How to Play 16 Bit Dos Games/Applications on a 64 Bit Operating System


If you ever wanted to play a video game or run an application on, say, Windows 7 Home Premium (64 bit), you may run into problems trying to run the application. This guide shows you how to run those old Dos 16 bit games/application again through a program called DosBox.

Important Notice: This guide was originally published by me on ZeroPaid. It is being republished here for the purpose of updating the guide with any new information I can obtain so that some of the more difficult to play games can be run.

So you’ve been digging around in your old CD collection one day and you have managed to locate a CD filled with really old games. So, because you wanted to give those games a try again, you decide to put these games on your new operating system. You double click on the executable file and wind up getting an error message like this:

16-Bit Error

The reason you get this error message is because the game or application you are trying to run is a 16-bit program. 16-bit programs were hugely popular back in the days of DOS, Windows 3.1, and Windows 95. Since then, Windows has stopped supporting 16 bit programs right out of the box by the time Windows Vista came around. In fact, if you see those notes about Windows x86 programs, what you are seeing is notices that certain programs only run as a 32-bit program or 64-bit program. Even 32 bit compatible programs are at the beginning of the phasing out process of the more up to date 64-bit programs. Does that mean you are out of luck when it comes to making a 16-bit program run on Windows 7 or Windows 8? Not by a long shot. This guide will show you the basics on how to run those old 16-bit DOS programs again.

Step 1 – Download and Install Dosbox

Simply go to the Dosbox website and download the latest version of Dosbox. Next, doubleclick on the downloaded application to install it.

Note: Frontends are entirely optional. They offer a visualization of what we are doing that might make things easier, but for the purposes of this tutorial, we aren’t going to be using any frontends to keep things simple.

Step 2 – A Little File Management

You’re going to want a folder on your hard drive that will store all the 16 big applications. Since we’ll need to access it directly from Dosbox, it’s actually best practice to create that folder on the root hard drive (meaning, you go onto the hard drive you want to do this on – typically “C” drive).

You can name this folder anything you like, but give it a name that will allow you to remember what it’s for. I chose the name “OldGames”.

When that’s done, you’ll need to find the contents of the game in question. When you do, create a folder in the “OldGames” directory and name it whatever the short title of the game is. In this case, I’m wanting to run “Dune 2: The Battle for Arrakis”, so I name the folder in question “Dune2″ (always try to keep the folder names as short as possible. Sometimes, Dosbox doesn’t like long folder names).

After you created the folder, move the contents of the game into that folder. We’re done doing some file management!

Step 3 – Open Dosbox and Mount a “C” Drive

The thing to remember is that Dosbox emulates a file system (namely, a Dos file system). So, we need to tell it where we want it to think the “C” drive is. In this case, we want the folder “OldGames” to be our emulated “C” drive. Open up Dosbox and you’ll see something like this:

DosTut1

Yes, when we are attempting to run an old Dos program, you are likely going to be using Dos prompt. Don’t panic! I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What we want to do at this point is mount the “C” drive. Since in this tutorial, we created the directory “OldGames”, we are going to type in “MOUNT C C:\OldGames”. Hit enter and you’ll see this:

DosTut2

That’s it! If the message you get is a lot like the one you see here, you’ve successfully mounted the “C” drive.

Step 4 – Running a Game

Now, we need to run a game. On your actual hard drive, examine the contents of the game you placed in the “OldGames” directory. You will likely see an executable file with the name of the game. In my case, I see that the executable I want is “Dune2″:

DosTut3

Now that I know where the file is, I can navigate to it in Dosbox. Remember, executable files end in “.exe”. By default, modern Windows Operating Systems frustratingly hide file extensions. While this can be changed, knowing that executable files end in “.exe” is sufficient for our purposes.

