How To Make a Win 95 or 98 Boot Disk
"What Programs/Files Should Be On It ?"

( Copy this page to your hard drive or print it out so you can use it "offline" )

If you've found yourself in the highly unlikely circumstances of being able to download files from one type of computer, but have no access at all to the type you need to make a boot disk for, then the site will probably have a link to help you out. Are you working at a research facility high atop a mountain? Living on a very small island? A boat? Or just a person who doesn't want anyone else to know you're having a problem with your computer? I'd definitely like to hear from you if your computer no longer boots normally; maybe I can help. Use this online Feedback form. I'm now recommending that all Win 9x users obtain and use the Windows 98 SE Boot Disk ( if you are legally entitled to of course ;-) ) from this web site: Dr. Device's Boot Disks. [ Look for the line that says, 'Boot disk for MS Windows 98 Second Edition' and click on the RED floppy diskette icon to download the program, "wboot98se.exe" which is a self-extracting WinImage file that will write directly to a 1440kb 3.5 inch floppy diskette while running Windows; assuming you can do that now. Again, if not, write to me... Maybe you only have access to the Net from an OS such as Linux?! ]


ALL Windows 98 and Win 95 users (especially PC techs) should read the section titled: Windows 98 Boot Disk: "A Universal Boot Disk?" A Win 98 Boot Disk may even be helpful when working on a Win NT/2000 machine; especially if the HD was never formatted as an NTFS drive.

[ Caution: NEVER use Win ME (Millennium Edition) boot disks near any machine with another type of operating system!
  The Win ME file format and thus some of its util programs are so weird, that they only work correctly with the WinME OS! Trying to use some other OS on a WinME-formatted HD, will keep the OS from ever working properly! So, take note(!), if you ever want to install a different OS onto a Win ME machine (a hard drive that already had WinME installed on it), you must first RE-format the drive with some other kind of boot disk.]

One of the first things every computer owner should do is make a boot disk. ( I'd suggest that you also have more than one 'known-good' working copy as well!) In the event that your Operating System will not operate, you can often use a boot disk and utility programs that you may have to add to your boot disk to correct problems with system files, saving yourself the hassle of going through a complete reinstall and possibly losing some of your precious data files! (You always remember to make copies of any important data files, right?) If your OS will not boot due to a faulty hard drive or some other equipment failure, a boot disk can be very useful in trying to discover the actual cause of the problem.

Many new computers come with a Boot Disk that is programmed to restore the original files from a CD-ROM. (Actually, your computer's manufacturer may have placed even the system boot files directly on the CD-ROM and set the BIOS to boot the CD-ROM all by itself!)

But you should still make your own boot disk! Why? Because these disks rarely have all the DOS uitility programs necessary to fix your system files in the event that your hard drive will not boot.

Assuming that you're already running Windows™ 95 or 98, the method shown here to create a new boot disk will begin by using the "My Computer" shortcut icon on your Desktop:

[ NOTE: There's a special tab in the "Add/Remove Programs " section of "Control Panel" which creates what Microsoft calls a "Startup Disk." But it requires your Windows installation CD-ROM to make it. Apart from that, if you wanted to make a second boot disk without all of the utiltiy programs on it, you'd have no control over that and would have to sit there erasing them after it finished copying all those files again! ]

  1. Place a floppy disk in your floppy drive. ( Make sure there are NO files on it that you want to keep! Any files on the floppy disk will be erased.)

  2. Open "My Computer" from its icon on the Desktop.

  3. In the window that opens, double-click on the icon for the A:drive; usually labeled: " 3½ Floppy (A:) "

    At this point, you will see either:

  4. a.  A Dialog box that reads: "The disk in drive A is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?"
    If you do see this dialog box, press the "Yes" button and skip to step #4 below.   or :

    b. A window either with nothing in it or the names of some files you forgot were on the disk. ( If it's OK to erase these files, just leave them. If you want to save them, you'll have to copy them elsewhere. If you decide to change the disk, close the window and start over agian!)

    When you're ready to erase anything that might be on the disk, proceed as follows: Back up to the previous display (use the yellow folder button with an 'up arrow' on the toolbar or press the BACKSPACE key). Once you're at the top level of "My computer" again, highlight the " 3½ Floppy(A:) " icon (only ONE click), click on "File" and select the word "Format" from the menu that pops up.

