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§ Windows NT 4.0 flashbacks

I received an email from a user saying that a build of VirtualDub doesn't work under Windows NT 4.0. Well, not that NT 4.0 is in common use anymore, but current versions are supposed to support it, so I figured I'd take a look. Start Virtual PC, create a new VM, new virtual hard disk... heck, let's give it 8GB. XP's not workable in that, but hey, this is NT4. NT4 is compact compared to XP.

[Partition too large error]


Turns out that the system drive has to be under 7.8GB for this build of NT4. Now that I think about it, didn't I have a 100MB drive when I ran NT4 Workstation? And something like a 486 with 20MB of RAM. I think nowadays I could boot NT4 in solely in L2 cache.

Installing NT4 was a real nostalgia trip. Oh right, you actually have to scroll down the entire EULA before you can press F8 because they think that ensures that you read it. Service Pack 1, hmm... well, at least it's not Service Pack 4. Ooh, I can actually choose not to install things. Phone dialer? Don't need that. Object Packager! No.

I have fond memories of NT4 because it was the first time I had a decently well protected 32-bit programming environment. When I mean protected, I mean the computer being protected from me, as in I couldn't accidentally memset() over the kernel database anymore. It took a bit of getting used to, because drivers were sometimes hard to find and install, and the only accelerated 3D game you could play was Quake. It didn't matter, because with NT4 you could write for Windows 95 without having to do it on Windows 95. That was golden.

(The reason VirtualDub 1.9.3 doesn't run under NT4.0, as it turns out, is that I accidentally snuck in a call to MonitorFromPoint. I'm SO going to put in import checking into the build.)


Comments posted:

"Turns out that the system drive has to be under 7.8GB for this build of NT4. "
That is not exactly what is happening here, you are below that limit. What is really happening here is that NT 4 setup first formats the drive with the FAT file system, and then convert it to NTFS if you chose that during setup. FAT's size limit was 4 GB (and that was with big and inefficient 64K clusters, which only NT series OSes can format).

Yuhong Bao - 20 07 09 - 18:49

So you're saying that I didn't actually hit one of the limits that Microsoft documented because I hit another limit. Who cares?

Phaeron - 20 07 09 - 19:37

FAT16 had a 2GB limit.
To use an 8GB drive you had to make 4 partitions (C:,D:,E:,F:).
This was way better than the old 32MB limit of the earlier MS-DOS days.

roseman - 21 07 09 - 04:35

That sounds suspiciously like a disk addressing limit, rather than an arbitary "no-one will ever have an 8GB drive" one. I wonder what 7.8GB works out as with CHS addressing?

Torkell (link) - 21 07 09 - 07:08

roseman: FAT16 in DOS has a 2Gb limit with 32Kb clusters. But actually is possible to format in FAT16 with 64Kb clusters in NT (ie: I use 4Gb FAT16 SD mem for booting CHDK in Canon cameras)

isidro - 21 07 09 - 07:55

"That sounds suspiciously like a disk addressing limit, rather than an arbitary "no-one will ever have an 8GB drive" one. I wonder what 7.8GB works out as with CHS addressing?"
Well, it is indeed correct that this limit is a disk addressing limit, but that is not the limit he is hitting. The limit he is hitting is related to the FAT16 file system.

Yuhong Bao - 21 07 09 - 11:05

Who cares? Who cares ??? Don't you know the internet is full of pedants ? :-)

mikesum32 - 21 07 09 - 14:49

> Who cares? Who cares ??? Don't you know the internet is full of pedants ? :-)

So I've noticed....

By the way, trying to use Internet Explorer 2.0, and trying to find NT4 Service Pack 6 so I could install the Virtual Machine Additions, was also an interesting experience.

I like partitioning drives myself, but the most frustrating thing about it is that Microsoft no longer gives you a choice of where to install Windows and always pins the system drive as C:. That means I have to play a game of musical partitions in Disk Manager afterward to get all the drive letters where I want them. I now always assign Y: to the CD-ROM drive after dealing with the fun that results when adding a new hard drive bumps up the CD driver letter that every application has helpfully hardcoded in the Registry during installation.

Phaeron - 21 07 09 - 15:55

Ah yes the 2GB partition install limit. It was finally lifted in service pack 2000 -- "NT5" for you purists out there :P

Rich - 21 07 09 - 17:08

Hi Avery,

NT4 is VERY much alive and still kicking in several quarters. I maintian a site at dedicated to supporting NT4 users and common problems they encounter setting up and using NT4 - particularly considering Microsoft have basically deleted ALL their support information from their website.

Your disk size limitation issues are covered here: - the size limitations are EASILY overcome with the correct approach. I have seen NT4 systems with TB of storage space in use ! (Hardware RAID 5)

The minute Win2k came along there was a concerted campaign from Microsoft to KILL OFF NT4. Several dirty tricks were pulled, the most memorable being the DELIBERATE decision not to add any USB support to NT4 (even though they provided it for Win 95 which was even older ! - see for my answers to that trick !) and then the extremely unpopular decision to bring NT4 extended support to an abrupt and premature end after only 2 years (instead of the 5 years of extended support available to all OSes Win2k and above)

As I say on my website: Microsoft I think had the dreadful realisation that NT4 worked TOO well, and they were meeting strong buyer resistance in their attempts to get users to 'upgrade' - hence the deliberate campaign of 'white anting'.