Go back into Dosbox. The first thing we need to do is navigate to the virtual “C” drive we mounted earlier. To do that, all we need to do is type in “C:\” and hit enter:

DosTut4

Dosbox is telling us that we are in our mounted “C” drive. At this point, we want to navigate to the folder with our game in it in Dosbox. In this case, you need to type in “cd” (stands for “Change Directory” in case you’re wondering), then space, then “C:\[name of game directory]“. In my case, I typed in “cd C:\Dune2″ like so:

DosTut5

OK, now that we’ve successfully changed to the Dune2 directory, we now want to run the executable file. To do this, simply type in the name of the executable file. In my case, it’s simply a matter of typing in “Dune2.exe” and hitting enter:

DosTut6

When I hit enter, I see that the game is already starting:

DosTut7

At this point, we should point out that if the game has a cursor in it and it doesn’t move when you use the mouse, click on the screen and it should work. If you want to regain control of the mouse to quickly do something outside of Dosbox, you can hold down “Alt” and press the tab button. You’ll then be able to work outside of Dosbox. Working outside of Dosbox does not pause whatever is happening inside of Dosbox, so make sure you pause your game somehow if you can’t just let it keep running without your input.

Step 5 – Properly Exiting Dosbox

When you are done playing your game, you’ll be put back to a screen that looks like this:

DosTut8

To properly exit, simply type in “exit” like this:

DosTut9

Hit enter and dosbox will close.

That is it! Happy gaming!

Supplemental Guides

If you attempt to run a game or application in DOSBox and have an error that says that you require a Windows environment, please refer to our guide How to Play 16 Bit Windows Games/Applications on a 64 Bit Computer.

Update:

If the game is prompting you to insert a CD, try following our guide on how to get a 16 bit DOS game that requires a CD to run.





34 Comments

  • Nirmal Perera says:

    Thank you for help us. Can you please tell me how can we play the old games in Full Screen Mode,
    Exp: Chaos Engine Game does not setup Full Screen. so please let me know how ?

    Thank You again.

    Nirmal ( Sri Lanka )

    • Drew Wilson says:

      When running Dosbox, simply hold down Alt and press Enter. That will take you into full screen mode. To get back out of full screen mode, do Alt+Enter again. That should do it. 🙂

  • Tomás says:

    When I try to run Mixed Up Mother Goose, following these steps, it appears “This Program requires Microsoft Windows”. What should I do?

  • Carol Hops says:

    I get all the way to the final setup, when I type setup.exe and hit enter, I get this:

    C:\READRAB>setup.exe

    C:\READRAB>win setup
    Illegal command: win.

    (I also tried renaming the setup file and trying with the new name, but it still gives me this error)

    • Drew Wilson says:

      I’m assuming setup.exe is one of the files for a particular game? Try typing dir and hitting enter. That command lists all of the files in a given directory.

      The only time you would use “win” is if you have something like Windows 3.1 installed. At that point, you would browse to the windows directory and simply type “win” and hit enter to start windows. Either way, if there is a setup.exe file in the directory, simply typing in setup.exe and hitting enter should start setup.

  • Jeff says:

    When I do these steps exactly, Dosbox responds “This program requires Microsoft Windows.”

    What do I do???

  • Tewolde says:

    Thanks for providing the online. Every thing went find until when I try to execute the .exe file ..I am getting message :This program cannot be run in dos mode”. Any solution to this?

  • Najam says:

    my game is need for speed 2 se and it says that it works on 16 bit, but when I followed the instructions, it says that the program cannot be run in dos mode

  • Greg says:

    Brilliant guide, it’s working so well on Windows 10! The game I’m playing, [name removed], won’t allow me to save my game. Any ideas as to why that might be?

    Cheers!

    • Drew Wilson says:

      Glad you found this guide useful and it’s great to hear that this works on Windows 10 as well!

      I’ve noticed this bug myself on a few games where saving is seemingly not functional (where you hit save and nothing appears in a save menu). The advice I’ve read on this is that the game has to “install” first, but I can’t confirm that this is a working solution. Wish I could help you further on that, but this is something I couldn’t actually figure out myself.

  • mohammed altaf says:

    i was using employee expiry record software in Dos 16 bits. Since i have upgraded my computer to windows 10 it is not working. please send me patch

  • A dosbox website stated that my 16 bit program(ATP Transport Pilot) is not compatible with Dosbox. Do I have any options?

  • Boomboy810 says:

    this screen showed up, (emulated)

    ERROR:

    Unable to find WARCRAFT II data file ‘data\maindat.war’
    The file ‘war2.ini’ contains the ‘CDPATH’ to your CD-ROM drive and may need to be modified if your CD-Rom has been reconfigured

    Press any key…

    whats the problem

    • Therese says:

      You need to edit the war2.ini file to point to the path where that file can be found on your computer. Side note, it probably also needs windows since the ‘ini’ is a Windows 3.1 extension for program instructions.