  5. You should now see a window like this one:

  6. Make the selections shown in the illustration above, then press the "Start" button. The progress will be displayed in a bar at the bottom of the window.

    Finally, you'll see a window similar to this one ( if you had the "Display summary when finished" box checked ) :

    The algorithm for assigning a 'serial number' to a disk makes use of the system's time and date, so it's highly unlikely you'll ever see the same serial number!
    Furthermore, I was using a Windows 95 B (OSR2; 08-24-96 11:11a) installation for this pic. If your system files have the same date/time as mine, then the values shown above for 'bytes used by system files' and 'bytes available on disk' should be the same too.
    All the other values should be the same regardless of which Windows version you are using.

    After your floppy disk was formatted, the following system files should have been installed on it:

    [ If you don't have "Show all files" checked (under "View" --> "Options" in either My Computer or the file Explorer), then you won't see any 'hidden' .SYS files listed. For more details and a pic, click here (New window).]

    ( Note: Since I never use the Drive Space program to compress drives, I always delete the DRVSPACE.BIN file from my boot disks.¹ )

  7. Testing the Boot Disk:

    a. Leave your new Boot Disk in the floppy drive.

    b. "Shut Down" Windows™ making sure to select the option "Restart the computer?" before pressing the "Yes" button, or whatever method you would normally use to shut-down Windows and re-boot your computer.

    c. After the usual messages from your BIOS are displayed, you should see the line: "Starting Windows 95 (or 98)..." on your screen.
    ( Don't be fooled by this misnomer! What your computer is really booting at this point is only a Disk Operating System similar to MS-DOS 6.22 for those of you who remember that. This phrase, however, is actually produced by code within the IO.SYS file.) This will eventually be followed by:

    Microsoft(R)    Windows 95 (or 98)
      (C)Copyright  Microsoft Corp 1981-1996(or 1998).

    When you see " A:\>" on your screen, you'll know that the boot disk has worked correctly; you are now at a real DOS prompt on the A:drive, and all of the "internal" DOS commands are available for you to use. ( A more suitable and accurate title for this version of DOS would be: MS-DOS 7.)

    As an example of the type of commands you can execute at this prompt, try the following :   dir /a   (don't forget to press the ENTER key!) to see a list of all the files on the floppy disk -- including the hidden system files.

    But in order for your boot disk to be of any practical help to you, we must add many of the DOS "external" commands to it as well! These are separate program files in your COMMAND folder; I'll show you exactly where to find them later.

    d. Another thing you should know about your computer is whether or not you have the files CONFIG.SYS and/or AUTOEXEC.BAT on your hard drive. Do you know? If not, carry out this simple procedure:

    At the DOS prompt, enter :   dir c:\config.sys   Was it listed? Now look for the batch file. Enter :   dir c:\autoexec.bat   ( If either of these files appears to be absent, you might want to check the spelling just to make sure!) These files were essential to the operation of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1, but are not necessary to boot many recent Winodws™ 95/98 machines. The Registry now lists most of the .SYS, .DLL and other files that Windows needs to load in order to run.

    e. Getting back to Windows™: Unfortunately, the makers of Win 95/98 apparently didn't want the average person to run Windows after booting from a floppy! Why? I really don't know! If you ever used Windows 3.1 or 3.11, you should know it's very easy to start Windows 3 from any boot-up routine by simply executing at the DOS prompt. If you try that with a standard Win 95 floppy boot disk, you might see a fleeting messsage saying the "Registry File was not found." But then a BLUE SCREEN will appear stating " System halted. " So, don't even bother trying this. THERE IS A WAY TO DO IT, if you're really interested!

    [ This section is only for those interested in the technical details of booting Windows from a floppy! New computer users should skip down to the next section: "Remove the boot disk..." ]
    Here's the answer:
    Make a copy of the file MSDOS.SYS found in the Root Directory of your computer's hard drive. Edit the copy ( It's a TEXT file even though the extension is .SYS, so you can use NOTEPAD on it) so the following lines under the " [Options] " section have these values:

      BootMenu=1   ( This makes the Win 95 boot menu appear. )
      BootGUI=0     ( These lines make sure you ...
      BootWin=0       ... don't boot directly into Windows. )
      BootMenuDefault=5 (or 6)     ( This must be the "Command Prompt Only" item on the boot menu. )

    If you can't find one of these option lines in the copy you made, then add it to the file. Save the file and copy it to your boot floppy disk. Change the name of this file on your floppy back to MSDOS.SYS and make sure the attributes of the file are: READ-ONLY, ARCHIVE, HIDDEN and SYSTEM. This can be done at a DOS-Window prompt using the ATTRIB program. Just enter:

      ATTRIB   +R +A +S +H   A:\MSDOS.SYS     at the DOS prompt.