The small footprint and remarkable stability of NT4 has ensured it lives on. The early versions of NT were a tribute to Dave Cutler and his small but highly skilled writing team at Microsoft. Unfortunately, after Win98's demise the not so talented people from that project merged into writing Win2k and above - and the rot well and truly set in - BLOAT, bad stability and FULL of serious security holes. XP suffered more than Win2k did, and don't even get me STARTED on Vista !

Here in Australia our 2 major retail supermarket chains use POS terminals created by their inhouse IT departments based on Windows NT4 Workstation with a custom shell replacing explorer.exe and appropriate hardware. Nationwide there would be 20000+ machines in use. I find it interesting that they chose NT4 - obviously somebody spent the time to discover what a gem this compact stable OS REALLY is.

I am certainly still getting PLENTY of hits on my site (and lots of email) that suggest NT4 is alive and well. I actively assist software writers (like the team who write Miranda IM, Mitja Perko who writes CDCheck and Ray Hinchcliffe who writes SIV) to report NT4 issues as and when they arise. I am happy to do the same for you, but to date there has been no need, VirtualDub has always run fine 'out of the box' :-)

OH BTW - a BIG THANKYOU to yourself (and other similarly minded software developers out there) for showing the foresight to continue support of NT4. I constantly keep hitting problems with software that will install without error, but then not run on NT4 with 'undefined call to xxxx' problems caused by software developers not using their brains and trapping out OSes they don't support during install, or often more likely the case, knowing nowhere NEAR enough about what they are doing to even understand the problem !

I use VirtualDub regularly on my NT4 Workstation and would be lost without it ! PLEASE keep the faith.

Looking forward to VirtualDub V1.9.4 stable. All the best,

Calvin (Brisbane Australia)

Calvin (link) - 22 07 09 - 14:05

When I think of my most favorite NT release, though, it's Windows 2000, not NT4.

NT4 was the first release that I considered usable, but not widely so. Microsoft had gotten the Windows 95 shell ported and did good work on attaining good API parity, but it still had major control panel elements from the Windows 3.1 era, and there were too many parts missing, most notably D3D acceleration. Windows 2000 was the first release where Microsoft made a big push to get it technically up to snuff relative to the Win9x line by filling in missing APIs and functionality, and that was the first release that I was really able to start ditching Windows 98. It also got a major visual upgrade, too. The problem was that Microsoft was still mainly targeting businesses with it, and it wasn't until Windows XP that they finally started the massive effort to get the software and driver holes covered and to kill off Win9x once and for all.

The main reason many software vendors don't support NT4.0, by the way, is support cost. If I accidentally release a version that breaks on a particular OS, I can just say oops and release a new version. That can be pretty expensive for a commercial product, and the QA you need to make sure that doesn't happen isn't cheap, either.

Phaeron - 22 07 09 - 15:31

I think the answers have already been given as to why NT 4 is still used, less resource hogging. Same for Win 2000, smaller hardware footprint. Especially true for dedicated systems like POS terminals.

Rich - 22 07 09 - 16:09

I always use R: for an optical "Reader" and W: for a optical "Writer" if I have both in a machine. Usually, I only have W: these days. I also used to use Z: for my zip drive and N: for mapping to a shared drive on a network.

Hmmm.... I wonder if there's any way to modify a slipstreamed XP image so that the first optical drive is automatically assigned "W" when you install windows.

krick (link) - 22 07 09 - 18:08

I don't know about NT4, but I can tell you that XP can run... and run just fine in ~8GB of space. Not XP Gold, of course - you have to use nLite first, and do a lot of tweaking, but I managed to shoehorn XP into my Dell P2-233 when it was on an 8GB HDD.

It takes about 5 mins to boot up, and you can forget about video editing in anything less than overnight, but it does work. With a nVidia Riva TNT you can even watch DVDs fairly comfortably.

PS are you sure you have to use C:\ as system drive? Maybe in Vista (having only installed it once, I can't recall) but XP still supports being installed to E:\ or whatever.

Gregory - 23 07 09 - 04:07

If you boot off CD to install, the system partition will always be C:. If you run the installer from existing Windows installation, the system partition will have the same drive letter that it had in the previous system. Eg. my XP x64 was installed on R:, Vista on V: and 7 is on U:, and the drive letters are identical between all systems.

ender - 23 07 09 - 08:39

@ Calvin

Not only down under Retial chaines operate NT - also in Germany there is still a large (and stable) NT base with a lot of fuel retailers (and their vendor). And what they do like most: No IP connectivity and no internet threats. Boy, i need to get my MS NT MCSE certificate out of the drawer!

