After our post a few days ago about running Windows NT for MIPS with Qemu, I was once again reminded of just how much fun it would be to own a MIPS, Alpha, or PowerPC machine from the mid-’90s that can run Windows NT 4. However, after some trouble finding a hardware compatibility list, I decided to ask Twitter – Steven Sinofsky suggested looking through the .iso files of these exotic releases for this information, but I couldn’t find anything in the official documentation contained on the Windows NT 4 for MIPS .iso.
Luckily, however, Angus Fox, who worked at Lotus at the time, clearly remembered that there was a very clear, fully detailed HCL on the Windows NT 3.51 for Alpha disc, and it turns out he was right – the HCL comes on the disc as a .hlp file, which is a help file readable by older versions of the Windows help viewer. The Windows NT 4 .iso, too, contained an updated version of this HCL, detailing all the hardware, workstations, and servers supported by the MIPS, Alpha, and PowerPC (and x86) versions of Windows NT 4.
As he details on his website, it takes some work to read the .hlp file on Windows, but on my Linux machine, it was as easy as double-clicking the file – Wine’s own Windows help viewer loaded up the file without any issue. So, there you have it – if, like me, you are somehow interested in running these obscure version of Windows NT on real Alpha, MIPS, or PowerPC hardware, all the information you need is right on the disc.
Sadly, a bigger problem to overcome is finding and buying the hardware in question. Like any other non-x86 hardware from the past 30 years (DEC, HP, SGI, Sun, etc.), it has become prohibitively expensive to buy, and pretty much only available in the US using eBay, adding hundreds to thousands of euros of shipping costs to the final price for us Europeans. I’m not entirely sure what is causing this massive surge in pricing, since rarity alone cannot possibly account for charging, for instance, over 6000 dollars (!) for an AlphaStation 255.
The HCL was a booklet included in each box of NT 3.x. By NT 4.0, hardware was standardized enough that it didn’t matter so much; the early releases were much more picky about what they needed. It looks like both 3.51 and 4.0 include a HLP file in the ISO, and 4.0 didn’t include the booklet.
Each NT 3.x/4.0 CD has all of the architectures supported by that release, so any random boxed copy from eBay has everything needed. Note though that 3.51 is the first release supporting PowerPC but includes printed materials for 3.5, so the information on the CD is more current/accurate.
Alphastations on ebay for $6k+ haha ouch. I do recall like minded friends and I looked up Alpha mobos as an option (late 90s) and it was not completely ridiculous in price but we still didn’t make the jump as applications for Alpha were thin and relying on FX!32 was something we weren’t prepared to do. Good times.