    I've made a copy of my own MSDOS.SYS file here for you to examine.

    NOTE. If you do decide to change the MSDOS.SYS file on your floppy Boot Disk, I would recommend having one of each kind: A disk you can use to boot into Windows 95 (or 98) later if all goes well (the special boot disk being described here), _AND_ one that does NOT depend upon any files from the hard drive (a standard Win 95/98 floppy boot disk.)

    Remove the boot disk from the floppy drive, and press the RESET button. If you don't have a Reset, then press down and hold one of the two sets of <CRTL> and <ALT> keys and then press the <DEL> (Delete) key before releasing all three! This is called a "warm boot " and it saves you the trouble of having to power-down, wait a few moments and power-up again. (I don't want anyone accusing me of telling them to flip that switch as fast as they can!)
    If your computer becomes " hung up " (due to a program crash or memory overrun) it often 'locks-up' the keyboard as well. Thus, making it necessary to power-down before restarting (this is called a "cold boot ").

Your Boot Disk has been created and tested. Now it's time to add some utility programs to it. As a minimum, it should contain your CD-ROM drive's DOS driver (a file necessary to access the CD-ROM drive from DOS) and Windows 95 or 98's FDISK.EXE and FORMAT.EXE programs which are found in the C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND directory (or folder if you prefer).
[ Note, however, that the Windows 98 Boot Disk comes with a number of generic CD-ROM drivers that should cover just about any drive 'out there.']

Here's a file listing from one of my own Boot Disks:

 Volume in drive A is BOOT DISK
 Volume Serial Number is 19DF-3D28
 Directory of A:\

  COMMAND.COM  93,812 08-24-96 11:11a **
    FDISK.EXE  63,116 08-24-96 11:11a *
   FORMAT.COM  49,543 05-01-97 12:14p *
      SYS.COM  18,967 08-24-96 11:11a *
   MSCDEX.EXE  25,473 08-24-96 11:11a * (for a CD-ROM Drive)
     EDIT.COM  69,886 08-24-96 11:11a *
     EDIT.HLP  10,790 08-24-96 11:11a
  REGEDIT.EXE 105,984 08-24-96 11:11a *
   ATTRIB.EXE  15,252 08-24-96 11:11a *
 SCANDISK.EXE 142,353 05-01-97 12:14p
 SCANDISK.INI   7,332 08-24-96 11:11a
    DEBUG.EXE  20,554 08-24-96 11:11a
   CHKDSK.EXE  28,096 08-24-96 11:11a
   DOSKEY.COM  15,495 08-24-96 11:11a
  DELTREE.EXE  19,019 08-24-96 11:11a
 DISKCOPY.COM  21,975 08-24-96 11:11a
     MODE.COM  29,271 08-24-96 11:11a
     MOVE.EXE  27,235 08-24-96 11:11a
   EMM386.EXE 125,495 08-24-96 11:11a M*
    HIMEM.SYS  33,191 08-24-96 11:11a M*
      MEM.EXE  32,146 08-24-96 11:11a
 ATAPI_CD.SYS  28,848 03-31-95  5:19a C* (CD-ROM driver)
** The disk won't boot without COMMAND.COM (or the required "hidden" System
        files we discussed above:
IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS ). (Note: If you updated the
        Windows 95/98 OS with any Y2K upgrades from Microsoft, make sure that your
COMMAND.COM file on the floppy has the same date as the one on your HD. My
        new y2k
COMMAND.COM boot file stats are:   93,974 bytes   02-19-99   10:55a .)

 * These files are pretty much mandatory for the disk to be much good to anyone!
        EDIT is used to make changes to a drive's CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files,
        for example. ATTRIB and REGEDIT may be helpful for a Registry problem, etc.