Cheers from up here

NT DE - 23 07 09 - 21:38

Hi all,

@Avery: Thanks for the comments. I also have a liking for Win2k. It is the OS of choice here for Home Theatre PC (HTPC) systems. Win2k + VLC + selected other software (Like VirtualDub) makes a killer multimedia playback system and needs a lot less HDD space and machine resources for similar performance/throughput to a WinXP based system.

Win2k in fact has some 'big disk' problems as well, primary relating to large >137GB disks. You have to active a 'LargeLBA' switch in the registry to get Win2k to correctly recognise the size of the disk, but you can't do that until it is up and running, so installation can be a bit messy :-(

I'm not a big fan of XP but concede that in many cases with current hardware (due to lack of driver support primarily) you have no choice but to use this OS. I don't like it's stability however. I think most of the problems come from the "Plug and Play" subsystem (I'm sure it should be rightly called "plug and stuff it"), but the OS still has far too many "how the hell did it do that!" and "that isn't what I asked you to do !" incidents for my liking.

@NT DE: Glad to see other organisations around the world have done their homework and realised that the earlier OSes like NT4 make a great base for dedicated systems like POS. i'm still hapy to use it as an 'everyday' desktop OS, and have NO intention of changing in the foreseeable future !

Looks like I'm going to have to keep NT4Ref running for a LONG time yet :-)

Calvin (link) - 24 07 09 - 13:03

"I think nowadays I could boot NT4 in solely in L2 cache."
LOL. In a couple of years, it'll be ready to run in L1 cache.
Ah.. the nostalgia...

slidersv - 26 07 09 - 09:14

"Glad to see other organisations around the world have done their homework and realised that the earlier OSes like NT4 make a great base for dedicated systems like POS."
In fact the first embedded edition of NT-based Windows was based on NT 4, and thus called NT Embedded 4.0. It specifically targeted systems like these.

Yuhong Bao - 26 07 09 - 13:55

Yes, but how many actually used NT4 Embedded, and how many just shoved regular NT4 Workstation into a box? I doubt the diligence of those working on such projects when I drive down the highway and see an IE "Action canceled" page on a giant shopping mall sign.

Phaeron - 26 07 09 - 14:18

[Edit: Apparently you didn't learn from the first time I deleted your post. I'd appreciate it if you kept the Microsoft bashing to a sane level, please. I'm no big fan of Microsoft by any means, but saying that it's bad because people have managed to crash it and that Linux is free is to disingenuously oversimplify the issues of real-world deployment. --Avery]

SLA - 26 07 09 - 15:37

"Yes, but how many actually used NT4 Embedded, and how many just shoved regular NT4 Workstation into a box? I doubt the diligence of those working on such projects when I drive down the highway and see an IE "Action canceled" page on a giant shopping mall sign."
Well, that is a different issue, and can happen with both Embedded and Workstation/Professional editions of NT-based Windows. Heck, I am sure there are even signs with NT blue screens out there, but that is also not related either.

Yuhong Bao - 26 07 09 - 16:16

I've long used V: for the reader (from DVD, I guess) and W: for the burner (from Write). Keeps them together, if they both exist. And yes Z: for a zipdrive, before it was replaced by something more reliable. It would be nice if you could put these preferences in an .ini file when installing an OS. Along with 8.3-friendly names for folders such as "My Documents" and a kazillion other things.

Jonathan Berry - 30 07 09 - 09:18

@Calvin: you should be able to install Win2k SP4 to drive >128GB without any problems. If you don't have an install disc with SP4 integrated, create one yourself.

ender - 30 07 09 - 10:41

"It would be nice if you could put these preferences in an .ini file when installing an OS."
Do some research on unattended installation of Windows. The Resource Kits generally has a lot of resources on it.

Yuhong Bao - 31 07 09 - 18:30


Unfortunately even win2k SP4 WILL NOt install correctly on a hard disk of >137GB. Even though SP4 included the code to support LBA48 the doopey fools at Microsfot FORGOT to turn the [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\atapi\Parameters]
"EnableBigLba"=dword:00000001 on in the slipstreaming - so it DOESN'T WORK !

The install is actually VERY messy :-(

Calvin (link) - 04 08 09 - 16:33

I used "Z" since Win98 days for CD-ROM, the CD-writer needed another letter "W", and DVD now gets "V", virtual is left with "U" and "Y". I didn't think anybody else found that W stood for writer.

The original XP without a service pack also didn't have LBA48 initially turned on. Installing WinXP or Win98 wasn't difficult on larger drives as long as all the partitions present at the time of installation fit below 128 GB. The systems could be patched later easily. Or correct drivers for RAID installed afterwards, which added support for large drives. I kinda wonder why it is so much hassle with AHCI controller drivers these days. When dealing with devices like VIA RAID, it was possible to install the OS, then add the driver, and then plug in the hard disk from the ICH port to the RAID port and the system booted.

J7N - 18 03 14 - 06:34

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