in usb3 case.

I've been doing the tiny OS partition/external drive for all games/programs/files thing with windows on macs since essentially bootcamp and the intel macs came out. It's the only way to fly, i'm telling you.
posted by emptythought at 1:43 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I had no idea that a new collection of all the Mac Sims games was available. SO much cheaper than what I was gearing up to build. Thank you so much, BirdHerder!
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:32 PM on September 8, 2014

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