M* These files are used to access memory above 640 kb (to install driver files, for
        example). If you use any "devicehigh" or "loadhigh" (LH) statements in your
        config.sys or autoexec.bat files, you must use these. Having them on the floppy disk
        ensures you can boot-up the computer with access to upper and extended memory
        even if the hard drive has been damaged.

C* This last file, "ATAPI_CD.SYS," is my DOS CD-ROM driver. You'll have to find
        out what driver your CD-ROM drive needs to be accessible from DOS. ( If your
        computer came with its own CD-ROM boot disk, start looking for the file there! )

Copy the files listed above from your Windows Directory's COMMAND folder (usually, C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND) onto your Boot Disk. In the Windows Explorer, you can highlight them and drag them onto the A:drive icon (do NOT depress the Shift key while doing so, or you'll erase them from your hard drive!) You can, of course, use one of the many other methods that may be more familiar to you. (Almost everything you need to do with your computer can be done in many different ways!)

There are two more files on my Boot Disk which are very important; especially if you intend to access a CD-ROM drive with it. You guessed it! They are:


These files (see the examples below!) must be created by you² with a text editor. NOTEPAD will work just fine in this case (as long as you make sure the file extensions are actually saved as:  .BAT  and  .SYS  and not something like '.BAT.TXT.'   Just check the filename after saving it. [Of course, you'll need to be able to see file extensions first! You can read this page for help in doing that: Viewing File Extensions.] If you need to change it, simply highlight the filename, press the F2 key and edit it as necessary; or choose rename from the File menu... many different ways to do this as always!) You could also use the DOS editor, EDIT, which I highly recommend having on your boot disk. (If you've never used it before, you should set aside some time to learn about its features soon. Unlike the old one that came with previous versions of MS-DOS, this one can open multiple files and has a split-screen option!)

The following is a listing of the lines for these two files from my own boot disks (note that the last line in CONFIG.SYS which lists my CD-ROM "driver" must be changed to match your CD-ROM's driver file) :

device=emm386.exe ram /noems


If you do have a boot disk from your manufacturer, look for the lines with "MSCD" in the CONFIG.SYS file and "MSCDEX" in AUTOEXEC.BAT. It's probably best if you copy those lines exactly as they are into your own .SYS and .BAT (batch) files. Hopefully this means you will also find your CD-ROM "driver" on that disk as well ( look for a .SYS or .DRV file listed in that "MSCD" line in your CONFIG.SYS file and place a copy of it onto your new boot disk ).

I consider all the files on my boot disks to be useful. So, what do I do if there's another must have utility I just got and the Boot Disk is already full? Well, simply create another bare BOOT DISK and add the files you don't have on the first one! Making your EXTRA 'emergency disks' bootable too will save you from the hassle of having to swap the disks on those occasions that the computer needs to access the DOS COMMAND file again. (A good PC Tech will probably carry around a bunch of disks full of programs to cover many different situations!)

If you created the files CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT on your floppy disk along with the driver necessary to use your CD-ROM drive, then you should also test your boot disk to make sure you can actually access a CD after booting with the floppy. (Remember, once your hard drive fails to boot, it's too late!)

¹ My reasons for never using a full drive compression program should be obvious: slower access times and the possible risk of not being able to recover any of my files! If you really must save some space on a drive, I suggest that you use some type of archiving program, such as WinZip(R), to compress folders or individual files rather than whole drives.

² If you need more help in creating these files ( CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT ) or understanding them, use the online Feedback Page here to email me.

The Windows 98 Boot Disk:
A Universal Boot Disk ?

If you can remember back to the days when Win 3.1 first came out, you know that techs would sometimes boot a computer from a floppy disk without any problems. But when they tried to run a DOS utility from the HD, they'd encounter an error message like "Incorrect MS-DOS version ..." and have to reboot the system again from the HD (if they could), locate the utility program on a floppy disk or hunt for the correct version of DOS on another boot disk! This happened quite often just after Microsoft's releases of DOS 6.2 and DOS 6.22 when a system might have either of these versions, DOS 6.0 or even back when DOS 3.3 was first introduced! This was pretty frustrating when people knew that the COMMAND.COM file wasn't really all that different between some of these versions!

[ By the way, the COMMAND kernel's file has actually been an EXE program (NOT a .COM) for a long time now, but DOS doesn't care if you name the file with the .COM suffix; it checks for an "EXE header" to tell the difference.]

