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I work in network design/IT for a church, and a someone came in with a AST Advantage Explorer 486SX/33. It looks like it has no OS. After failing to boot, it requests to go to the BIOS to look for an OS. No CD-ROM, just Floppy. How would I get started in getting this thing back up and running, for a fun project?

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    Maybe the CMOS lost the hard drive settings. – snips-n-snails Dec 11 '20 at 16:57
  • Look for an old "Linux on a single floppy" distribution and an USB-floppy. Then you can see if the system can boot. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 12 '20 at 23:01
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  • Find someone with a floppy drive and controller, make some floppy disks for it (for example, I could make you some, but I doubt you live near me).
  • Does it have a harddisk? Is it an IDE harddisk? Take harddisk out, hook up the harddisk to some other computer with IDE interface (or buy an USB-to-IDE interface), format the harddisk with an OS.

Finding disk images shouldn't be too hard, search a bit. Or you can use FreeDOS.

And if it doesn't have a CD, and doesn't boot from the harddisk (you still haven't told us if it has a harddisk or not), then no, putting ISO images on some kind of media won't get you anywhere. That's not how things worked back then.

If you manage to get an OS up and running, you may be able to install a driver that's able to read ISO images, but you certainly cannot boot from them.

And if it doesn't have a harddisk, but an IDE socket, you could try an IDE-to-SD-card adapter, you you want to use an SD card. Again, you'll have to format the SD card properly on another computer.

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    For a (IMHO) saner alternative than FreeDOS, Debian also can boot from floppy disk. – OmarL Dec 11 '20 at 16:11
  • @OmarL Though I am not sure if you can still get Debian to run on a 486. That would also be an interesting experiment :-) – dirkt Dec 11 '20 at 16:13
  • Thank you all! @dirkt could I just use something like balenaEtcher and etch a Windows 3 iso onto it? (After some research, it seems like that is the OS this thing shipped with) – Hyperrew Dec 11 '20 at 16:53
  • @dirkt: you can find older (antique) releases from Debian, but you will have to search a bit. I have done it a couple of years ago to recreate an environment from 1999, Debian 2.2 or 3.0 I think. They are even usable in virtual machines. – chthon Dec 11 '20 at 17:16
  • @dirkt Depends on the RAM, actually. I've run bo very nicely on a 486 with 8MB RAM, and a colleague used 386 with 4MB RAM - that was painful, especially X11, but text mode worked well. archive.debian.org has complete distributions from bo to woody. Though slackware would be perhaps better and Monkey Linux would fly. – Radovan Garabík Dec 11 '20 at 20:06
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Does it have the standard early 90s IDE interface for the HDD?

If it does, and if the IDE controller supports it you could add an old IDE CD-ROM drive either as "primary-slave", or as "secondary-master" if the interface supports plugging in a seccond ribbon cable.

This will most likely NOT not make it bootable though. So you'll need to need to configure DOS with MSCDEX or something compatible to access the CD-ROM.

You could try using a cheap IDE-to-USB interface between any modern computer and the old HDD to read and write to it.

This would let you see if the OS is intact and/or fix any errors to revive it.

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