Q: After more than four years of using Windows XP on our first computer — and finally getting competent with it (mostly the Office...

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Q: After more than four years of using Windows XP on our first computer — and finally getting competent with it (mostly the Office Suite) — we need to buy at least one, and probably two, additional computers. I’ve read numerous comprehensive articles and reviews about Vista and I’m sure we don’t want Vista and want to stay with XP. Here’s the important question: Since Microsoft is going to soon discontinue Windows XP, can we buy two boxed copies of XP and order our new computers without an operating system (Vista) and install the XP operating systems we have to the new computers we’ve purchased, thus doing an end run around Microsoft?

Pat West, Mukilteo

A: I personally wouldn’t shy away from Vista. The majority of problems that people have encountered with Vista stem from trying to run it on a system with too little memory and other resources. In many cases, vendors have sold systems implying that they’re up to running Vista when they’re not.

As for the time you’ve invested learning Microsoft Office, not to worry. You can run either the current or previous version of Microsoft Office on Vista. You won’t have to start over from scratch learning that.

As for buying a computer without an operating system, yes, you’re free to install whatever (legitimately licensed) operating system you wish on such a system. The problem, as I found recently, is that some vendors don’t offer any computers without an operating system and those that do restrict the option to certain models.

Q: I’m having issues with my new Hewlett-Packard Pavilion Notebook. I cannot get the HP 1210xi printer to work. It shows up on my list of printers as the default printer. I can do a print preview, but it will not print.

Jim Linden

A: When you’re having a problem printing, make sure you have the most up-to-date driver for your operating system. Second, make sure the cable is securely connected between the printer and the computer. If the printer still doesn’t function, try a different printer cable. If you’re still having trouble — and I’m assuming you’re not getting any error messages on the printer — it’s time for some real-time troubleshooting with HP.

Q: I have a Gateway 500S Plus with a Pentium 4 (2.4GHz) processor and 256 megabytes of system memory. It is five years old and I would like to know if it would make a difference in the way it performs if I add more memory. If so, what amount would you recommend?

star6464@earthlink.net

A: The amount of memory you need depends primarily upon the operating system you’re using and what applications you want to run. If you’re editing large images or videos, you’re going to want a lot more memory than if you’re just using word-processing programs. And if you’re going to run Microsoft Vista, you’re going to need more memory than if you’re using Windows XP.

I wouldn’t recommend even booting up Vista unless you have at least 2 gigabytes of system memory. And if you add two more gigabytes of memory, you’ll probably see significant improvements in performance, especially if you’re running demanding applications.

Given that your computer is five years old, I assume that it’s running Windows XP, which was introduced in 2001. The recommended minimum memory for Windows XP is 128 megabytes, so you should be OK with 256 megabytes. And if your applications are relatively undemanding of memory, you probably won’t see much performance improvement by adding memory. But if you’re playing games, editing graphics or playing videos, you’ll benefit from additional memory. Bear in mind that the greatest amount of physical memory that Windows XP can employ is 4 gigabytes.

Check the manual for your computer to see how much memory — and what type and amounts of memory — you can add.

Finally, you’ll want to consider whether your money is better spent buying more memory for an old computer or putting the money toward a new computer. Performance depends not just upon physical memory in your system, but also upon the type of memory supported by the computer, the processor, the graphics adapter, the speed of the hard drive and many other factors.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.