There was a major change in COMMAND.COM when Microsoft released the "B" version of Windows 95 (or "Operating System Release 2" -- OSR2). This change also affected most of the disk utilities too becuase all of those programs had to be able to handle file operations for the new 32-bit FAT file system on the hard drives! Therefore, any MS-DOS utility (or third-party program) made prior to the 1996 release of Windows 95 B may damage the file structure of a hard drive with a 32-bit FAT if it's allowed to write to the drive! It's also true that these earlier programs won't be able to read any files from a 32-bit FAT formatted hard drive. For example, the original version of Windows 95 simply states "Invalid drive specification" when it attempts to access a 32-bit FAT drive. (Although WinNT 4 'as is' cannot read a 32-bit FAT drive either, a third-party program was written to allow both reading and writing to these drives from WinNT. The READ-only version is free, but you'll have to pay for a fully functional one from   FAT32 for WinNT 4.0.)

The Windows™ 98 'Startup Disk' (or EBD -- Emergency Boot Disk) that comes with many Windows 98 computers is quite different from any earlier Startup Disks. And for a whole new generation of computer users this will probably be their first introduction to DOS Batch files and even RAM-drives! This Disk seems to have a bit of everything on it... including a Windows Startup Menu in its CONFIG.SYS file and the extraction of a .CAB file into a RAMdrive!

Here's a copy of the Windows 98 Readme.txt File from the Boot Disk.

Here's a directory listing of all the files on the Win 98 Startup Disk.

Here's a listing of the CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT and SETRAMD.BAT files from the Win 98 Startup Disk.

But the feature that fascinated me the most is the fact that for the first time in the history of a Microsoft OS version change (as far as I know), the newer DOS kernel was made to be "backwards compatible" with all of the older MS-DOS utility programs! This is the point of my subtitle: 'A Universal Boot Disk?' I know for a fact that you can boot a Windows™ 95 B computer with the Windows™ 98 Boot Disk and run the Windows 95 MS-DOS utility programs from the hard drive without any problem. Since there are so many Windows systems with 32-bit FAT HDs these days (Win 95B, 98 and 98SE), this is good news for PC techs who can use a single Win 98 Boot Disk for all of these. ( Ideally, PC techs wish that Microsoft would create a Windows OS that could be started from any DOS version that is able to access the file system on the hard drive. Now, we're closer to that ideal than we've ever been before.)

What may be more interesting to some is the fact that you can swap out the MS-DOS system programs on a Windows™ 95 B computer ( including the IO.SYS hidden system file! ) with those from a Windows™ 98 machine and boot up the Windows 95 B OS without any apparent * (See note below) problems.   This is because Windows does NOT depend upon the MS-DOS kernel for any of its critical operations. The DOS kernel is simply a means of loading key Windows files from the hard drive until the WINDOWS OS itself is actually running and the way that MS chose to provide all of us 'Command-line Power-Users' access to a Command prompt through DOS-Windows after WINDOWS boots.

[ NOTE: Windows NT/2000 users do NOT use nor have any access to an underlying MS-DOS program that boots before the OS... Win NT/2k boots up all by itself! The "DOS-box" in these systems is a single 32-bit program called CMD.EXE which has quite a few differences in how it operates compared to the underlying DOSs (DOS 7.0/7.1) of Win 9x! ]

First we booted a Win95 machine after replacing only from a Win98 disk, then it was booted again after replacing IO.SYS too. This is proof of my contention that the phrases 'Windows 95' and 'Windows 98' inside of the COMMAND.COM kernels should be replaced with the more appropriate terms of 'MS-DOS 7.0, 7.1, etc.' The IO.SYS file, however, appears to be too much of a hybrid to be called only DOS 7.x at this time: Why? Because it contains some code which is specific only to WINDOWS operations!
* Please note that I am *_NOT_* suggesting you should (or even can) replace any Windows™ 95 DOS files with those from Windows™ 98 on a critical system!     I'm a bit too concerned about the differences I found in the IO.SYS file. This was only an experiment to show just how similar these two versions of MS-DOS are. And even though I used a computer under these conditions -- writing files to the hard drive too, I swapped the files back to their original state a few hours later.

The Starman   ( 6 Nov 99 )
(Revised, 28 October 2000.)
Last update: 4 NOV 2002.

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