The Xbox Series X Can Run Windows 98, Play Classic PC Games
(Photo: Billy Freeman/Unsplash)If you’ve missed the sweet, sweet boot-up noise of Windows 98, we have good news: your Xbox Series X can run the classic operating system.
Digital Foundry, a blog and YouTube channel specializing in hardware and game reviews, recently tested the OS through a fork of the DOSBox emulator called DOSBox Pure. The emulator itself is typically reserved for Windows, Mac, or Linux systems, but participation in Microsoft’s paid Partner Network and turning on the Series X’s developer mode allows access. (This is best performed by actual Xbox developers and it’ll cost you money if you want to try it) It was from here that Digital Foundry installed Windows 98 Second Edition directly onto the machine.
(Editors Note: Windows 98 SE wasn’t always stable with more than 512MB of RAM unless you modded the installation, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue when running it via emulation)
The goal wasn’t to revisit Internet Explorer 5.0 or good old MSN Messenger, though Digital Foundry’s video of the experiment implies they could have if they’d wanted to. (The team did pay Microsoft’s Clippy a visit and fool around with MS Paint, both of which should frankly be necessary if you’re going to install Windows 98 anywhere.) Instead, Digital Foundry sought to test a handful of now-vintage PC games on the modern Xbox console. Because the Xbox Series X can’t read 20-plus year old discs, running each game required the team to create ISO files on an actual PC, then boot them up through RetroArch.
Digital Foundry played Roller Coaster Tycoon, Quake 2, Turok, and nine other titles with few issues. Playing the games required Digital Foundry to emulate a mouse on the Xbox controller, as RetroArch currently won’t facilitate a connection between the console and a physical mouse. Otherwise video and audio playback were both relatively pleasant, considering how much the system was required to accomplish at once.
A word of warning to anyone who might try this at home: how much you enjoy playing Windows 98 titles on your Xbox largely depends on your expectations. You simply won’t get the quality an actual late 90’s computer would present. When Digital Foundry tested Unreal on a downclocked Voodoo 3 (plugged into a stylishly beige and blocky PC), the computer’s performance and frame rate were twice as fast as the Xbox’s. Again, the Xbox was dealing with a lot between emulating hardware, running Windows 98, integrating the API/driver layer, and rendering the final image. As a result, its performance is still impressive—as long as you know what you’re in for.
Windows 98 and its accompanying fan favorites technically run on the Series S as well, but the performance is unsurprisingly less remarkable. Digital Foundry noted that the Series X was anywhere from five to 10 percent faster than the Series S, with a handful of graphical issues that would render (pardon the pun) the overall experience slightly less exciting. But for the sake of nostalgia and a bit of homebrewed research, it could be worth a shot, provided you know what you’re doing.