  • Shannon says:

    My windows opened and my game installed. It said installation successful but when I double click the icon it says ERROR Could not execute the external progam /.

    • Drew Wilson says:

      Are your running the .exe via DosBox or are you just browsing to it outside of Dosbox and double-clicking it? If the latter, you’ll have to navigate to the directory and run the .exe via Dosbox. If the former, try checking the compatibility list here to see if it’s compatible (you can read comments if you find the game in the list to see if others are running into the problem). The site also has a forum that may prove useful.

      Hope that helps!

      • Shannon says:

        Drew, thanks for getting back to me.
        I am realizing I posted on the wrong part. I had to download Windows 3.1 so I followed
        http://www.freezenet.ca/guides/compatibility-and-emulation/how-to-play-16-bit-windows-gamesapplications-on-a-64-bit-computer/

        That being said, it is installed and the icon is there. When I double click it, that is when I get the error. I tried not using the icon and going through file manager, same error. The game is Reader Rabbit Kindergarten. I see Reader Rabbit is supported through the link you gave me.
        Thanks again

        • Shannon says:

          I also downloaded a new zip thinking maybe something was missing – to no avail.

          • Drew Wilson says:

            The only thing I can think of at this point is that the directory name needs to be names in a specific manner. Some games just mysteriously get error messages for no reason until it is installed in a folder with a particularly abbreviated name.

            The only other thing I can think of is the audio configuration in Windows itself, but that typically gives error message specific to midi or sound output. As long as you can get sound in Windows, this shouldn’t be a problem.

            Beyond that, the only other advice I can give is giving this forum a try (search first, if nothing, then try posting your question).

            I wish I could help further, but there’s a good possibility you are running into a problem I have yet to encounter in my testing.

  • Shannon says:

    Thanks again, Drew. I will keep trying and update if I figure it out.

  • DULAL ROY says:

    thank you.very helpful for me.

  • Naco says:

    I always get the message “Unable to change to: C:\[folders name]. I have checked every command 1000 times and cannot find what i have done wrong. Please help

  • Mike says:

    I get all the way to launching the .exe for the install of the game i want to play and it says this program can’t be run in dos. please help.

  • Paulette for Madeline says:

    Hi Mike,
    I successfully reached your midway of step 4 of cd to the oldgame folder. I don’t know which is the .exe file. The game is hasbro scrabble for windows 95 and 98. My mother is 93 and loves playing the game. Since she upgraded to xp and 7 in 2015 or so I have not been able to get the game to work. I thought this time I could get it to work. But I get the error message “this program cannot be run in DOS mode”. Also during the steps I clicked on something and the game began to open and work, asking configuration questions etc but it suddenly closed. Can you help me?

    • Drew Wilson says:

      Heheh, no worries about the name. I’ve never tested that game, but I know that if you open the directory from the game in DOSBox, you’ll be able to either type in “dir” (no quotes) and hit enter to get a list of the files in the folder, or you can simply browse to it on the Windows 7 machine and figure out what the executable is. Typically, it’s an abbreviated version of the games name with “.exe”.

      When you were able to open something and get the configuration, it sounds like you stumbled onto the config file. Typically when you open that, you’ll be able to adjust the configuration options. All the configs I’ve run across have an option to save and run, but I could be wrong on that.

      As for the error message, it’s possible that you’ll need the Windows environment to run that game. It’s possible this might not work given the wording “for windows 95 and 98”, but if you track down Windows 3.1, you’ll be able to work your way through this guide to set things up: http://www.freezenet.ca/guides/compatibility-and-emulation/how-to-play-16-bit-windows-gamesapplications-on-a-64-bit-computer/

      That, of course, is entirely dependent on whether it is compatible with Windows 3.1. If it’s compatible, you’ll have to boot the program from Windows 3.1 (which is necessary for some games I’ve tested).

      Failing this, I’ve heard it being possible to run Windows 95 through DosBox. In fact, you can see activity surrounding this on the official compatibility page here where people discuss running that: https://www.dosbox.com/comp_list.php?showID=3120&letter=W

      Keep in mind that I’ve never tested Windows 95 through DosBox, so I my ability to help would be very limited in that case. hopefully, though, some of this is useful though!

      Good luck!
      🙂

  • Paulette for Madeline says:

    Sorry I called you Mike! Your name is Drew. Thanks.

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