TITLE: Booting an x86 PC for Robot Use
AUTHOR: Chuck McManis
LAST UPDATE: 15-Feb-2006

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Personal computers are ubiquitous. Often there is one or more sitting unusued in a “junk pile” somewhere in a house. During upgrades I would be the former components used into my scrap pile, eventually I’d look over at the scrap pile and see that there were enough parts to build another computer. Which sometimes I would do and donate to a school or library, but these days even they don’t want any old computer so we’re kind of stuck with them until the recycling center opens.

Of course these things make excellent robot controllers as well (if a bit of overkill) With the advent of the “Mini-ITX” format it became practical to use a PC as the brains of a mobile robot without requiring that you build a huge vehicle to carry it around. They have become popular in the Robot Magellen events. With inexpensive WiFi gear you can telnet into your robot and do development on the go!

Anyway I decided to use a VIA Technology EPIA board running eCos and during that process had to figure out how to boot the PC from scratch. I found a couple of articles that Ray Knightly put together on the windows 95 boot sector and master boot record to be very informative. I’ve reproduced them here from his pages. These days you have to use the Internet Archive if you want to find the originals.

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Windows 95b Boot Sector

This is a disassembly and analysis of the Windows 95 “b” (aka OSR2) boot program which is loaded on system boot.

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Windows 95b (OSR2) Master Boot Record (MBR)

This is a Ray Knightly’s disassembly and analysis of the Windows 95 “b” (aka OSR2) master boot record (MBR).