Run a 1990s PC on your M1
because it's amazing, and sometimes useful
So, somewhat recently, my late grandmother’s PC was transferred into my possession. I cautiously attempted to boot this machine, but that was unsuccessful. This is an HP Pavilion XG834. I cannot find the product page for this machine in the Wayback Machine, but I can find a close cousin to it, the XG823. The XG823 sold for $898 in 2001, which would be roughly $1482 today. For the actual XG834, it shipped with an Intel Celeron Processor (socket 370) clocking in at 766MHz, a CDROM drive, a 1.44MB 3.5” Floppy Disk drive, a single stick of 100MHz SDR SDRAM resulting in 128MB, a 20GB IDE HDD, and it ran Windows Millenium Edition.
The main thing that I wanted to grab were all of my grandmother’s documents she’d written. This was less difficult than I initially thought it would be.
To start, I removed the HDD, and then attached it to my Mac with an IDE to USB adapter. Easy enough. The drive was formatted in FAT32, so it was readable without any difficulty. I unmounted the disk, and then made a disk image with dd via
sudo dd if=/dev/disk4 of=/Volumes/DATA/grandmas_hp.img
I then figured that a decent approach would be 86Box, and I was correct. Selecting socket 7 and an AMD K6-III with S3 ViRGE and SB16 (a common enough configuration that Win98/WinME will boot easily), the image booted right up!
The Windows ME installation had to find a bunch of drivers after the disk check. That took some time, but it found them all easily enough. In true Windows fashion, there were three reboots for all of this hardware changing.
Getting to this point wasn't difficult at all because 86Box really makes this all quite simple. From here, I was able to launch the various programs that my grandmother regularly used. The only real goal, however, was to recover files. With the image I’d already made, that was simple enough. Double clicking the drive image mounts it in macOS, and I could drag the files to my desktop. These were mostly Claris Works files and WordPerfect files, and LibreOffice can open those without issue. Opening a drive image isn’t fun. Booting up an ancient machine from a loved one? That’s more fun.