>Q: My Windows XP laptop, a 5-year-old Sony Vaio Model PCG-8R4L, has almost ceased to operate. In its day it was a wonderful machine designed for entertainment and games. I'd like to continue to use it for Internet access, photos and e-mail, but it takes 30 minutes to perform a task. What do you suggest?
A: I've been hearing from a lot of people with older computers that have slowed down. And, at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader for the PC industry, I think the best thing you can do for yourself is throw away your aging PC and buy a new one. Anything else is just a Band-Aid.
Now, to be honest, there are some small things you can do to speed up an old PC: Defragment your hard disk to improve the efficiency of data retrieval, as described on eHow.com at http://www.tinyurl.com/289gyup/. Run the free Malwarebytes program to clear off any malicious or advertising software that might slow things down. The program can be downloaded at Malwarebytes.org. Turn off some of the programs that start up when the PC does, as described in my recent column at http://tinyurl.com/28zw52o/.
But these things are unlikely to make a 5-year-old PC run much faster. The big problem is that older PCs have a shortage of random access memory, or RAM.
RAM memory chips provide a PC with fast, temporary storage for its operations. When the RAM gets filled up, the PC has to use the much slower hard drive to help it run programs, and that bogs things down.
Many older PCs, including yours, came with 512 megabytes of RAM, while most of today's laptops come with 3 or 4 gigabytes -- six to eight times more memory. Software companies have taken advantage of that additional memory in new PCs and made their programs more complex, which means they require more RAM. Your PC just can't keep up.
You could upgrade the RAM in your PC, but it's really a lost cause. Even if you install your PC's maximum amount of RAM, quadrupling it to 2 gigabytes (at a cost of $160, if you do the installation yourself), you've still got a PC with less-than-average RAM that will soon be obsolete.
Unfortunately, your old PC is essentially an expensive paperweight.
>Q: I've received several e-mails with empty subject lines and random attachments from people who, like me, use Microsoft Hotmail. These people say their accounts have been hacked and rendered unusable. My Hotmail account is the go-to place for my business relationships, and it would be a disaster if it was rendered useless. What should I do?
A: To protect yourself, never open an e-mail that lacks a subject line, and certainly don't download an attachment from one. Also, don't trust your business relationships to a single provider of free e-mail. Set up second and third accounts on Gmail and Yahoo Mail and forward your Hotmail e-mails to them as a back-up. Suggest to your friends who think they were hacked that they get new e-mail accounts so you won't have to worry about what's lurking in the e-mails they send you.