When to buy a flash drive, an external hard drive, or an external SSD

Mrinal Thakur asked “What should I buy, an external hard drive, an external SSD, or a pen drive?”

My quick answer: Use an external hard drive for backup. Use a flash drive or an SSD if you want to move files from one computer to another and a network isn’t practical.

The long answer: It all depends on how much storage you need, how much you worry about physical damage, and how much you’re willing to spend. Flash-based storage such as external SSDs or flash drives (also known as pen drives or thumb drives) tend to be more robust: Drop one to the ground, and it’s still likely to work. But hard drives provide more storage for the dollar.

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Why you can't use all of your RAM

Tarek El Nabawe’s PC has 8GB of RAM, but Windows is using only 3.45GB. What happened to the rest?

It sounds as if you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows. A 32-bit operating system has only enough addresses to handle 4GB of memory. Once you get past that, it just doesn’t know what to do with the rest.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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All about drive letters and drive names

Paras Bansal's hard drive has three partitions with the same name. I explain how to change drive letters and names, and why Paras' situation may be confusing, but not serious.

In the Windows world, drives can be identified by their names (such as "Windows7_OS") and their drive letters (such as "C:"). The important thing to remember is that Windows really only cares about the drive letter. That has to be unique; you can't have two drives labeled E: on the same computer.

 [Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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Computer repair: Prepare your PC for a trip to the shop

Peggie Oliver needs to send her computer out for repairs. She wants to know what she should do with it first.

Your computer contains important information, much of it private. The people who will repair it may need to alter Windows, which generally requires access to your password-protected administrator account. They're probably honest, but you can't count on that. And even if they're honest, they may still wipe your hard drive out of necessity or incompetence.

But with the right precautions, taking your PC on a service trip shouldn't result in a disaster.

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How to remove the Windows shortcut arrow from desktop icons

William Beaver asked for "a simple, safe" way to remove the arrows from the shortcuts on his desktop.

Shortcuts point to files--usually but not always programs--that are stored elsewhere on your drive. If you drag and drop a program from the Start menu to the desktop, you create a shortcut to the original program. To make it clear that it's a shortcut and not the original file, Windows displays an arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon.

If you don't like the arrows, you can turn them off by editing the Windows Registry. But William asked for a safe solution, so I'm offering an easier, less dangerous way to make the change.

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The 6 essential Windows software programs for any PC

Bruce Johnson asked for “a list of minimum programs and applications needed to…operate my laptop?”

PCWorld senior editor Brad Chacos wrote an excellent story about the best software for a new PC. But if we're talking the barest minimum, anyone with a Windows PC really, absolutely must have a program in each of the categories below.

 [Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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How to stop autoloading programs in Windows 7 and Windows 8

After reading my article on killing unwanted processes, Joe Balbona asked how he could keep those processes from loading in the first place.

There’s no direct correlation between the programs that load when you boot and the processes slowing down your PC six hours later. Many autoloaders (programs that automatically load when you boot) do their thing and then close down properly. And some programs you load manually long after the boot leave processes running even after you’ve closed them.

Nevertheless, most Windows PCs load way too many programs at boot time. These definitely slow the boot process. Some remain running and can slow Windows. And some may cause conflicts and instability, although that’s rare.

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