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Q. I’m a senior citizen who plans to buy a basic PC laptop. I will only use email, Microsoft Word and streaming news videos (no games or graphics). What minimum RAM and what minimum Intel speeds are enough for these three uses without eventual outdated/usage problems over the next 5-10 years? Also, if RAM or processor speed do become outdated, how would I notice this?

— Ronald O’Brien

A. I think you’d have a hard time finding a computer today that offers less than 4 gigabytes of system memory, which is plenty to accomplish the work you describe. And as for the processor, it’s not just the speed but the type of processor (dual core, quad core, amount of cache) that will make a difference.

But again, if you’re really only going to email, use Word and stream videos, just about any laptop you can find will be up to the task.

With respect to streaming videos, what will affect performance the most will be the speed of your Internet connection. So you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a fast connection, that the laptop supports Wireless N (802.11n), and that your router is up to snuff.

Otherwise, make sure you like the look and feel of the unit. This is more important for laptops than desktops, since you can’t just get rid of the keyboard if you don’t like it.

As for ensuring future performance, I wouldn’t project more than about five years into the future; operating systems are changing so quickly. The laptop may work well for longer than five years, but you can’t count on being able to upgrade to whatever operating system is being released five years from now.

How would you notice if the amount of RAM or other system resources were insufficient for your applications in the future? If it’s a shortage of memory, you’ll encounter delays. If Windows can’t write all the data it’s trying to write to memory, it swaps things out to “virtual memory,” which is your hard drive. That’s a lot slower. Other symptoms would vary depending upon what is the source of the bottleneck.

Q. I have a Seagate external for storage of images formatted for both Apple and PC. This hard drive has been used for over a year on my iMac with no problems until I decided to download some trip photographs directly from our laptop onto the external. Now my iMac refuses to recognize the external drive. Is there a way to make the external compatible with the iMac again?

— Sam Spencer

A. Does the PC still recognize the external drive? When the iMac refuses to recognize the drive, do you mean even when you launch the Disk Utility? If that’s the case, I’d suspect the port and/or the cable. So before trying to reformat or replace the drive, try in a different port, with a different Mac and with a different cable.

Q. In many of your columns, you recommend Malwarebytes. I downloaded the free version from It comes up with ARO 2013 trial version and in the right lower corner says Sammsoft. It says I have 1,359 error/tweeks remaining and security status is good. It suggests I purchase now to fix remaining registry issues. My brother downloaded the free version on his computer screen and it says Malwarebytes. It doesn’t say anything about ARO 2013 or Sammsoft. Do I have the right website?

— Diana Bartley

A. I’m afraid there are a lot of spoofers out there, and Sammsoft appears to be one of those. It’s possible you’ve already got malware on your computer that diverted you to Sammsoft’s site. In any case, if you were really running Malwarebyte’s product there would be no mention of Sammsoft. Try downloading again from and make sure you’re not getting diverted by checking the URL.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to or, or by mail at Q & A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at