Ok so I have an old laptop with only a floppy drive. It came with windows 95 on it but suffered from some terrible BSODs that I could not resolve. I figured I would just download some windows 95 install disks and reformat it, but apparently those disks were a special type and format that held more than 1.4mb. All the floppies I have are incapable of being formatted that way.

Is there any other way to make windows 95 install disks that fit onto standard disks? Or is there some way I can split these into smaller files and then copy them all onto the hd and then join them up again and install it that way?

I currently have windows 3.11 installed.

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    You can just copy all the files from all the disks into a single directory and then run SETUP from there. – Renan Jun 7 at 16:06
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    The 1.68mb format is just a different formatting of a vanilla 1.44mb; any disk that can be formatted at 1.44mb should be usable at 1.68mb. Are you sure your disks are at fault? This might be splitting hairs — if you're writing via a USB floppy drive then possibly the disks are fine but the drive won't play along, with the same outcome. – Tommy Jun 7 at 20:47
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    @Tommy: When writing a sector on a disk, there's a little bit of uncertainty in where the new data will be placed. A 1.44MB disk leaves a little extra space between sectors so that even if a sector runs a little "long" it won't hit the start of the next sector. If 21 sectors are written as fast as possible, each sector will be guaranteed to finish before the next one starts, and all 21 can complete before the disk rotates far enough to reach the first sector again. An attempt to write any sector but the last, however, may corrupt the next sector. – supercat Jun 7 at 21:20
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    @Tommy: Nowadays, I think the thing to do would be to simply connect to the drive a microcontroller with enough RAM to hold an entire track, and have it simply generate all the necessary bits to feed the drive in a straight shot. – supercat Jun 7 at 22:06
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    @Tommy: BTW, I wonder how much it would have cost in silicon to offer commands to read and write an arbitrary number of bits as raw phase transitions rather than as MFM data, without regard for sector headers? I would think that if anything a command to write arbitrary bits should be cheaper than the "format" command, but perhaps the latter would be kept anyway to allow for use on systems that couldn't feed out a track's sector's worth of data smoothly? – supercat Jun 8 at 17:08

These are Distribution Media Format disks, storing 1.68 MB of data instead of the usual 1.44 MB (on high-density 3.5” disks).

There are a couple of strategies you can use:

  1. You can create floppies with the original contents of the installation disks. If you’re running Windows, WinImage is supposed to be able to write such images to floppies. Under Linux, you can format DMF disks using fdformat and write the images directly.

  2. You can copy the images’ contents to a directory (W95INST for example) on the laptop’s hard drive, if you have some other way of copying files there, and then run SETUP from the hard drive. To copy the files, you could for example use a serial or parallel cable with INTERSRV and INTERLNK under DOS, or extract the drive from the laptop and connect it to another system. Using floppies to do this is also possible but will be a bit more involved since most of the files on the installation disks are larger than standard floppies, so you’ll need to split them.

  • Please, please do this #2, it's so much more convenient to do the copy (and verify) once and then you'll be able to reinstall whenever you like in the future. – KlaymenDK Jun 8 at 12:40

You need the disk images that use 21 floppies, not 13. Originally Win95 came on 21 1.44mb disks, and it wasn't until later that it moved to the 13 DMF format disks. However, do you really not have an old external CD drive laying around? That would be far easier.

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    That is very interesting, I had forgotten that the first RTM version was available on 1.44MB disks! It was even available on 1.2MB disks for computers which only had a 5.25” drive... – Stephen Kitt Jun 8 at 7:33
  • Oddly enough my copy of Japanese language version of Windows 95 has 21 DMF formatted disks. – Ross Ridge Jun 8 at 23:34

As Stephen Kitt mentioned, if you have enough floppies, you can make a ZIP file of the installation directory and span it over several floppies. This way you can use whatever disks you happen to have hanging around and don't have to worry if they contain bad sectors as much (those disks simply will hold slightly less.) As the CAB files are already compressed, don't worry too much about compression levels: the difference between level 0 and level 9 will be very small. An additional benefit is that PKUNZIP will tell you if there are errors in the archive, so you don't end up with corrupted installation files on the other end.

However, as you mentioned getting blue screen errors previously, I would look into why you got the the errors in the first place before installing Windows 95, as they could be indicative of hardware issues.

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    As an aside, even if you're using something like INTERSRV/INTERLNK or LapLink to do the transfer, making the ZIP file is still useful for the error-checking feature. – ErikF Jun 7 at 20:34

I think you have a bigger problem here.

The expected lifespan of computers is around 5 years. Parts may be designed to last 10 years or so. Your laptop though must be at least 25 years old. I'm frankly amazed that it works at all.

Do you have all the data transferred off the hard drive? If not, do it now! Hopefully you can connect the hard drive to your regular PC, or you can back up files to floppies between BSODs. Either way, get that data somewhere else, because your entire laptop and all its data could die permanently at any time.

And also think about how much you value your time. A new netbook costs peanuts, and even a moderate-spec laptop isn't that expensive. You could spend days fighting this and never have it working, because it's too far gone; or you could just buy another PC. If you're trying to get it working out of curiosity, I suggest you try Ubuntu Linux instead as an extra layer of curiosity, and also because you can get that freely, unlike Windows.

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    There are plenty of reasons to use the old laptop, ranging from nostalgia to requiring that specific CPU... Saying that it's a waste of time to resurrect the old laptop isn't something I expected to read on the retrocomputing stack exchange. – Shadow Jun 7 at 23:47
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    "Don't use old computers" is not a helpful answer here, in this forum about how to use old computers. – Robyn Jun 8 at 0:33
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    "The expected lifespan of computers is around 5 years" [citation needed] – Wilson Jun 8 at 7:55
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    @Graham I'll hazard the guess that the companies you've worked in do not do Retrocomputing – Wilson Jun 8 at 9:42
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    @Wilson True enough. :) But if the OP is having problems with old hardware giving errors, he needs to be aware that the software may well not be the problem. Reinstalling Windows won't help you if the real problem is faulty DRAM. – Graham Jun 8 at 10:38

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